Wanda Barzee Wiki: The “Monster” Who Kidnapped Utah Teen Elizabeth Smart

Wanda Barzee, along with her husband Brian David Mitchell, kidnapped 14-year-old Salt Lake City teen Elizabeth Smart on June 5, 2002. Smart then endured nine months of hell, often under the watchful, scornful eye of Wanda Barzee. After Smart was found alive on March 12, 2003, Barzee was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison. While it was expected that Barzee would serve at least 10 years in prison, the unrepentant kidnapper was released on September 19, 2018—five years ahead of schedule. This Wanda Barzee wiki looks at the woman who helped her husband kidnap an innocent child at knifepoint, a woman her own children call an evil monster.

Who Is Wanda Barzee?

Most people have a cheering squad or someone who will, at the very least, champion their memory. Not Wanda Barzee. By all accounts, she is a vile, unrepentant human being who likes to play the victim. Still, there are some objective facts.

About Wanda Barzee
Age72 Years
BirthNovember 6, 1945 Salt Lake City, Utah
GenderFemale
SpouseBrian David Mitchell,
Talmadge Thomson (ex)
SiblingsJanice Barzee, Evelyn Barzee
ParentsDora Barzee, Marvin Barzee
NationalityAmerican

Wanda Barzee was born on November 6, 1945 in Salt Lake City, Utah. She was the second of three daughters born to Dora and Marvin Barzee. Sister Janice was two years older, while Evelyn was two years younger.

Wanda Barzee is remembered as being a good student who excelled at sewing, art, cake decorating, and music. But any dreams she may have had of working in the arts fell to the wayside when, in her senior year at Salt Lake City’s South High School, she met her future husband, Talmadge Thompson.

The love-struck couple married just months after she graduated. She was 19 years of age, and he was a 27-year-old aspiring educator. Within the first three years of marriage, Wanda had three children—one a year, all born in August. Over the next seven years, they had three more. Before turning 30, Wanda had three sons and three daughters.

Whether it was the stress of taking care of six young children, her mental health, or paranoia (she was suspicious of everyone, including family, friends, and doctors), Wanda had a nervous breakdown. This led to the breakdown of their marriage.

In 1983, Wanda Barzee left her husband and children—one was in foster care and the oldest children were becoming adults. She filed for divorce.

Barzee moved into a small apartment a mile east of downtown Salt Lake City. All she took were a few pieces of furniture and a baby grand piano.

The breakup could be described as acrimonious at best. Thompson was given custody of the other children, with each accusing the other of abuse and, in Barzee’s case, mental illness.

Wanda Barzee

Wanda Barzee (March 12, 2003); Photo: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department/Getty Images

Wanda Barzee Meets Brian David Mitchell

It was during this tumultuous time that Barzee met Brian David Mitchell.

She was told by her bishop that she should meet someone who had the same kind of problems as she did. The pair met in group counseling in a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ward in 1985. Neither of them was single at the time; they were both locked in bitter fights with their exes.

Misery loves company; on the first day that Mitchell came into the group, Wanda Barzee shared the story of her marriage to Talmadge Thompson.

“I was married to my first husband for 20 years, raising six children,” Barzee would later testify. “It was a very abusive situation. I never did heal from that first relationship before I met Brian. …Brian was so supportive to me. He became my best friend.”

Wanda Barzee was on anti-depressants during this period, she said, and Mitchell held her hand to comfort her during their counseling sessions.

On November 29, 1985, nine months after they met, the pair married on the same day Mitchell’s divorce became final. They were married in a civil ceremony by the bishop at Barzee’s LDS church. Together, they moved into her tiny apartment. “Together” means a combined family of 10 children, ranging in age from two to 20.

On January 23, 1988, Wanda Barzee and Brian David Mitchell were sealed, “for time and all eternity,” at the LDS temple in Salt Lake City.

Wanda Described First Year of Marriage as “Hell”

History isn’t doomed to repeat itself, but Wanda and Brian worked to ensure it did. The easygoing Wanda and laid-back Brian the kids saw while their parents were dating were long gone. Wanda and Brian fought loudly and frequently.

