Bob Smith: The strange case of the CIA agent that never was – and his hoard of 1,200 firearms

Mystery surrounds unidentified man who claimed to be a spy and was found in his car two weeks after he died

Tim Walker
Thursday 23 July 2015 00:53 BST
Part of the huge arms cache found by police at the home of ‘Bob Smith’ in Los Angeles
Part of the huge arms cache found by police at the home of ‘Bob Smith’ in Los Angeles (EPA)

Was Bob Smith a super-spy or a super-fantasist? That was the question many in Los Angeles are trying to answer after the puzzling death of man who kept a hoard of more than 1,200 firearms and two tons of ammunition at home.

The man, who is yet to be formally identified, was found dead in his sports utility vehicle not far from the house in LA’s affluent Pacific Palisades neighbourhood, where his body was believed to have been for two weeks in warm weather before police were alerted.

The man’s real identity remains unconfirmed. Reportedly known to his neighbours as “Bob Smith”, he supposedly convinced his fiancée that he worked as an undercover agent for a shadowy government organisation such as the CIA. The precise cause of death has not been officially determined, but the authorities said there were no obvious signs of foul play and it was not being treated as a homicide.

To police, the most surprising element of the case was the sheer number of handguns, rifles and shotguns stashed in the man’s house and garage, Los Angeles Police Department Commander Andrew Smith told The Los Angeles Times. “Our truck couldn’t carry it all. We had to go back and make another trip.” Many of the weapons were never fired, and some were still in their packaging with the price tags attached.

There was no evidence that “Bob” was involved in any criminal activity, and police said it was not a crime to have so many weapons at home if they were legally acquired. The gun detail of the LAPD Detective Bureau is none the less examining each of the firearms to determine their provenance. “We have a lot of work to do,” Commander Smith said. “Running the background, history and legality of these weapons is going to require a tremendous amount of time.”

Equally curious are the circumstances surrounding the man’s death and discovery.

According to Harland Braun, a criminal defence lawyer acting for his fiancée, Catherine Nebron, she was the person who contacted the authorities to alert them to his death and his weapons cache. “Bob” had reportedly told Ms Nebron, who lived with him in the home on Palisades Drive for several years, that he was being watched by the covert government agency for which he claimed to work.

On 4 July, the US national Independence Day holiday, the couple and two friends were in a supermarket car park in nearby Santa Monica when “Bob”, who was suffering from cancer, became poorly. He complained of feeling hot, so his friends attempted to cool him down with ice, but he died shortly afterwards.

“Bob” had assured Ms Nebron that the unnamed spy agency would deal with his body, Mr Braun said, so she left it in the car, parked near the house, and left for a trip to Oregon. When she returned, she was shocked to find the car and her fiancé’s body still in the same place. She contacted Mr Braun, who informed the police.

“She told me there were 500 guns in the house, and that turned out to be a low estimate,” Mr Braun told The Independent. “Even after the police removed all those guns and ammunition, the place is still loaded with tools, scopes, books, all kinds of craziness. If you saw the place, you would know it was the home of an insane person.

“He told the neighbours he was a CIA agent. He certainly convinced his fiancée, my client, that he was a CIA agent. But I don’t think so; I think he was nuts.”

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