Police: Laguna man's death masked by emails

Two men from Irvine and Laguna Niguel have been charged in the recently uncovered slaying of Christopher Smith in June 2010.

September 01, 2011|From
  • Christopher Ryan Smith was a former professional wake boarder, surfer and avid outdoorsman who craved adventure, his family said.
Christopher Ryan Smith was a former professional wake…

Last summer, Laguna Beach resident Christopher Ryan Smith emailed family and friends with exciting news: He was embarking on an African adventure.

Over the next few months, his emails recounted the highlights. One day he was paragliding near Johannesburg. On another, he was sandboarding in "huge mines" in South Africa where the "sand was softer than snow powder."

In December, the 32-year-old Internet executive announced that he was going to Congo and Rwanda. Then, abruptly, all communication stopped.

His worried family in Oregon called U.S. authorities and launched an international hunt, fearing he might have run into trouble in the war-torn region.

But Orange County authorities now say Smith was never in Africa; in fact, he was already dead. They say he was killed inside his office in San Juan Capistrano by his business partner, Edward Younghoon Shin, of Irvine, who used Smith's email account to send the messages.

Shin was arrested earlier this week and charged with Smith's killing. Authorities this week also arrested Shin's personal assistant, Kenny Roy Kraft, 34, of Laguna Niguel, for allegedly helping Shin dispose of Smith's belongings and vehicle.


Kraft has pleaded not guilty. Shin has not entered a plea, and neither he nor his attorney could be reached for comment.

The charges capped an investigation that began several months ago.

The family is still reeling, trying to understand what happened.

"Those emails were a small part of the trauma he put our family through," said Smith's father, Steven. "It was just horrendous. It went on for months.... [Shin] led us everywhere but the truth."

Smith and Shin co-founded 800xchange, an advertising and marketing firm. Based in an upscale office complex in the hills of San Juan Capistrano, 800xchange helped design marketing and lead-generation campaigns for companies. Authorities said that in the months before Smith disappeared, the pair had been arguing about money and that Shin had agreed to buy Smith out for $1 million.

Family and friends said they were not surprised when Smith announced plans for long-term trek to Africa. Smith was a former professional wakeboarder, surfer and avid outdoorsman who craved adventure.

But the emails Smith's family begin receiving from Africa didn't seem like him. They were short and sometimes curt, lacking the descriptive flair and sense of fun they were used to from his dispatches.

Coastline Pilot Articles Coastline Pilot Articles