Despite him being her best friend, Wanda Barzee described the first year of marriage to Mitchell as being “hellish.”

Barzee said her husband would often say he was “consumed in fear and doubt.”

“He would never talk to me about what he was fearful of,” Barzee testified in court. “He would get angry and we would get in an argument and he would leave the house before he got so violent that he would hurt somebody or destroy something.”

Still, the couple carried on. Why? Wanda sought out counseling during that first year and explained how hellish her marriage was; she was counseled to stick it out and work out their problems.

Unfortunately, the marriage became more hellish and weird.

Wanda’s Marriage Becomes More Extreme

During the early years of their marriage, Tim Mitchell, Brian’s brother, said their beliefs became more and more extreme. The couple ate an all-fruit diet, believed in curing illness through lymphology, and became more obsessed with religion.

In 1993, Wanda Barzee sent each of her children a letter, telling them she was leaving Utah and didn’t want any further contact with them.

Barzee and Mitchell left to spend some time in Idaho. In 1995, Barzee renounced her family as “evil” and “materialistic.” The pair quit their jobs and hitchhiked around the country for two years, preaching.

The couple returned to Salt Lake City again in 1997. For a brief period of time, they lived with Barzee’s mother, Dora Corbett. It was during this time that Mitchell began working on his manifesto, The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah.

Barzee and Mitchell left after three months because of their increasing religious fanaticism.

“They were trying to push their religion on people all the time, calling them to repentance, and that was offensive,” Corbett said.

Wanda and Brian stayed in the Salt Lake area but returned to their transient ways, living in a teepee in the foothills of Salt Lake Valley or with Mitchell’s mother. Brian started wearing long white robes and tunics, grew a beard, and thought of himself as a Jesus figure.

Brian, no longer Brian, adopted the name “Immanuel David Isaiah” and Wanda was to be known as “Hephzibah,” meaning “God Adorneth.”

David Mitchell

David Mitchell (March 12, 2003); Photo: Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Department/Getty Images

The pair continued their ministry in Salt Lake City, panhandling on the clean streets and reaching out to those walking by. Sometimes he would swear at pedestrians if they didn’t give him money. Or, more dramatically, spread his arms out, like Jesus on the cross.

Corbett recalls seeing her daughter Wanda for the last time in 2002. She showed up at her home holding a doll, as if it were a real baby.

In April 2002, Brian finally finished his 27-page revelation, The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah. Wanda transcribed the revelation by hand and handed out copies to friends and families.

 “…I have raised up my servant Immanuel David Isaiah, ever my righteous right hand, to be a light and a covenant to my people—to all those who will repent and come unto me, for in my servant, Immanuel is the fullness of my gospel…”

Later that same year, brother Tim Mitchell, who is a mental health counselor, recounted, he had seen his brother and called him Brian. He told Tim that his name was no longer Brian; it was “Daveed” and Wanda’s name was “Elladah.”

Tim refused to call his brother Daveed and said he thought they were suffering from mental illness. Indeed, he may have been. Wanda may have been as well.

Brian had convinced Wanda, or she was willing to believe, that he was preordained by God to have six additional wives, all young, to help successfully, of course, wage war with the Antichrist.

More specifically, during the winter/spring of 2001, Brian claimed to have received a new revelation about celestial (plural) marriages. The pair was “given a commandment to take a young girl between the age of 10 to 14 years old.”

Later, Mitchell would say that the age was pinpointed to 14. He would go into downtown Salt Lake City and “stalk young girls, try to find out where they lived,” Barzee said.

The commandment to take up polygamy was written about in Mitchell’s Book of Immanuel. According to the book, Mitchell was supposed to form a society, and in it, he makes reference to “each of the seven diamonds plus one…”

Despite Mitchell eventually having a total of seven wives, in God’s new kingdom, Wanda would also have a lofty new position: the exalted queen. And Wanda Barzee knew what she had to do to get there.

