Extramarital affair ends with film executive's death, years-long cover-up
11/13/2017 1:02 pm PST
A charming Hollywood executive living a fairy tale life with a picture-perfect family.
But Gavin Smith's own personal plotline took an R-rated turn, and his life became a tangled true-life mystery turned haunting thriller. The final scene: a tragic fade to black.
The Smith Family is a living portrait of all things sand, surf and Southern California sunshine, from the time Gavin Smith met wife Lisa, to the birth of three handsome athletic sons. They were all the center of Gavin's universe.
"I've watched them grow up, and almost to exhaustion, like tirelessly, effortlessly, every night he came home, would just happily constantly devote his time to the kids," said Gavin's brother-in-law Ed Addeo.
Gavin enjoyed an 18-year career with film studio 20th Century Fox distributing huge movies like Avatar and Titanic. But the larger-than-life figure -- 6 foot 7 feet tall, to be exact -- had been making impressive strides dating all the way back to college, playing basketball at UCLA for the iconic coach John Wooden. Gavin Smith was on the last national championship team in 1975. Next goal? Working tirelessly for a shot at the NBA.
"He was a physical specimen. Worked out every day," said Addeo. "He just really took care of himself."
But the pros were not in the cards for Gavin Smith. It was a crushing blow.
"After he didn't get drafted, when he was with UCLA, he just went off into the mountains for about five or six days and then came back home," said Addeo.
With the brooding over, Gavin was ready for his next move. He becomes a caddie at a high society golf club and found his new career path -- but not as a golfer.
"He met a lot of people there, and a lot of movie moguls," said Gavin's brother Greg Smith.
Despite his movie-star good looks, Gavin ultimately found his place behind the scenes at Fox, starting from the bottom up.
"Somebody looked at him and said 'Oh, you don't know much.' He says 'Yeah, but in six months I'll know everything you know, and I'll do it better,' and he did," said Ed Addeo.
Gavin Smith worked his way up the ladder to become an affable, smart film distributor loved by all.
"He was an honest caring person, give the shirt off of his back," Greg Smith tells Crime Watch Daily.
But as it goes with many families, the glow of the happy images can fade with the stress of daily life. The real estate tumble put the family's home underwater, and financial problems were mounting. Gavin suffered chronic back pain from a previous injury.
"He would tell me how much pain he was, 'It's not good for me, Greg, I'm hurting bad," said Greg Smith.
Like millions who have become part of the same national epidemic, Gavin became addicted to painkillers.
"As anybody who's been there will tell you, is the meds stop working, so you take more and you take more and it got out of control," said Greg. "He couldn't live without them, and they weren't helping, and so he's taking too many."
Gavin went to rehabilitation to tackle his problem head-on.
"He had to do something and he did it. He took care of it. That's the way he is. He took care of things," said Ed Addeo.
But the last few years of Gavin's marriage to wife Lisa had become a challenge.
"They weren't getting along, we knew that," said Greg. "He had called me on my birthday and he had mentioned a couple of things, 'It's not good.' He's in a very dark place in regards to his marriage and the boys are feeling it. He was very depressed."
And there was another dark damaging shadow cast over the Smith family in the form of an exotic young beauty named Chandrika Creech.
"Gavin Smith met Chandrika at the Matrix Drug Rehabilitation Facility," said L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Robert Grace. "That's how they became friends, and then later, lovers."
That's when Gavin's troubles went from bad to catastrophic. Chandrika was married to convicted drug dealer John Creech. But according to that couple, staying together was a matter of financial convenience.
"They're separated but living together, according to those parties," said Robert Grace. "John Creech is actually seeing another woman."
John Creech, 39, told Chandrika he was done with her -- in fact, he had fallen in love with an 18-year-old girl still in high school.
Meanwhile, Gavin Smith had managed to release the grip of pill addiction, but Chandrika was a temptation he could not resist. Gavin moved out of the family home and was staying with a colleague. It tore the heart out of his children. Gavin was devastated by the broken bond with his sons.
"His whole thought process was regaining the relationship with his boys," said brother-in-law Ed Addeo.
Gavin Smith, saddled with marital, financial and health issues, has now suddenly vanished in May 2012.
"I think everyone was hopeful that maybe he needed a breather and decided to get off the grid for a while," said L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Robert Grace.
How does a muscular, 6' 7" movie exec with dazzling looks and a blinding smile go unnoticed?
"My partner and I would look at each other and we'd change our minds, 'Oh, maybe he's a missing person. He just left for a while. Maybe he started using drugs again. Maybe he's in a hotel somewhere,'" said L.A. County Sheriff's Detective John O'Brien.
Los Angeles County Sheriff's detectives begin an exhaustive search for Gavin Smith and put a magnifying glass on his personal and professional life in a desperate search for clues.
