The Case of Chris Smith

Chris Smith (1978) had a passion for life, surfing and partying; he believed in living and adventure. He was used to having money, and professionally he was very successful, but it didn’t control him, Chris was someone who would have been just as happy being a bartender on a beach. Growing up California, his family spent a lot of time water surfing and wakeboarding on the lake next to their home; Chris was even a professional wakeboarder for a time until an injury unfortunately meant he couldn’t continue.

He found success in working in lead generation companies, and it was through work he met Edward Shin. Finding they had a similar drive and enthusiasm, in 2009, they founded a company called 800Xchange which would collect potential customer information from people who called 0800 numbers on radio/television advertisements and sell that information to relevant companies. The business proved to be incredibly successful – making $1 million in its first five months. In many ways, the pair were opposites – where Chris was celebrating his freedom, partying and generally being fairly informal, Ed was married with three children, had a head for numbers and wore designer suits. Chris came up with big ideas, Ed worked out the details – but what each of them contributed to the company made it work.

Starting a company and making it thrive is hard work however, and Chris’ surfing trips had become more infrequent, he was beginning to feel like life was too much work and not enough living; an imbalance he needed to correct. He often spoke of selling everything and just going travelling, backpacking around the world and spending his days on beaches in the sun (youtube.com). So in June 2010, when his family received an email saying he had done just that, it wasn’t a huge shock. The email explained he’d sold his half of the company to business partner Ed, and used to money to fly to South America. He was going for three weeks.

Over the next few months, Chris sent many emails to his family, telling them of his sailing escapades and where he was in the world at that particular moment, including Chilli, Argentina, Brazil. It sounded like he was having the time of his life. The emails were sporadic however, he apparently had limited internet access, using internet cafés when he found them and his family never received any photos or phone calls from him during this time. The trip that was supposed to be for three weeks was now months long and Chris’ family were beginning to get concerned.

His father, a former police officer, was suspicious and in August sent an email asking some personal questions about their family life – what was the name of the lake you grew up next to, for example –that only Chris should be able to answer correctly. A reply came, with a full set of perfect answers. It seemed it really was Chris on the other end of the emails. For a while, their concerns abated.

The last email they received from Chris was on 26th December when he wished them a merry Christmas and told them of his plans to start a new company in Africa, where he was now living. By March, the family were now very worried and decided to file a missing person’s report (gq.com). 

After some investigate, the Police told them something terrifying – according to passport control, Chris had never left the United States. There was no record of him ever being in Brazil, Chilli, Argentina, or Africa. A computer technician traced the emails they had been receiving for nearly a year and found every single one had been sent from inside the US.

Before Chris disappeared, his business partner Ed Shin had been investigated for stealing money from his previous employer, LG Technologies, over several years to gamble in Vegas. “The first time I started playing, [I gambled] a couple thousand dollars … And then, you get good at it. That’s the problem with gambling … most people tend to win early and then you’re addicted to that win.” (abcnews.com). In May 2010, Shin pleaded guilty to embezzlement and consented to an $800,000 settlement instead of prison time. The only way he’d be able to pay would be to obtain the money from 800Xchange, for which he needed Chris’ approval as co-owner. Unfortunately, Chris wasn’t on board with this plan.

Shin became the number one suspect in Chris’ disappearance at this point as he stood the most to gain from Chris selling his half of the company and vanishing. Shin was arrested in August 2011 attempting to board a plane for Canada. Initially he was arrested for violating his parole from the embezzlement case, under which he couldn’t leave the country, which gave police time to consolidate the case against him.

In the months he’d been missing, 800Xchange had moved premises but no one had yet moved into the old offices. In those offices, Police found Chris’ blood on a door, floor, and ceiling. It was only when confronted with the blood evidence, did Shin tell police that he had Chris had got into a fight and Chris hit his head on a desk during a fall, he claimed accidentally. Because of the embezzlement case, Shin didn’t call the police “because he was scared, in shock and convinced that no one would believe him” (latimes.com) yet an email was sent at 6.01pm from Chris’ email account confirming  Shin could buy him out of the company.  It was sent shortly after Chris had died.

Shin claims to have paid an Eastern European man to dispose of the body, but his mobile phone pinged off towers near the Mexican border on two different days and many believe that he was there to hide the body himself. When questioned, he says these trips were escape attempts to start a new life in Mexico, but he lost the nerve last minute because he “couldn’t bear the thought of leaving his three small children” (latimes.com).

In 2018, Ed Shin was convicted of first-degree murder, he maintains Chris’ death was accidental and that he has no knowledge of where his body is.

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