Wanda Barzee and Brian David Mitchell Kidnap Elizabeth Smart

In late April 2002, Wanda and David received a revelation. They were told, Barzee said, “to go forth in five weeks and on the night of June 4, the Lord would open up the way for us to obtain our first wife.”

In the lead-up to June 4, Barzee and Mitchell found a base camp high up in the mountains and prepared for the arrival of the 14-year-old girl who would be Brian’s first celestial wife. This included ensuring there was a bucket on hand for their celestial wife to use as her bathroom, a tent where she would be raped, and a cable cut to a specific length that would allow her to move around the camp, to clean.

On the night of June 4, Brian and Wanda were at their camp; it was there that she encouraged Brian to heed God’s commands. Before midnight, Brian left looking for God to reveal to him who his first celestial wife would be.

In the early hours of June 5, 2002, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart, a quiet, devout Mormon who played the harp and loved horses, was kidnapped from her home at knifepoint by Wanda Barzee and Brian David Mitchell.

The only witness to the kidnapping was Elizabeth’s younger sister, Mary Katherine Smart, then 9. The pair were asleep in their beds when Mitchell entered through a kitchen window and came up to their bedroom.

Mitchell went over to Mary Katherine’s bed first, then he walked over to Elizabeth and tapped her awake. “What is it?” she asked, thinking it was Mary Katherine.

Mitchell forced Elizabeth out of her bed and told her to put shoes on. He then marched her out of the bedroom and down the hall. Mary Katherine got up to tell her parents what was happening, but when she got to her bedroom door, she froze; Mitchell was forcing Elizabeth down the hall.

Afraid, she retreated to her bedroom and ran back to bed. Shaking, Mary Katherine was worried he might take her as well. Two hours later, she went into her parents’ bedroom.

“I’m like, ‘Dad, Elizabeth’s gone,’ and he gets up and he goes racing into our room,” she recalled.

Minutes after being kidnapped, a police cruiser drove through the neighborhood; Mitchell forced Smart to the ground at knifepoint and threatened to kill her if she moved.

During the two hours Mary Katherine hid in her bed, Mitchell took Elizabeth and marched her up a mountain path behind her home in her red silk pajamas. Eventually, they reached Mitchell’s remote camp, which was just five miles from Smart’s house.

Here, Elizabeth was “sealed” to Mitchell in a mock marriage ceremony. Elizabeth Smart was given a new name, “Shearjashub.” Mitchell then raped Smart and shackled her between two trees with metal cables.

Elizabeth Smart missing poster

Over the next nine months, as the trio wandered throughout Utah and California, Elizabeth Smart was raped repeatedly daily, forced to drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, and watch Mitchell and Barzee have sex.

While in public, she was forced to wear robes and a veil and not allowed to speak to anybody. She didn’t shout out because she thought Mitchell would act on his threat to kill her and her family.

During her nine months in captivity, Wanda Barzee treated Elizabeth like a slave, denying her food and water for days at a time. Why? She was jealous that Mitchell was lusting after (raping) Smart.

There were a number of near misses where police should have found Smart, but Barzee was always there to stop it. One near miss occurred when homicide detectives questioned Mitchell at a library in downtown Salt Lake City.

While detectives spoke to Mitchell, Barzee clamped “iron” fingers into Elizabeth Smart’s thigh. Smart, wearing her robe and veil, kept quiet.

Elizabeth Smart Found

On March 12, 2003, Elizabeth Smart was found walking down a street with Barzee and Mitchell in Sandy, Utah, just five miles from her home.

Wanda Barzee Charged with Aggravated Kidnapping

It was a long, drawn-out process. After Elizabeth Smart was rescued, Barzee was charged with aggravated kidnapping, aggravated sexual assault, and aggravated burglary. In 2004, Barzee was found incompetent to stand trial and was instead sent to the Utah State Hospital for further review.

Five long years later, in November 2009, Wanda Barzee pleaded guilty to federal charges of kidnapping and unlawful transportation of a minor. In exchange for her plea, Barzee agreed to cooperate in the state and federal cases against Brian David Mitchell.

