"Tell my mother I'm safe," a message relayed by an anonymous telephone caller to a Laguna Hills woman, is apparently the only word received from Richard and Emilie Smyth, a Huntington Beach couple who disappeared two months ago.
"Word is word, regardless of how indirect," said Gene Manns, referring to the terse message she received second-hand from her daughter Emilie a few weeks ago.
Richard Kelly Smyth, a computer engineer and U.S. government adviser, fled shortly before he was to stand trial Aug. 20 on charges that he illegally exported electronic timing devices used in nuclear weapons to Israel. His wife, a former Huntington Beach elementary school teacher and mother of their five grown children, apparently accompanied him.
An international manhunt is under way for Smyth, according to U.S. government prosecutors. The pair was last seen by family members on Aug. 10.
Pleaded Not Guilty
Smyth, 55, had pleaded not guilty to a 30-count indictment and was free on a $100,000 bond secured by his Huntington Harbour home. On Oct. 4, foreclosure proceedings were filed against the Smyths' vacant Cotuit Circle home. The five-bedroom home, with 175 feet of waterfront, is for sale.
Friends and family members say they are still shocked by the Smyths' disappearance.
"Although I'm not comfortable, I'm much happier (since receiving the message)," said Manns, who lives with her husband in a Laguna Hills retirement community. She said the more she thinks about the Smyths' disappearance, the more she thinks "he (Smyth) did the right thing."
Manns and other family members who gathered for a family dinner at an Orange County restaurant in early August said Smyth was distraught over the forthcoming trial. If convicted on all 30 counts, Smyth faces a maximum of 105 years in prison and fines in excess of $1.5 million.
Brilliant but Absent-Minded
Friends and colleagues describe Smyth as a brilliant but absent-minded engineer. Smyth taught graduate computer science classes at the University of Southern California and served as an adviser on aeronautical research to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.
Last May, Smyth was attending a NATO meeting in Europe with his family when he learned of the indictment. Relatives said he was quite casual about his defunct consulting and export business, Milco International Inc. They said Smyth relied mostly on his wife and grown children to fill out paper work and process orders.
The government alleges that Smyth illegally shipped to Israel about 800 electronic devices called krytrons. The small devices, featuring four colored wires protruding from a glass bulb, resemble old-fashioned television tubes. Krytrons cost about $75 each.
After the charges were filed against Smyth, an Israeli Embassy spokesman in Washington said Israel used the krytrons for "defense-related research and development for conventional weapons only." Israel has since returned about 460 krytrons at the U.S. government's request.
There are "potentially thousands of uses for krytrons," according to federal court documents filed by attorneys for Wellesley, Mass.-based EG&G Inc., the sole manufacturer.
On Jan. 1, 1985, the U.S. government removed krytrons from the restricted munitions list. However, they were restricted at the time Smyth allegedly shipped them.
The indictment charges Smyth with 15 violations of the Arms Control Act and 15 counts of making false statements to the government. The false-statement charges are for allegedly describing the devices as various kinds of electronic equipment, not krytrons. Meanwhile, an international search for Smyth continues. After Smyth failed to appear for a pretrial hearing on Aug. 14, U.S. District Judge Pamela Ann Rymer issued a warrant for his arrest.
'Investigating the Case'
"We are actively investigating the case and continue to pursue leads which we hope will result in Smyth's apprehension in the near future," said Asst. U.S. Atty. Bill Fahey, the government's prosecutor. Fahey said he is "still hoping to find him by the end of the year."
Fahey said he had heard rumors of messages from the Smyths but declined to discuss them.
In late August, Smyth's son-in-law, Randy Risvold, told The Times that he was sure that Smyth had left the country. Risvold's published remarks prompted a Los Angeles federal grand jury to reopen its investigation.
On Sept. 5, Risvold and his wife, Dawn Smyth Risvold, who served as vice president of exports for Milco, testified about Smyth's whereabouts and business affairs, according to Michael Abzug, the Risvolds' attorney.
'A Real Tragedy'
"They answered every question posed to them," Abzug said in a recent interview. "As far as I know, they (the Smyth children) are just trying to put their lives together. It's a real tragedy."