"It was a little bit out there to believe that this was a murder right at the get-go," said Det. O'Brien.
Phone records from around the time of Gavin's disappearance revealed a phone number that was a glaring standout to Gavin's estranged wife Lisa.
"On that list she noticed Chandrika's phone number and instantly recognized it," said Det. O'Brien.
Lisa tells detectives her husband is cheating with Chandrika Creech. So detectives paid a visit to the mistress.
"She never let us in the house, but we sat down on her porch and we talked to her for a good hour or so, and she admitted to the affair," said Det. O'Brien.
But Chandrika insisted she had no idea where Gavin was. Detectives also learn that her husband John Creech, a drug dealer and avid bodybuilder, was angry about his wife's tryst with the charismatic Gavin Smith.
"When he finds out, he gets very upset and begins sending threatening emails to Gavin Smith, saying, 'I know what you're doing,'" said Deputy D.A. Robert Grace.
Gavin's wife Lisa told detectives she was so afraid of John Creech and his threats on her husband that she had once done something unthinkable. Lisa boldly drove two of her sons to John Creech's house to try to make peace.
"The way she describes it it was going to be like a family-to-family situation, and that if she was able to get quote-unquote 'the families together,' then Gavin would back off and Chandrika would back off and there would be no need for John Creech to be angry," said Grace.
Lisa waited in the car while her youngest and eldest sons took what must have seemed like an endless walk to Creech's front door.
"The two of them would go and talk to John Creech and basically in an effort to get John Creech not to hurt their father," said Grace. "The boys basically said 'Listen, we know that our father is having an affair with your wife and that we're very sorry about it.'"
According to reports, Gavin's youngest boy, who was only 14 at the time, told Creech "I'm in the eighth grade. I'm too young to lose my dad."
"I was quite upset," said Greg Smith. "Why would you send your own children, who are under age, to confront somebody who thinks you might murder your husband? I don't get that."
John Creech was even floored by the gutsy move.
"Creech was taken aback that they had come to his residence, and then he was angry about having to talk to the boys," said Grace.
But perhaps the plea for mercy from the boys worked.
"Ultimately John Creech makes the statement that 'You saved your father's life by coming here,'" said Grace. "That was the way that everybody left it: coming to the house had quote-unquote 'Saved their father's life,' and the boys left feeling that their father wasn't going to continue having an affair with Creech's wife."
But detectives were alarmed. After hearing these stunning accounts from Gavin's wife and sons, they sensed his disappearance was no disappearance at all. John Creech, they believed, could be a man with deadly potential. And Chandrika Creech may have known more than she was telling.
"We knew that we had to look at John Creech and his wife Chandrika Creech, and we had to basically clear them from any type of allegations," said Det. O'Brien.
As it turns out, Chandrika was not honest when she first told cops she hadn't seen Gavin and didn't know what happened to him.
"We did an undercover sting where we had an informant meet with Chandrika Creech, and during that conversation she laid out exactly what happened," said Det. O'Brien.
The devil is in the details that Chandrika unwittingly spilled to the informant, beginning with the last night Gavin Smith was ever seen alive: Chandrika and Gavin make plans to meet again.
"This time Chandrika is going to drive to a predetermined location where they are going to meet," said Robert Grace. "Kind of a lovers lane for kids."
John Creech is suspicious and decides to track her down.
"They all have this AT&T family map plan with their cellphone plan, which allows you to be able to track ostensibly where your kids are," said Grace. "And your wife, in this case.
"When he finds them, Chandrika is in Gavin's car and they are both seated in the passenger's seat of Gavin's Mercedes-Benz. Chandrika is sitting in Gavin Smith's lap," said Grace.
Chandrika says that John Creech catches them in a lip-lock and becomes unhinged. She jumps out of the car while her lover's towering frame remains trapped in the reclined passenger seat. He's beaten to a pulp by a jealous husband on steroids.
"John Creech is straddling him, according to Chandrika, and being repeatedly punched by Creech -- Gavin Smith, to the face," said Grace.
"The injuries to his face is equivalent to falling off a two-story building and landing face-first," said Det. O'Brien.
And those lethal weapons of fists were still ready to punish, according to Chandrika.
"John Creech, stops, gets out of the car, tells Chandrika 'You're next,'" said Grace.
Gavin Smith has vanished, and L.A. County Sheriff's investigators are getting a partial picture of what happened.
Gavin's mistress Chandrika Creech gave up nothing to detectives at first, but spilled her guts to an informant, revealing that her jealous bodybuilding drug-dealing husband John Creech gave the popular studio exec a world-class beating, left him battered inside his black Mercedes, and threatened to do the same to her.
The young adulteress told the informant that she was terrified and high-tailed it home. John Creech arrived a few minutes later on foot. He spares Chandrika his physical rage, but makes a demand.
