Couple known as polite but very odd

There was a sadness about Wanda Ilene Barzee, a downcast look in her eye as she clutched her doll and wandered around Salt Lake City with a man who claimed he was God.

"She was subservient to him and treated him like he was her master," said Pamela Adkisson, a homeless advocate who knew Barzee and Brian David Mitchell for four years. "She was very quiet and would stand next to him looking at the ground."

The pair panhandled for change, made religious pronouncements and, according to police, kidnapped Elizabeth Smart nine months ago, taking her on an odyssey investigators are still trying to piece together. Now both are behind bars.

Those who met Mitchell knew he was delusional, and it was a delusion that seemed to grow worse with each passing month. He wore a white robe and carried a staff, proclaiming himself God or Jesus, depending on his mood. He said he talked to angels and spirits who told him to sell everything he had and preach to the homeless.

Last October, he took things a step further, making his wife wear a sort of white burqa, covering her face, body and head. He apparently also put Smart in a robe, wig and veil rendering the 15-year-old invisible in a community desperately trying to find her.

Mitchell, who went by the name Emmanuel, sometimes introduced himself as "God be with us" and his wife as "God adorn us." He was a well-known character in downtown Salt Lake, a panhandler locals called the "Jesus Guy."

"He would always walk up to you and just put out his hand, as if you were supposed to know that he wanted money," said Paul Murphy, a former television reporter.

Mitchell and Barzee are Salt Lake natives.

Barzee got married right out of high school and had two children. She later divorced. Her daughter, Lauree Gayler, left to live with her father, a move Adkisson said may have driven Barzee to the brink.

"She suffered greatly not being with her daughter," she said. "Wanda was always carrying a doll. Some people think that's why they took Elizabeth, to be with her like a daughter."

Mitchell attended Skyline High School and was remembered as a person with few friends who never fit in. He built model rockets and married when he was 19. He had two children before his divorce.

Sometime in the 1990s he began hearing voices and he developed a religious philosophy that he spelled out in a 27-page tract called "The Book of Emmanuel David Isaiah."

Salt Lake police said he has no criminal record for sexual abuse or violent crime.

Salt Lake City Police Chief Rick Dinse said Mitchell had an interest in polygamy.

"He did believe in polygamy, but I do not want to attach his relationship to Elizabeth in that fashion," he said.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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