Woman in Smart case changed by husband, son says

Associated Press/March 15, 2003
By C.G. Wallace

Salt Lake City -- The woman arrested in the Elizabeth Smart case once decorated cakes professionally and worked as a beautician, but her family says she began wearing odd robes and panhandling after she married drifter Brian David Mitchell.

Wanda Barzee, 57, became devoted to the self-proclaimed prophet, relatives said, and the couple sold their belongings and were often seen begging at Mormon church headquarters.

"They went all crazy and homeless," said Mark Thompson, one of Barzee's six children from an earlier marriage.

Police say Barzee played a role in Elizabeth's kidnapping last June, then fled with her husband and the teenager into the foothills above the Smart family home and camped there for two months.

The three traveled back and forth to San Diego, investigators say, and Barzee may have been alone with the teen while Mitchell served six days in a California jail for vandalizing a church.

During those six days, Barzee told a friend, she prayed and was told by God that the three needed to return to Salt Lake City.

Vicki Cottrell, who has known Barzee for 28 years and is executive director of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill of Utah, said Barzee told her from jail Friday that God also told her she and Mitchell would be picked up and "put in jail by the evildoers of the world."

Cottrell said she hoped Barzee had "maybe some glimpses of something they had done that was very wrong and needed to be dealt with."

Barzee's arrest Wednesday followed a lifetime of turmoil. As a child she was molested, and her first husband was violent, said her son, a construction worker.

"I can still see him hitting her," Thompson said. He remembers his mother as loving, but also selfish and "in her own world."

Barzee fled that first marriage, leaving behind her children. Thompson, then 11, said he does not remember her saying goodbye. But four years later they repaired their relationship, and he moved in with his mother and her new husband, Mitchell.

Her son said that one night, around 1990, he was shaken awake by the couple in the wee hours.

"They said 'We saw angels. They talked to us,'" he said.

After that, his mother and stepfather were always praying. The two started shunning modern medicine and relied solely on herbal remedies, he said.

"I was like, 'Whoa, I've got to move,'" Thompson said. "I told my friends that they might even sacrifice me or something. It was the look in their eyes."

Shortly after that, the couple sold their possessions and began living on the streets. There, Barzee was known as "God Adorn Us," said Ed Snoddy, a homeless outreach worker who met the couple three years ago.

Thompson said the couple often yelled when they fought.

"She kind of controlled him in ways," he said. "She would yell at him like, 'Get out of my kitchen' and he was always like, 'Yes dear.'"

Mitchell's father saw a different dynamic between the couple, saying the relationship was affected by the unhappiness in Barzee's first marriage.

"She'd come from a very troubled marriage, a very violent husband. So they were two walking invalids, psychologically," said Shirl Mitchell. "She was always very deferential to him."

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