"He tells her that if she doesn't drive him back to the location, he's going to tell the police that she was involved in Gavin Smith's murder," said L.A. County Deputy District Attorney Robert Grace.
But was Gavin Smith dead? Chandrika gives in to her husband and drives him back to the scene of the beating. Creech checks Gavin's pulse. There was none.
"There was no doubt in her mind that Gavin was dead," said L.A. County Sheriff's Det. John O'Brien.
"John Creech eventually gets into the vehicle, drives the Mercedes-Benz back to his residence and then begins making calls to people who he thinks will help him in terms of trying to hide the body and the car," said Robert Grace.
Both Chandrika and John Creech had blood on their clothes. Chandrika claimed hers somehow transferred from her husband.
"She threw it in the fireplace to burn them," said O'Brien. "Shortly after that, John Creech threw his clothes into the fireplace and burned them. So the evidence of what they were both wearing that evening was gone."
John Creech is getting panicked, and makes his first call for help to friend Jorge Valles.
"He agrees to help John Creech to hide Gavin Smith's body, but he is not going to let him hide the car at his residence," said Robert Grace.
The men search for a suitable spot in the hills, but Creech isn't satisfied with the location. Enter Stan McQuay, a championship bodybuilder and friend of John Creech's.
"McQuay ostensibly, without asking any questions, lets him park the Mercedes-Benz inside the garage," said Grace. "With the body."
The team of willing cohorts grows even larger. Next on board to lend a hand is a woman named Rina Lim.
"Rina took care of Chandrika's grandmother while she was terminally ill, living in the house, the Creech home," said Det. O'Brien.
Creech convinced Lim to rent a large storage locker and a van in her name. Then he heads back to Stan McQuay's garage, where the Mercedes and the body have been sitting for five days.
"John Creech arrives in a rented U-Haul van, removes the body and takes the body up to Palmdale, where he buries it," said Det. O'Brien. "All by himself."
Creech had other plans for Gavin's blood-stained Mercedes. The car is towed to a storage unit.
"I think it was self-preservation. They just felt that at that point if they came forward they were gonna be charged with something, so they wanted to keep their mouth shut," said Det. O'Brien.
As for Chandrika, cops say she witnessed the murder but knew little else of the aftermath.
"She only knows her husband was responsible for getting rid of Gavin Smith's car and the body, but she doesn't know exactly where they are," said Deputy D.A. Robert Grace.
"She said John told her that he buried the body beneath power lines, believing that would affect our investigation -- we would not be able to locate him," said Det. O'Brien.
It's a precarious situation for sheriff's homicide detectives, who are building a case but are not ready to make an arrest.
"Did not have the car and we did not have Gavin," said Det. O'Brien.
And detectives cant compromise the investigation by going public.
"We were guarded on releasing information because if we give out too much information, we don't know if somebody's telling us what they heard on the news or what they witnessed or what they know as a fact," said Det. O'Brien.
Even the anguished Smith family believed Gavin could still be a missing person.
"They don't know whether he is dead or alive," said Robert Grace. "They can't get life insurance proceeds because there's been no legal determination that he's dead."
Almost a year after Gavin Smith's disappearance, cops get an important lead.
"The break in the case comes when the police get a tip as to a storage facility that has a Mercedes-Benz," said Grace.
And there it was in all its tainted glory: a blood-spattered Mercedes, minus a body, but with plenty of pay dirt in the way of evidence.
"We found some DNA from John Creech on the key fob and also on the front license-plate screw," said Det. O'Brien. "The Smith family was able to declare Gavin Smith deceased."
Sheriff's personnel begin interrogation roundups for everyone they believed knew about or assisted in Gavin Smith's murder and cover-up. But the case was far from closed for detectives and for Gavin's family.
"We knew it was a homicide and then we had to find the body just to get some kind of closure," said Gavin's brother Greg Smith.
And incredibly, it would take another year and a half before Gavin's family would finally get that closure. Detectives would get the most critical pieces of evidence. The discovery was thanks to a hiker named Rocky Ramos and his dog "Buddy." They found a skull. And close by, the most devastating scene of all.
"They find a shallow grave which turns out to be the resting place of Gavin Smith," said Robert Grace. "His body is now skeletal because of the time period that has passed between his disappearance."
Cops make their move, but they don't have to go far to find John Creech. During the investigation of Gavin Smith, John Creech was imprisoned for drug-dealing. Now he's got a murder rap.
By the time John Creech went to trial for the murder of Fox executive Gavin Smith, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Robert Grace was ready to pack his own punch on the accused killer. Prosecutors had an arsenal of evidence against John Creech.
"He surprised him and he began to physically attack Gavin Smith, who's seated in the front passenger seat," said Robert Grace.