Wanda Barzee (January 9, 2004); Photo: Douglas C. Pizac-Pool/Getty Images

What Should Happen to Wanda Barzee?

Time does not heal all wounds—nor should it. Before her conviction, her children had varying opinions about what should happen to her.

In a 2010 interview with Oprah, her daughter Andrea Jenkins said she didn’t think her mother “should see the light of day again,” adding, “As citizen and as a mother myself, I feel like I have a responsibility to help protect children, and I don’t want to see anyone else fall victim to her.”

Barzee’s youngest child, Louree Gayler, thought Wanda would always need to be under some supervision. “…I think she’s always going need to some kind of structure or somewhere to turn to. I don’t think she should be out on her own,” she said.

Son Derrick Thompson, meanwhile, wasn’t sure what should happen to Wanda Barzee. “I’m not sure how I feel, if she should be locked away. …I’m glad she’s taking responsibility for what she’s done,” he said. “Whatever her sentence is, you know, I think that should be fair…whatever that may be.”

Wanda Barzee Sentenced to 15 Years

In 2010, Wanda Barzee was sentenced to 15 years in a Fort Worth, Texas federal prison. She was released from a federal prison in 2016, after just six years. She was then sent to prison in Utah to serve a state sentence. Barzee pleaded guilty in state court to attempted kidnapping in connection with a failed plot to kidnap Jessica Wright, Elizabeth Smart’s cousin, in July 2002.

A month after kidnapping Smart, Barzee and Mitchell tried to break into Wright’s home; Jessica was supposed to be Mitchell’s second young wife.

In that case, Barzee was sentenced to one to 15 years in state prison to be served concurrently with her federal sentence.

Barzee Testifies in Brian David Mitchell’s Kidnapping Trial

Brian David Mitchell was initially deemed mentally unfit to stand trial. But he was later found to be mentally competent. His trial began in the first week of November 2010; he was charged with kidnapping and sexual trafficking of a minor across state lines.

On November 18, 2010, Wanda Barzee began testifying against her husband, Brian David Mitchell.

An emotional Wanda Barzee described her estranged husband as a great liar and master manipulator. How he controlled everything, and the only way for her to get through the marriage, was by Barzee agreeing to be obedient and submissive.

Wanda was also allegedly told by Mitchell that he had received a revelation that she was “never to complain or demand,” but instead “to plead and suggest.”

This was why, in part, Wanda claims, she went along with plans to kidnap Elizabeth Smart, watch pornography, drink alcohol, and have sex in front of Smart, even though she didn’t want to. She felt pressure not to be disobedient to her husband’s divine calling.

Mitchell Commanded by God to Take Multiple Wives

Wanda recounted how she responded to Brian’s revelation that he was commanded by God to have many celestial marriages. This did not sit well with Wanda; she expressed how she was devastated at the idea of sharing him with another woman.

After two days of being upset, Barzee said, Brian announced he had conveniently received a new revelation that “no matter how hard it is to bear, I need to live the law or suffer eternal consequences.” During the blessing, Brian told her she would be a mother of Zion and that she would bear children.

This must have been a surprise to Wanda, since she’d had a hysterectomy in 1981 or 1982. Mitchell told her, though, that she would be healed and her “womb open.”

You may also like: What Happened to Jaycee Dugard, Kidnapping Survivor and Mother?

Barzee Commanded by God to Be Submissive and Obey

Barzee thought the idea of being a mother of Zion was preferable to a life of eternal damnation. All she had to do, she said, was obey Mitchell.

When Wanda was told by Brian that the notion of plural marriages had been divinely restored, she also learned that they would take seven wives, and that for their obedience they would be richly rewarded.

More wives, more prosperity. In the end, it wouldn’t be seven wives, but “seven times seven, he was going to have 350 wives in the end.”

Brian told Wanda they were commanded by God to “take 14 year old young women, and we were to snatch them out of their world and train them up in the mysteries of God.”

It should be noted that this divine revelation to take 14-year-old celestial wives came after two failed attempts by Brian to take two adult women, Kelly and Julie, into their fold.

