A low-key life devoted to eluding a high-profile pursuit

Known as pleasant, private and hardworking in Tennessee, Andrew Garver
and Mimi Smith avoided detection

Sunday, June 27, 2004
JIM BARNETT and HOLLY DANKS

Carrying the Knoxville News Sentinel want-ads, the
just-turned-16-year-old introduced herself as Shelley Smith, a
20-something student at the nearby University of Tennessee looking for an
inexpensive apartment.

The self-assured young woman who said she was from Washington state won
the trust of Jerry and Joyce Phillips, and soon moved into a one-bedroom
studio attached to their home.

The elderly couple had no idea in early October that Shelley was Michelle
Elizabeth “Mimi” Smith, the Beaverton High School sophomore at the center
of a nationwide search. They also didn’t know the man staying with her –
originally introduced as Smith’s cousin — was Andrew Garver, the girl’s
softball coach who was wanted by the FBI and Oregon authorities for
taking her out of state.

The couple drew no notice in the rough-around-the-edges neighborhood just
outside Knoxville. But across the Northwest, the story would have been
different.

Just days after Smith and Garver vanished Sept. 26, a media tornado was
in full swirl. The faces of Garver, a married 38-year-old Beaverton
softball coach, and Smith, the 15-year-old catcher on his team, were
everywhere.

“Good Morning America” and “Inside Edition” ran segments with family
members. Local police and federal investigators sent out wanted posters.
The Oregonian covered Smith as a missing person, only naming Garver when
charges related to Smith’s disappearance were brought. The man who bills
himself as the world’s greatest bounty hunter — Duane “Dog” Chapman –
flew in from Hawaii, promising to find them and dole out his own brand of
justice.

None of it helped find the pair.

It was a simple accident — a fender bender Wednesday afternoon on the
road where they lived — that revealed their identities. Smith and Garver
turned themselves in to a rookie police officer after the collision, in
which no one was injured.

Smith is in protective custody in Knoxville. A juvenile court judge said
the girl, who turned 16 the week after she disappeared, can leave when
child welfare workers sign off on a way to get her home and a place for
her to live when she gets there. She does not face charges.

Garver is jailed in Knoxville. On Friday, he told a judge he wouldn’t
fight extradition. All that stands between him and a return to Washington
County is for law enforcement officials to come up with a way to get him
back.

In Washington County, Garver, now 39, faces charges of second-degree
custodial interference. In addition to accusing him of keeping the girl
from her parents, a grand jury charged Garver with passing a bad check,
which he used to lease the sport utility vehicle that was in the
accident. County and federal prosecutors now say more serious charges may
follow.

Between their fall disappearance and last week, the pair kept a low
profile in plain sight: They lived quietly, kept a tidy apartment, paid
their rent on time and were dependable employees.

Smith worked the Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday shifts as a manager at the
Ladies Choice Fitness Center. She was known there by the name Crystal
Materi.

Garver, who was carrying Tennessee identification with the name Mark
Allen Chubback, worked the front counter at the Weigel’s Farm Store.

They succeeded in their newfound jobs by working hard and maintaining
friendly demeanors.

Smith quickly moved into positions of responsibility, co-worker Jillian
Bozeman said.

“She did so well in commissions, that’s how she got the
management-training position,” said Bozeman, 20.

Crystal Brisebois, the fitness center’s Monday-Wednesday-Friday manager,
said everyone liked Smith. But now that the truth has come out, she is
looking forward to ditching her nickname: Brisebois had gone by “Chris”
after she was hired at Ladies Choice so she wouldn’t be mistaken for
Smith’s “Crystal Materi.”

A Ladies Choice supervisor said in a news release that Smith was hired
part time in mid-November “based on a resume and identification she
presented and following interviews.”

The release by Mark Turner, a Ladies Choice area director, sings Crystal
Materi’s praises: “She was an excellent employee; she was enthusiastic,
energetic, knowledgeable and caring. . . .

“More than just an employee, Crystal was a friend to the staff at Ladies
Choice Fitness, and we care very much for her.”

Garver, formerly a shipping scheduler at Oregon Glass in Wilsonville,
impressed his bosses at the convenience store. He was an assistant
manager, covering day shifts and making about $7 an hour, a store
employee said.