"There was cracks in his skull all leading from the front facial area to the back," said L.A. County Sheriff's Det. John O'Brien.
Was John Creech capable of such violence? His wife Chandrika had the evidence to prove it. She came armed with photos of previous alleged assaults.
"Based upon the testimony of Chandrika and evidence that was presented in court, he committed domestic violence," said Grace. "He was described as being an angry guy."
There were John Creech's haunting words to Gavin Smith's sons the day they came to plead for their father's life.
"John Creech states, 'You saved your father's life by coming here today,'" Grace said in court.
And even though Creech was dating an 18-year-old high school student at the time of the murder, his ego was crushed by his wife's affair with the strapping Gavin Smith. Like a rabid dog, Creech was protecting his turf.
Prosecutors handed a seemingly solid case to jurors, parading to the stand each and every person who had a hand in helping cover up the crime.
"The individuals that were involved in helping Creech to hide, none of them had prior criminal records," said Grace. "Not Stan McQuay, not Jorge Valles, not Rina Lim and not Chandrika. We gave them immunity in order to testify against John Creech."
There was the DNA on Gavin's Mercedes belonging to Creech. And cellphone records putting the accused killer and victim together the night of the murder.
Desperate for a defense, Creech tried to convince the jury he was attacked first.
"He's got a long reach and he just pinned my head up against the ceiling and at that point is when I pressed off, I just went into fight-or-flight mode," Creech testified. "And at that point, especially when he bit down on my thumb, I really tripped out."
Then the jury hears that Gavin Smith was wielding a deadly weapon that night.
"He approaches John with this hammer, that's on top is a hammer and on the end is an ice-pick. He approaches and runs at John with this weapon," Creech's attorney Irene Nunez says in court.
No weapon was ever discovered.
The jury had much to consider once it went into deliberation, but it took less than an hour for nine women and three men to come back with a verdict. That's generally a very good sign for prosecutors and the family of Gavin Smith, who want a first-degree premeditated murder conviction to potentially put John Creech away for life.
What prosecutors got instead caused a collective jaw-drop in the courtroom.
"We the jury in the above-entitled action find the defendant John Creech guilty of the crime of the voluntary manslaughter of Gavin Smith."
Not guilty of first-degree murder; not even second-degree murder; but guilty of voluntary manslaughter. In this case, the jury saw nothing more egregious than a crime of passion.
"There was so much proof for a premeditated murder," said Gavin Smith's brother-in-law Ed Addeo. "I just don't know how they could come to that conclusion."
"I was extremely frustrated by their verdict," said Det. O'Brien. "My opinion is that they didn't like the fact that Gavin and Chandrika had an affair. I think the jury felt that he went back even after he had been warned, so in a way he kind of got what was coming to him. I don't even understand that logic, because there's no right to kill somebody."
And adding insult to injury for the Smith family, not a single person involved in the cover-up will face a single charge or do a day of time.
"I think they should get prison sentences, and here they're walking, they're skating and it's just wrong," said Greg Smith.
For two and a half years those same people kept the crime a secret while detectives poured out blood, sweat and tears trying to solve it, and the family suffered with the unknown.
"A lot of people could have saved our families a lot of pain if they just came forward right out of the gate," said Ed Addeo.
"Yes, they were all culpable in what they did, in the cover-up, the hiding of evidence, but ultimately there was only one man who caused the death of Gavin Smith, and he was our main focus," said Det. O'Brien. "I think they made better witnesses than they did suspects."
Creech faced up to 11 years for the crime. On sentencing day, Gavin's wife and oldest son unleashed seething wrath on John Creech.
"I hope he spends every year of the 11-year sentence that I pray that you give him -- he shouldn't be amongst us. Behind walls like an animal that he is," Lisa Smith said at the time.
Even the judge expressed disgust.
"Your actions after beating Gavin Smith are egregious, heartless, callous. You failed to render aid. You failed to be compassionate. And all you cared about was yourself," said L.A. County Superior Court Judge Stephen Marcus.
John Creech was sentenced under the limitations of California law.
"The court selects the high term of 11 years for the voluntary manslaughter," said Judge Marcus.
"Any time that you're able to get a verdict, and if you respect our jury system, then yes, justice was done in the eyes of the jury that was hearing the case," said Deputy D.A. Robert Grace.
The larger-than-life Gavin Smith left a positive indelible mark on the lives of so many. Who would have guessed a fall to temptation would topple this towering figure?
"Nobody deserves to be killed because they had an affair," said Robert Grace. "If that's the case there would be a lot of people that would be dead in America."
"He wasn't some adulterer having flings here and there, and that just wasn't him, OK," said Greg Smith. "Unfortunately this liaison cost him his life.
"Smiling, always happy, he was bigger than life. I loved him and I miss him, but he'll always be here. Always," Greg said.