The prosecuting attorney, Felice Viti, noted that Mitchell seems to have received a large number of revelations that got Wanda to do what he wanted her to. She agreed, and said the only reason she did what Mitchell wanted was because she was commanded to by God through his priesthood blessing and revelations.

Had the commands not come directly from God, apparently, Wanda would have never helped kidnap and rape Elizabeth Smart.

At the end of her testimony, Wanda Barzee said that Mitchell had, in hindsight, lied to and manipulated her. “He’s a great deceiver.”

Brian David Mitchell was found guilty in 2010 and sentenced to life in prison.

Not So Fast—Wanda Barzee’s Children Set the Record Straight

Wanda Barzee portrayed herself as a victim of Brian David Mitchell, but her children said that was a lie. They knew her as a “monster,” who not only went along with everything, but was also, on her own, physically and emotionally abusive. One even claimed Wanda Barzee sexually abused a sibling.

In the same 2010 interview with Oprah, Barzee’s children opened up about the horrors living with her.

“I think the media portrayed my mother as being a victim of Brian David Mitchell, and I think one of the reasons I wanted to come on this show is to kind of expose her for the monster she is,” said daughter Andrea Jenkins.

Louree Gayler, who lived with Barzee and Mitchell as a child, recounted how her mother once served up her pet rabbit for dinner. “I asked what’s for dinner and she said chicken,” Gayler said. During dinner, Barzee and Mitchell just picked at their meals, but her mother “had a smile on her face the whole time.”

The next morning, Gayler went to feed her pet rabbit Peaches, but the cage was empty. What happened to Peaches? Wanda Barzee informed the 14-year-old Louree, “You had it for dinner last night.

At trial, Wanda denied she was the one who killed Peaches; she said Brian came up with the idea and was the one who killed the rabbit. Not only that, but Barzee claims she didn’t even want Louree to eat her pet rabbit.

That wasn’t the only bad thing Gayler had to say about Wanda Barzee. She recalled how she was so starved for affection that she would turn to her dog. She stayed in the doghouse and ate dog food out of the dog’s bowl.

Derrick Thompson, her older brother, wrote about his horrific childhood in a book entitled Raised by Wolves. To escape the physical abuse he suffered at the hands of Wanda and emotional isolation at home, he lived in the family’s large backyard, using a pellet gun to shoot birds and cook them over an open fire.

Thompson noted that Wanda’s abusive, cold parenting sent him down the wrong life path.  “I got in a lot of trouble with the law,” he said. “I wanted nurturing so badly. I wanted my parents to love me, you know? I wanted somebody to tell me it was all right. I never got that.”

Jenkins remembered Wanda Barzee’s brainwashing sessions.

“We would be called up to her room, and she would sit there and drum into us, ‘If you weren’t a part of this family, then the family would be fine,’” she said.

Jenkins added that she thought her mother had stolen her childhood, “She robbed us of our innocence. She robbed us of everything we stood to be.”

She said she had no idea what a normal family was until she went over to a friend’s house.

“I would ask my friend, ‘You mean your parents don’t beat you?'” Jenkins said. “I remember her family inviting me up to a camping trip two weeks out of the summer, and it was like heaven.”

Rhonda, the oldest child, had a different experience growing up with Wanda Barzee. She was raised by Barzee before her mental decline and said her mother was loving toward her. It was their biological father, Talmadge Thompson, who was physically abusive toward them, Rhonda claimed.

“He had a couple of belts that he would use when we were younger,” she said. “[My mother] didn’t participate, but she never stuck up for us.”

Jenkins, meanwhile, said she experienced physical abuse at the hands of both of her parents. “When I started standing up for my siblings, then I tended to get more of the physical abuse from both my dad and mom,” she said.

They Also Had Immediate Concerns about Mitchell

In 1985, Wanda married Brian David Mitchell and her kids knew something wasn’t right.

“I had a bad feeling about him in the very beginning,” Rhonda said. “He just gave me a hug, and it was just a really creepy feeling.”

Gayler was only 8 years old when her parents divorced, and was 12 when she moved in with Barzee and Mitchell.

