Movie exec whose remains were found by hikers was murdered in his car, police say

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

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  (AP Photo/Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department)

Authorities say they believe a former 20th Century Fox executive and UCLA basketball player was murdered in his car before his body was dumped in a shallow grave in a California national forest more than two years ago.

No arrests have been made yet in the death of Gavin Smith, whose remains were found Oct. 26 in the Angeles National Forest, in rural Palmdale, Lt. Dave Dolson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's homicide bureau told reporters Thursday.

Dolson said the manner and cause of death have not yet been determined, though he said, "There's indications that there was some trauma." A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation told the Associated Press that when authorities found Smith's Mercedes-Benz in 2013 there was enough blood and body tissue to believe he'd been killed.

"After examining Gavin's car, we were able to confidently label Gavin's death a homicide," Dolson said at a press conference Thursday. "There was evidence in the car that indicated he was killed in the car."

Smith, 57, who played college basketball for legendary UCLA Coach John Wooden, was last seen alive leaving a female friend's home in Ventura County the night of May 1, 2012, in the black, 2000-model Mercedes-Benz 420 E.

In February 2013, investigators acting on a tip found Smith’s car in a Simi Valley storage locker linked to James Creech, who is serving an eight-year sentence for an unrelated drug conviction. Undisclosed evidence discovered in the car indicated Smith had met with foul play, police said at the time.

A SWAT team and police detectives had already raided an LA-area home owned by Creech a month after the executive disappeared in a search for evidence of a felony sources said at the time may have been related to Smith's disappearance. Smith had reportedly met Creech's wife, Chandrika Creech, in rehab, although Creech has denied knowing Smith.

A dog accompanying hikers alerted the group to human remains on Oct. 26 in what Dolson described as "rugged and vast" terrain. Authorities confirmed through dental records that the remains belonged to Smith. 

Dolson said Creech remains a person of interest in the case, adding, "The possibility that others may have been involved in the crime is still alive."

"At this point, we are not charging anybody with anything," he said. "The crime is still under investigation and we’re not going to discuss the motive at this time."

Dolson said detectives have recovered "hundreds of items of evidence" in their investigation into Smith's death.

"Because of the discovery of Gavin's remains, there's potentially a lot more evidence for us to process," he said, noting that authorities are confident their findings will lead to a conviction of the person or persons responsible for his death. 

Smith, a married father of three, was estranged from his family at the time of his disappearance. He was officially declared dead on May 1 of this year.

Smith worked in the movie industry for 18 years and helped distribute blockbuster hits such as "Avatar" and the "Star Wars" trilogy. The executive, who was 6 feet, 6 inches tall, was also a member of UCLA's 1975 national championship men's basketball team. Smith's family, including his son Evan, a former forward for USC's basketball team, has declined to comment about the case.'s Cristina Corbin contributed to this report.