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Tom Smart emerged drawn and tired from Salt Lake City police headquarters. He'd just finished a session with investigators probing the disappearance of his niece, 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart, snatched from her bed in the middle of the night June 5 by an armed man in a tan, short-billed cap. Now investigators were exploring the alibis of family members, including Tom, a 48-year-old photo editor at the Deseret News, the Mormon Church-owned daily paper. Slouched on a bench in the lobby after giving fingerprints and blood samples, Tom pledged full cooperation with investigators. It's all right, "tear me apart" if you have to, as long as it will help solve the mystery, Smart told NEWSWEEK.

As frustrated police and hordes of volunteers continued to comb Utah's deserts and mountains for Elizabeth and her abductor, investigators turned their attention last week to the missing teen's family in an attempt to shake something--anything--loose. Elizabeth's father, Edward Smart, a real-estate and mortgage broker, submitted to a polygraph test, and, NEWSWEEK has learned, came out clean, according to one well-placed law-enforcement source. Polygraphs for other members of the prominent Mormon family, including Tom Smart, were "inconclusive," the source said. An inconclusive test hardly means that a person is guilty of a crime--or even of trying to hide something. It indicates only that the subject neither failed nor completely passed the polygraph, an often-inaccurate investigative tool that measures the body's involuntary stress reactions. Officials say they have no plans to give a second test to Tom--whose wife, Heidi, says "he was in bed with me all night" the evening Elizabeth disappeared.

Is it possible that the man police are hunting for, seen only by the frightened 9-year-old sister who shared a bedroom with Elizabeth, wasn't some random stranger, but kin? Police were increasingly scrutinizing the extended family last week, even as they launched a frantic search to find and question a mysterious drifter who had attended a candlelight vigil for the missing blond teenager. "We decided to take a hard look at the family," the law-enforcement source said. On Friday teams of FBI agents fanned out to nail down family members' stories, trying to learn where each one was in the hours before and after Elizabeth's disappearance. "It comes down to three things," the source said. "Alibi, alibi, alibi."

Focusing on the family is normal in child-abduction cases. And for good reason: in almost half the cases, the kidnapper is a relative, according to one study of 1997 cases. "You want to eliminate or reduce the possibility [that a family member did it] as quickly as possible," says Kenneth Lanning, a retired supervisor in the FBI's Crimes Against Children section. Salt Lake City police have repeatedly said they have no suspects yet, and that looking at the Smart clan is just "one among many theories," according to Capt. Scott Atkinson, the lead police spokesman. "The family has been very cooperative," Atkinson says.

Investigators' efforts have hardly been limited to grilling the Smarts. By late last week 60 police officers and 40 FBI agents had run down thousands of leads. One involves a 26-year-old homeless drifter named Bret Michael Edmunds, whom police want to question because he was spotted driving slowly in the neighborhood just two mornings before the kidnapping, and later appeared at Elizabeth's vigil. Police stressed that Edmunds, who has outstanding warrants for fraud and assaulting an officer, isn't a suspect: for one thing, he stands 6 feet 2 inches and weighs 235, while the intruder described by Elizabeth's sister is only 5 feet 8. Nonetheless, the search for Edmunds turned into an all-out manhunt by the end of the week, after boys playing in some cattails in a northern Salt Lake suburb found his discarded license plates. On Friday authorities were certain that they had nabbed Edmunds shoplifting from a department store in the Texas Panhandle, but the fingerprints did not match.

There are troubling questions about how a stranger could have broken into the Smarts' million-dollar home and known exactly which of the seven bedrooms was Elizabeth's. The Salt Lake Tribune reported Thursday that some investigators now think the screen on the kitchen window where the kidnapper was alleged to have entered was cut from the inside, a sign that the break-in may have been staged. But law-enforcement sources close to the investigation told NEWSWEEK that they "have no evidence of that." Nonetheless, investigators are puzzled by how someone could have squeezed through the window, which is tall but not very wide and opens with a crank. "We're not so confident about how he got in," a source tells NEWSWEEK.

It didn't help investigators that the crime scene was polluted before they could even set about their work. Elizabeth's parents apparently had called friends and neighbors to start looking for the girl be-fore they phoned police at 4:01 a.m. By the time investigators arrived, several neighbors were already milling around the Smart house, and others were combing the neighborhood, leaving shoe marks, clothing fibers and fingerprints in their wake. Securing the crime scene is a problem in a lot of cases, says Lanning, the retired FBI supervisor. In the still-unsolved JonBenet Ramsey case, police were highly criticized for lax handling of the crime scene in the early hours. Says Lanning: "All [investigators] can do is deal with the reality you're dealt." In Elizabeth Smart's case, the sad reality is that investigators haven't been dealt much of a hand at all.