“Brian and my mom would force me to pray with them for two to four hours a day,” she said. “My mom was praying and I was kneeling there, and Brian actually nudged me and he pulled out some photos of some nude women and laid them up on the bed, and it seems that they were trying to get me to participate with them that day.”

Mitchell, she said, never abused her, though. It was all about innuendos. “There were long hugs. He’d shrug up against me,” she recalled. “I felt like if I wore a turtleneck around him that he was undressing me with his eyes.”

Wanda Barzee Seeks Forgiveness

Before testifying against Mitchell, Barzee was medicated and, her mother Dora Corbett would say, brought back from decades of mental illness, turning her into to “her real self.”

While Wanda’s mother is forgiving of her daughter’s past actions, her children are less so, saying they are hesitant to renew a relationship with her.

“Now that a totally new person is arising, maybe,” said Gayler, then aged 34. “I am a little guarded, I can’t say that I’m not. I need to worry about my life and my kids.”

Gayler went on to say that she is proud of her mother for the progress she made. “I didn’t think I’d ever see the day,” she said. But a relationship with her now would be like one one with “somebody I’ve never known before.”

Mark Thompson, another of her three sons, echoed that sentiment, “I am glad she pleaded guilty. I don’t know if she’s sincere or not, but it’s a step in the right direction,” he said. But, “I’m 40 years old and I don’t know if I need a mom now.”

Is Wanda Barzee seeking forgiveness? Her mother thinks so.

“She has told me she is so sorry she has caused me all this pain and grief,” Corbett said. “I told her, ‘Of course I’ll forgive you, Wanda.’ You know, no matter what happens from now on she is going to be all right and the Lord is going to watch over her because she is on the right path again.”

September 19, 2018–Barzee Released from Prison for Time Served

On Tuesday, September 11, Wanda Barzee, now aged 72, was granted parole after spending 15 years in prison. The announcement was a surprise to virtually everyone, considering just one month earlier, the Utah Parole Board initially denied Barzee and early release, and said it would not include her eight years in federal prison as time served.

Utah State Prison women's facility

Utah State Prison women’s facility, from which Barzee was released; Photo: George Frey/Getty Images

The board scheduled another review hearing for Barzee in January 2023; just one year shy of having served her maximum sentence of 15 years.

They changed their minds.

“Upon further review and advice from legal counsel, the Board must count time spent in federal custody toward Ms. Barzee’s state sentence,” the board said in a statement. “Therefore Ms. Barzee’s state sentence ends on September 19, 2018.”

It turns out the Utah Board of Pardons granted Wanda Barzee 2,436 days of credit for time served (including jail and Utah State Hospital time) and calculated that based on all the time she served in federal lock-ups, she’d served her time.

The Board did note that Barzee owed the state “$1,690.29 restitution for extradition costs…”

Wanda Barzee walked out of prison on September 19, but will be under federal supervision for five years.

Elizabeth Smart Says It’s Incomprehensible Barzee Went Free

Barzee’s release did not sit well with Elizabeth Smart, now 30, who in June told the parole board that she should not be released. Smart said that Barzee continues to carry a copy of the The Book of Immanuel David Isaiah with her; the same book that contains the revelations Mitchell received from God telling him to kidnap Elizabeth Smart.

Elizabeth Smart

Elizabeth Smart (July 28, 2017); Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Lifetime Television

It is incomprehensible how someone who has not cooperated with her mental health evaluations or risk assessments and someone who did not show up to her own parole hearing can be released into our community,” Smart said.

Barzee’s family members even said they would not welcome her into their homes following her release.  “From what I know, no family can take her in or would take her in,” said niece Tina Mace, who also expressed shock at the announcement by Utah officials.

“It just makes you ill. How could anyone do that?” she said, recalling the horrific circumstances of the crime.

However, Eric Anderson, deputy chief U.S. Probation Officer for Utah, told reporters Barzee would “not be homeless,” as federal authorities had secured a place for her to live. Anderson did not share further details on the location, specifically whether it would be a re-entry facility or private residence.


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