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Remains of ex-UH basketball player found in California

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FILE - This file photo released by the Los Angeles County Sheriff?s Department shows missing 20th Century Fox executive Gavin Smith who was last seen May 1, 2012. The Los Angeles County coroner's office confirmed early Thursday Nov. 6, 2014 that the remains of Gavin Smith have been positively identified. (AP Photo/Los Angeles County Sheriff?s Department)

LOS ANGELES » The remains of a 20th Century Fox executive and former University of Hawaii basketball player who disappeared more than two years ago were found in a desert area of Southern California, authorities said Thursday.

Gavin Smith, 57, was last seen May 1, 2012, in Ventura County’s Oak Park neighborhood after leaving the home of a female friend.

Hikers discovered the remains about 70 miles away, near Palmdale in the Antelope Valley, on Oct. 26, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said. Results of an autopsy have not been finalized.

Smith transferred to UH from UCLA where he played on the 1975 NCAA championship basketball team. He played one season for the Rainbows in 1976-77 when he scored an average of 23.4 points a game for a team that went 9-18 under Larry Little. Smith’s single-season scoring average was a program record that still stands today. He scored 30 or more points five times at UH.

Former UH coach Riley Wallace was the coach at Centenary when he came to play Larry Little’s Rainbows twice in Honolulu on Feb. 18 and 19 of 1977. Smith and the ‘Bows won 104-79 and 92-73.

"Big-time scorer. Scored a lot of points," Wallace remembered. "He was one heck of a good shooter. He had the long hair, and he wore a bandanna. … He was a heck of an offensive player."

Smith was with Fox’s movie distribution department for nearly 18 years and was a branch manager for several theaters. He also had three children.

Authorities said earlier they had found Smith’s Mercedes-Benz at a Simi Valley storage facility nine months after his disappearance. Its condition along with witness statements led them to believe Smith was killed.

A law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation said Thursday the car contained Smith’s blood and body tissue, including skin stuck to a seat.

The official was not authorized to speak publicly about the case and spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Dolson said investigators are optimistic they will solve the case.

"We believe we know what happened" and why, he said without elaboration.

Dolson said the remains were crucial to the case and were found in an area where investigators believed they would be located.

Forensic examination of the remains may help provide critical details that help detectives fill in the blanks and strengthen their case, said Capt. Rod Kusch.

"Even if we have the how and why part … there’s other evidence that can come to surface with forensic examination of the remains," Kusch said.

A previous search had been unsuccessful, and authorities discouraged Smith’s family and friends from conducting a search for him for their own safety, Dolson said.

The storage facility where Smith’s car was found was linked to John Creech, a man who is serving an eight-year prison sentence for sales or transport of narcotics, Dolson said previously. Creech was named a person of interest but has not been charged with Smith’s killing.

Police have said Smith had "some kind of relationship" with Creech’s wife, Chandrika, after meeting her in drug rehabilitation several years earlier. Dolson declined to provide details.

The official who spoke anonymously said the relationship was believed to be romantic.

Investigators served dozens of search warrants mainly in locations around the San Fernando Valley and involving Creech’s home and Hummer.

Detectives believe Smith’s car was in the Porter Ranch area of the San Fernando Valley about a week after his disappearance and it was eventually moved — possibly by multiple people — to the Simi Valley storage facility, Dolson said previously.

"We think we know an area in which he was at, or where the murder may have taken place," Dolson told the AP earlier this year. He declined to elaborate further.

Dolson said investigators were working with the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

"This case is complex," said sheriff’s Chief of Detectives Bill McSweeney. "We’ve kind of known what happened for a long time … many, many months."

The body, he added, "gives us proof that he was killed."

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