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Remains of Fox movie executive who disappeared found in desert area of Los Angeles County

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LOS ANGELES — The remains of a 20th Century Fox executive who mysteriously disappeared more than two years ago were found in a desert area, and police said Thursday they believe they know what led to his killing.

Gavin Smith, 57, was last seen May 1, 2012, in Ventura County's Oak Park neighborhood after leaving the home of a female friend.

Hikers discovered the remains about 70 miles away, near Palmdale in the Antelope Valley, on Oct. 26, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said. Results of an autopsy have not been finalized.

Smith was with Fox's movie distribution department for nearly 18 years and was a branch manager for several theaters. He was also a former UCLA basketball player and had three children.

Authorities said earlier they had found Smith's Mercedes-Benz at a Simi Valley storage facility nine months after his disappearance. Its condition along with witness statements led them to believe Smith was killed.

A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said Thursday the car contained Smith's blood and body tissue, including skin stuck to a seat.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Sheriff's Lt. Dave Dolson said investigators are optimistic they will solve the case.

"We believe we know what happened" and why, he said without elaboration.

Dolson said the remains were crucial to the case and were found in an area where investigators believed they would be located.

Forensic examination of the remains may help provide critical details that help detectives fill in the blanks and strengthen their case, said Capt. Rod Kusch.

PHOTO: FILE - This file photo released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department shows missing 20th Century Fox executive Gavin Smith who was last seen May 1, 2012. The Los Angeles County coroner's office confirmed early Thursday Nov. 6, 2014 that the remains of Gavin Smith have been positively identified. (AP Photo/Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)
FILE - This file photo released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department shows missing 20th Century Fox executive Gavin Smith who was last seen May 1, 2012. The Los Angeles County coroner's office confirmed early Thursday Nov. 6, 2014 that the remains of Gavin Smith have been positively identified. (AP Photo/Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

"Even if we have the how and why part ... there's other evidence that can come to surface with forensic examination of the remains," Kusch said.

A previous search had been unsuccessful, and authorities discouraged Smith's family and friends from conducting a search for him for their own safety, Dolson said.

The storage facility where Smith's car was found was linked to John Creech, a man who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for sales or transport of narcotics, Dolson said previously. Creech was named a person of interest but has not been charged with Smith's killing.

Police have said Smith had "some kind of relationship" with Creech's wife, Chandrika, after meeting her in drug rehabilitation several years earlier. Dolson declined to provide details.

The official who spoke anonymously said the relationship was believed to be romantic.

Investigators served dozens of search warrants mainly in locations around the San Fernando Valley and involving Creech's home and Hummer.

Detectives believe Smith's car was in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley about a week after his disappearance and it was eventually moved — possibly by multiple people — to the Simi Valley storage facility, Dolson said previously.

"We think we know an area in which he was at, or where the murder may have taken place," Dolson told the AP earlier this year. He declined to elaborate further.

Dolson said investigators were working with the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

"This case is complex," said sheriff's Chief of Detectives Bill McSweeney. "We've kind of known what happened for a long time ... many, many months."

The body, he added, "gives us proof that he was killed."


Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams .

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Video:
PHOTO: The remains of a 20th Century Fox executive who mysteriously disappeared more than two years ago were found in a desert area and police said Thursday they believe they know what led to his killing. (Nov. 6)
The remains of a 20th Century Fox executive who mysteriously disappeared more than two years ago were found in a desert area and police said Thursday they believe they know what led to his killing. (Nov. 6)
Photo Gallery:
PHOTO: FILE - This file photo released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department shows missing 20th Century Fox executive Gavin Smith who was last seen May 1, 2012. The Los Angeles County coroner's office confirmed early Thursday Nov. 6, 2014 that the remains of Gavin Smith have been positively identified. (AP Photo/Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)
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