The Missing Mrs. Smiths

Police know what happened to John David Smith III's first wife — she was dismembered and stuffed in a box that he stored for a time in his grandfather's garage.

What they want to know now — Smith was sentenced Thursday to 15 years in prison for killing Janice Hartman Smith in 1974 — is what happened to his second wife.

Betty Fran Gladden Smith vanished in 1991.

A Baffling Case

When Hartman disappeared at the age of 23, it baffled authorities. There was, however, someone who learned in 1979 what happened to her.

In testimony during Smith's trial in a Wooster, Ohio, court, the defendant's brother, Michael Smith, said he found a wooden box in their grandparents' garage that piqued his curiosity. He pried it open and discovered the mummified body of his sister-in-law. "I came across a face and it was Janice Hartman," he said.

Michael Smith told his brother to come remove the box, and did not mention it to authorities until 20 years later. He said in court that he was afraid he would be charged as an accessory to the crime.

Smith apparently came and carted the remains away. They were found in the box in a roadside ditch in Indiana in 1980 — the legs cut off below the knees. But at that time, authorities were unable to identify her and she was buried in Morrocco, Ind. as "Jane Doe."

Authorities had no hard evidence that tied Smith to Hartman's disappearance.

Smith moved from state to state, settling in Florida. There, in 1990, Gladden became the second Mrs. John Smith, and the couple moved to West Windsor, N.J.

Then, a little more than a year after they married, Gladden disappeared. Her disappearance immediately raised questions. She had a broken hip at the time, yet police say Smith told them he believed she had gone on a trip.

Gladden's sister, Sherrie Davis, and daughter, Deanna Weiss, also found the explanation questionable, and decided to do some detective work of their own. They had no idea Gladden was the second wife of Smith's to disappear, until detective Mike Dansbury from the West Windsor, N.J., police, mentioned that Smith had been married before to Janice Hartman.

Neither Davis nor Weiss could find her, but they did find her brother, Garry Hartman, in Ohio. The two families banded together to help police convict Smith.

"We knew that John Smith was involved in both their disappearances," said Hartman. "There was just no doubt about it." But with no crime scene and no bodies, the investigation was at a near standstill.

FBI Follows Smith's Tracks

Smith then moved to San Diego, Calif., where he met Diane Bertalan, who soon became the third Mrs. John Smith in September 1998.

They settled in nearby Oceanside but, after two visits from the FBI, Bertalan filed for divorce and a restraining order, which read in part, "My fear is based on Respondent's explosive temper, the discovery of Respondent's two previous marriages and the fact that both of his previous wives have disappeared and are presumed dead."

After receiving information that Smith had lived in Indiana, a Wayne County, Ohio sheriff's deputy sent a letter to all the sheriffs and coroners in the state.

Last February, one of the letters crossed the desk of Deputy Sheriff Jerry Burman in Kentland, Ind. He remembered the "Jane Doe" found on the Indiana road in 1980. For two decades he had been haunted by the dismembered woman he found in a wooden box.

The remains were exhumed, and 24 years after Hartman's disappearance, authorities were able to identify the body as Smith's first wife, Janice.

Police finally had enough evidence to arrest Smith last October. He was denied bail and remained in an Ohio prison until his trial this month.

Still, many questions remain: If Smith's second wife was also murdered, where is her body? And investigators say they have strong indications that Smith had other women in his life and may be responsible for additional killings. The FBI, however, has been unable to locate or identify other such women.

Smith'd lawyers are seeking a new trial because they say jurors saw evidence the judge had excluded regarding the disappearance of Gladden.