Husband Charged in 26-Year-Old Slaying of Wife

A man suspected in the disappearances of two previous wives in Ohio and New Jersey 26 years ago was arrested today in Escondido, Calif., and held on suspicion of killing one them, police said.

John David Smith III, 49, was indicted by a Wayne County, Ohio, grand jury on charges he killed his first wife, Janice Hartman, who disappeared without a trace on Nov. 17, 1974, from Doylestown, which is about 35 miles south of Cleveland. Her skeletal remains were found in a roadside ditch in 1980.

Smith, who is being held in an Escondido jail and is expected to be extradited to stand trial on the charge in Ohio, is also a suspect in the disappearance of his second wife, Betty Fran Smith, who vanished in September 1991 from their Princeton, N.J., home.

The case brings closure for the Hartman family, said Wayne County Sheriff Thomas Maurer. “He has always been suspected, and by the family, too, since the day he reported his wife missing in November 1974,” he said.

‘Justice Never Forgets’

“Justice never forgets,” said prosecuting attorney Martin Frantz. “Sometimes it takes a while to learn all the facts. We know the facts; we have the case; and we will prosecute.”

Smith, who has been living in California for several years with his third wife, declined to comment to reporters in California today. Attempts to reach Smith’s third wife were unsuccessful. Under the condition that she not be identified, she told ABCNEWS affiliate KGTV in San Diego a year ago that police had the “wrong man.”

A co-worker reached at Smith’s place of business, Monster Motorsports in San Diego, Calif., declined to comment.

Two days after his Janice Hartman disappeared in 1974 — just three days after she and Smith divorced — Smith reported her missing. Hartman, who was married to Smith for about four years before her disappearance, was never seen or heard from again.

Smith became the prime suspect in Hartman’s disappearance when his second wife, Betty Fran Smith, also disappeared in 1991.

Fran Smith’s disappearance immediately raised questions. She had a broken hip at the time, and the police doubted John Smith’s assertion that he believed his wife had suddenly decided to take a trip.

Authorities have long assumed that Janice Hartman was dead, but recent developments in the investigation, including the examination of the skeletal remains found in 1980, which were buried as a “Jane Doe” and exhumed only this past spring.

Two Women Help Solve Case

Maurer, the Ohio sheriff, declined to say what led investigators to charge Smith with the slaying of Hartman after so many years. The FBI joined the case in the last decade.

The investigation was helped along, authorities say, by two women: Fran’s sister, Sherrie Davis, and Fran’s daughter, Deanna Weiss.

“This is a very dangerous situation,” Weiss told ABCNEWS’ John Miller last fall. ”This man, as gentle as his facade is, is very, very dangerous. He“s deadly.”

Comparing Notes The two women searched for answers, and when they compared notes with the police, more questions were raised.

Davis told ABCNEWS John Smith always maintained that Fran was his first wife. But Davis found records that proved Smith had been married to Hartman in 1970.

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, we knew that John Smith was involved in both those disappearances, there was just no doubt about it,” Hartman told ABCNEWS.

ABCNEWS’s John Miller contributed to this report.