Bozeman said she got to know Smith well over the past few months. They
talked about relationships and became confidantes — but only to a point.
Smith never let on that she was younger or that she had run away from
home.

“We all knew she was engaged,” Brisebois said of Smith’s co-workers. “But
she left her private life at home when she walked through the door here.
So she never brought any troubles around.”

Brisebois said Garver never came around. When television covered his
arrest, she recognized Garver as the Weigel’s store clerk.

Smith introduced Garver to the Phillipses as her cousin Mark, but as they
gained the trust of their landlords, they became bolder in displays of
affection.

“They were obviously a couple,” said the Phillipses’ son, Ron. “They quit
trying to hide in front of my mom and dad.”

The Phillipses didn’t question the two in part because they had lied
about their ages — Garver said he was 32; Smith claimed to be in her
early 20s. But they also were kind to the retired couple and painted,
cleaned and made repairs in the apartment.

Through their nearly nine months in Knoxville, the couple always had a
lie at the ready when their made-up lives brushed against reality.

The Phillipses became suspicious when the university’s holiday break
arrived and Smith didn’t return home.

“My mother asked her if she was going home for Christmas, and she told
them no, her parents were going on a cruise, so she was staying there,”
Ron Phillips recalled. “So my mom cooked them Christmas dinner.

“My mother is just too trusting,” he said.

While Smith and Garver accepted the Phillipses holiday hospitality,
Smith’s mother, Sherry, made an impassioned televised plea for her
daughter to return for Christmas. Garver’s own teenage daughter — a
close friend of Smith’s — and his first wife, Cindy Vandervest, filed
letters with similar requests on a Web site: www.findgarverandsmith.org.

Vandervest said Garver told her from jail that he had read the site.

Still, the apartment offered seclusion for the pair trying to keep a low
profile. The 20-by-20-foot space had no windows, just a side door and a
sliding glass door opening to a small grass yard and a wooded ravine.
Beyond the house, the neighborhood has no sidewalks and the main road is
too narrow and heavily traveled to allow for neighborly visits.

Mark Dix, a cashier at the Bread Box convenience store at the
intersection where Garver crashed, called the area “perfect for somebody
who’s trying to hide.” There are garden apartments, a transient
population and older neighbors who don’t ask a lot of questions.

For a pair wanted in Oregon, the location turned out to be perfect.

“Knoxville, nor Tennessee, was ever a point of reference,” said Officer
Mark Hyde, Beaverton police spokesman. “There was no more reason to think
they were in Knoxville than to think they were in Miami Beach.”

First off, Hyde said, there were no sightings of the pair reported in the
state. Secondly, they had no known relatives or friends there.

It all could have been different, Hyde said, had the story made
“America’s Most Wanted.” But Hyde said the syndicated crime-busting show
wasn’t interested because Smith appeared to have left on her own and
wasn’t in immediate danger.

“That kind of exposure I can’t say would have done it,” he said, “but I
can say we would have had a huge likelihood that somebody would have
recognized them.”

Tips did come in, Hyde said, but fewer than police had hoped. Beaverton
police and a National Center for Missing and Exploited Children hot line
logged fewer than 100.

Many of the tips indicated Garver and Smith were in Canada, which is
where bounty hunter Chapman focused his search.

In fact, on Tuesday — the day before Garver surrendered — Beaverton
police received their last tip: The pair had landed in Canada. A young
girl with an older man had the same name as Smith.

“It’s impossible to tell you how many man-hours, between Beaverton
police, the sheriff’s office, the FBI and local agencies we asked to
check, were spent on this,” Hyde said. “It’s overwhelming, the money,
time and taxpayer dollars.”

By Thursday afternoon, FBI agents had emptied the Knoxville apartment of
many of Garver’s and Smith’s personal belongings. They left behind
little, except notes on the refrigerator and an orange cat.

Now that she knows the truth, Bozeman thinks the woman she knew as
Crystal was ready to move on. In recent days, her friend at times seemed
despondent, Bozeman said.

So maybe it wasn’t so shocking when Smith came clean to Bozeman in a
phone call minutes before she turned herself in to police.

“She was relieved, I think. She wanted to tell somebody.”

Copyright 2004 Oregon Live. All Rights Reserved.

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