Guns and gambling: New details in the mysterious disappearance and death of Vida Smith

The mystery surrounding Vida Smith's disappearance and death involves gambling and guns, CBC News has learned.

Kevin Barton now charged with manslaughter plus 27 firearms offences

Kevin Barton is charged with manslaughter in Vida Smith's death. He is also accused of 27 firearms offences. (Calgary Police Service)

The mystery surrounding Vida Smith's disappearance and death involves gambling and guns, CBC News has learned.

Kevin Barton, 60, is charged with manslaughter, accused of killing Smith, 69, who was his friend and business partner. Her body has not been found since her disappearance in Calgary earlier this summer.

The relationship between the accused and his alleged victim involved blackjack card counting with ties to casinos across the country and in Las Vegas, according to sources.

Barton is now also charged with 27 firearms-related offences. The offence date listed on court documents is July 30, the day Barton was arrested.

Some of the charges involve allegations that five guns — two rifles and three handguns — were found in a Cadillac Escalade, the same vehicle police allege Barton travelled to Edmonton in the day after Smith was last seen.

CBC News has agreed not to identify members of Calgary's gambling community, casino employees and police officers connected to the investigation who spoke about Barton. 

'Renowned' card counters

Barton plays poker, baccarat and, most prominently, blackjack.

Members of Calgary's poker and blackjack communities who spend time in various city casinos confirm Barton was a regular who "kept to himself."

He is very smart and skilled, according to fellow casino regulars. 

Barton and Smith were "renowned" for their card counting skills, said one casino employee.

They often worked as a team. One would count cards, signalling for the other to step in when the deck went hot.

High-end firearms

According to court documents, Barton is charged with 27 firearms offences involving five different guns:

  • OA-15 rifle.
  • Swiss Arms black special rifle.
  • Kimber Arms Gold Match II handgun.
  • Hammerli X ESSE handgun.
  • Beretta 92FS Brigadier handgun. 

Defence lawyer Greg Dunn, who has handled many weapons cases and has an in-depth knowledge of firearms, identified the weapons as being expensive, well-made and high-end.

Many of the guns are used in sporting or shooting competitions, according to Dunn.

Argument in an SUV

Some of the charges allege the firearms were found in a Cadillac Escalade, the same vehicle investigators allege Barton used to drive from Calgary to Edmonton on July 22.

Smith was last seen on July 21 after travelling from her home in Chestermere to an appointment in Calgary.

Police say Kevin Barton, who has been charged with manslaughter in the death of Vida Smith, travelled from Calgary to Edmonton on July 22 in this vehicle, a Cadillac Escalade. (Calgary Police Service)

Investigators said an argument is believed to have taken place on July 21 between 1 and 1:30 p.m. inside a white SUV parked near 2555 32nd Street N.E. that may be related to the investigation.

Smith's family reported her missing after she didn't return home from Calgary and missed a medical appointment later that week.

Although her body has not been found, police laid a charge of manslaughter against Barton 10 days after Smith disappeared. 

'Known nationally to law enforcement'

At the time of Barton's arrest, police said he was "known nationally to law enforcement."

Barton, who also uses the name Chris Lee, does not have a criminal record in Alberta or British Columbia. He has, however, been banned from casinos in Alberta, Las Vegas and across Canada.

A spokesperson for the Alberta Liquor, Gaming & Cannabis commission would not confirm Barton's history of being banned from Alberta casinos.

"The AGLC works closely with police services to maintain the integrity of gaming in Alberta. Your best bet is to contact the police service in the relevant jurisdiction as we are unable to provide any information on individuals."

Beyond a press conference last month, police have declined to provide further details.

Four years ago, a woman who identified herself as Barton's daughter posted on an online gambling forum asking if anyone knew her father, whom she'd been searching for. 

"He is a really well-known blackjack player card counter," she wrote.

Barton will appear in court on the manslaughter and weapons offences next week.

"For legal reasons, I am unable to discuss the matter before the courts," said defence lawyer Jason Wuttunee. 

Prosecutor Shane Parker also declined to comment.


Meghan Grant

CBC Calgary crime reporter

Meghan Grant is a justice affairs reporter. She has been covering courts, crime and stories of police accountability in southern Alberta for more than a decade. Send Meghan a story tip at or follow her on Twitter.