By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Human remains found by hikers in a shallow grave in the desert east of Los Angeles have been identified as those of a Hollywood studio executive who vanished in 2012 and was believed murdered, police said on Thursday.
The hikers came across a skull and other bones in a shallow grave near Palmdale, 40 miles east of Los Angeles, Lieutenant Dave Dolson of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department told a news conference.
"Those remains were collected and delivered to the coroner's office and several days later it was confirmed to us that those human remains were those of Gavin Smith," Dolson said.
"Examination of the body will hopefully lead us to some additional leads and potentially help solidify an arrest and a conviction of the person or persons responsible for his homicide," he said.
Autopsy results have not determined a cause of death, the sheriff's department said.
Smith, a 57-year-old film distribution executive for 20th Century Fox, was last seen on the night of May 1, 2012, driving his black Mercedes Benz away from a friend's house in Oak Park, northwest of Los Angeles.
Sheriff's officials issued a missing person bulletin for Smith, also known for playing on UCLA's 1975 national championship basketball team, and asked for the public's help in finding him.
Detectives got a break when Smith's car was found in a storage facility in February 2013 in the Los Angeles suburb of Simi Valley, and they said later they had uncovered evidence he had been murdered.
No suspects have been arrested in the case and no charges filed. A sheriff's spokesman has said a man identified as John Creech was considered a "person of interest" and that investigators had searched his home and car.
Smith had met Creech's wife, Chandrika Creech, in rehab in 2009, according to the sheriff's department.
The Los Angeles Times, citing anonymous law enforcement sources, reported on Thursday that detectives believed multiple people may have been involved in Smith's killing and that he was likely killed at the direction of an individual with assistance from others with experience in violent crime.
After his disappearance, Smith's family posted a $20,000 reward, saying the 6-foot, 6-inch ex-athlete with "movie star" looks should be easy to spot.
(Additional reporting by Curtis Skinner in San Francisco; Editing by Peter Cooney)