Investigators are "optimistic" about an arrest in the case of a Fox executive who disappeared two years ago after last month's discovery of his remains in the high desert north of Los Angeles.
Authorities said they believe Gavin Smith was killed on the night he vanished in May 2012. The Los Angeles County Coroner's office confirmed Wednesday that remains found by hikers Oct. 26 in a remote area of Palmdale near Acton are those of the 57-year-old.
"The investigation at this time is ongoing," said Lt. Dave Dolson, of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. "Because of the discovery of the remains, there's potentially a lot more evidence for us to process."
Dolson said investigators have not identified a suspect in the case.
"It's a crucial piece of evidence," Dolson said of the remains. "Examination of the body will hopefully lead us to additional leads and potentially help solidify an arrest of the person or persons responsible.
"It puts us closer."
Investigators said they are waiting for autopsy results to determine a cause of death.
"It was brought up that he suffered from gunshot wounds," Dolson said. "We haven't ruled that out, but we don't believe at this time that that was in play."
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The October discovery was in a remote area south of Palmdale that had been searched before in connection with Smith's death, Dolson said. The Antelope Valley Press reported that a family discovered a skull, a shallow grave and clothing that day while hiking in the same area. The skull was found by the Rocky Ramos' Palmdale Labrador retriever about 20 feet from the grave.
"I find all kinds of stuff up here," said Rocky Ramos. "But nothing like that."
The skull's lower jaw was missing and there appeared to be a hole, about an inch or more across, in the skull, Ramos said.
Smith disappeared May 1, 2012. He was last seen driving his black Mercedes-Benz 420E from a friend's home in the Oak Park area at the western end of Los Angeles between 9 and 10 p.m. He was reported missing the next day after failing to pick up his children from school, according to the sheriff's department.
The car was found Feb. 21, 2013 at a Simi Valley storage facility in Simi Valley connected to convicted drug dealer John Creech.
"After examining Gavin's car we were confidently able to label Gavin's death a homicide," Dolson said.
Creech was named a person of interest in the case and is currently in custody on a drug charge at the Men's Central Jail. During a news conference Thursday, investigators confirmed that Creech remains a person of interest.
Creech has not been charged in connection with the Smith case.
Dolson was asked during the news conference about the nature of the relationship between Creech's wife and Smith. He refused to provide details.
"We have a pretty good picture," Dolson said. "Gavin knew Mr. Creech's wife."
Smith was a basketball player on the 1975 UCLA championship team led by legendary coach John Wooden. Smith went on to become an actor and later a film executive at 20th Century Fox.
Smith is survived by three sons.