Downtown: The Missing Mrs. Smiths

— When Janice Hartman disappeared, it was a mystery. When Betty Fran Gladden vanished, it was a mystery — and a coincidence that both women were married to a man named John Smith at the time of their disappearance.

Now, 26 years after Hartman was reported missing, John David Smith III, 49 is in jail, charged with killing his first wife. The F.B.I. says Smith is also a suspect in the disappearance of his second wife, Gladden, who vanished in September 1991 from their West Windsor, N.J. home.

Smith’s Wives Disappear

Hartman disappeared without a trace on Nov. 17, 1974, from Doylestown, Ohio, which is about 35 miles south of Cleveland. That was just three days after the couple divorced. Two days after the disappearance, Smith reported her missing. Her skeletal remains — the legs cut off below the knees — were found in a roadside ditch in Indiana in 1980.

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 John Smith to Janice’s disappearance.

John Smith moved from state to state before finally settling in Florida [see interactive map above]. There, in 1990, a woman named Betty Fran Gladden became the second Mrs. John Smith, and the couple then moved to New Jersey.

Then, a little more than a year after they married, Fran disappeared in 1991. 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.

Fran’s sister, Sherrie Davis, and Fran’s daughter, Deanna Weiss, decided to do some detective work of their own. They had no idea Fran was the second wife of John Smith’s to disappear, until Det. Mike Dansbury from the West Windsor, N.J. police, mentioned that John Smith had been married before. The women tried to find Janice Hartman Smith, but couldn’t. Instead, they found Janice’s brother, Garry, in Ohio. The two families banded together to help police.

“We knew that John Smith was involved in both their disappearances,” says Gary Hartman. “There was just no doubt about it.”

But with no crime scene and no bodies, the investigation was at a near standstill.

FBI on Smith’s Tracks

John Smith then moved to San Diego, Calif., where he met Diane Bertalan, who became the third Mrs. John Smith in September 1998. They then settled in nearby Oceanside. After two visits from the FBI, Diane filed for divorce and a restraining order. “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 out a letter to all the sheriffs and coroners in the state. Last February, one of the letters happened to come to the desk of Deputy Sheriff Jerry Burman in Kentland, Ind. He remembered finding a “Jane Doe” in 1980. The remains were exhumed, and 24 years after Hartman’s disappearance, authorities were able to match the body formerly identified as Jane Doe as being Smith’s first wife.

Police finally had enough evidence to arrest John Smith last October. Smith was denied bail. He remains in an Ohio prison and if found guilty, he faces 20 years to life.

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 at least one more marriage, but they have not been able to identify or locate any other wives.