The emails from Chris Smith to family and friends began in June 2010 with seemingly happy news: The 30-year-old wrote that he was flush with $1 million cash after selling out his half of an ad company to his partner and was embarking on an epic world journey by yacht with a Playboy playmate he'd met in Vegas. Then came the updates from the Galapagos, Peru, Chile, the Congo, and other far-flung locales. His final emails talked about trying to sell gold Krugerrands and arranging a meeting with a dealer in Rwanda. Then the emails stopped, and Smith's family began an investigation into his disappearance that would yield a startling revelation, writes James Vlahos at GQ. His passport hadn't been used: Smith, it seems, had never even left the US.
When the State Department referred the family back to the local police in Laguna Beach, California, the trail soon led to Smith's business partner, Edward Shin. First came the discovery of Shin's shady business past, then the discovery of Smith's blood in their warehouse. Investigators say Shin soon changed his story to say that Smith fell and hit his head while they were fighting about something, and he admitted hacking into Smith's email to send the fake all-is-well messages. Shin's murder trial begins later this spring, and his attorney, while still not acknowledging that Smith is even dead (his body has not been found), says that it would be a case of self-defense if that proves to be the case. Click for the full story, in which a seemingly ill-advised phone call made by Shin near the Mexico border and a chance discovery by a private investigator also play roles. (Read more Longform stories.)