9/20/06 Thursday Night at the Movies
I met Sherrie Gladden-Davis online after I started my campaign to help the NCMA. (As seen in my post entitled “A Matter of Urgency.) Sherrie sent out some very well written letters in a heartfelt attempt to help. We conversed via email.
I had not heard of her sister’s case. There are just too many missing to know them all. I found out that Sherrie had written a book chronicling her sister Fran’s disappearance, and all that happened behind the scenes to uncover the web of lies that would lead to the truth. While Fran’s family now knows what happened, sadly, they have been unable to find her body.
Sherrie’s book “My Sister Is Missing, Bringing A Killer To Justice”, was made into a Lifetime Television Movie “Murder on Pleasant Drive”, which will re-air this Thursday, September 21st at 9pm EST on Lifetime Television.
I applaud Sherrie (and Fran’s daughter) for not giving up on her sister and for going the distance to find the answers, despite the passage of time, and numerous roadblocks. When it comes to missing persons, I feel that the general public may still be too complacent. It’s something that happens on TV, not in real life, and certainly not in my family.
Sherri and I beg to differ. While our stories are not the same, we have the common thread of living through this trauma. When we see our missing loved one on the TV screen, how we wish it were only a movie.
The timeline below was provided by Sherrie.
"TIME LINE FOR INVESTIGATION
March 1990: Fran met John at work, Cromalloy Aeronautics, Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.
May 11, 1990: Fran and John marry on the beach at Destin, Florida. They moved into their new home, next door to my mother’s home in Niceville, Florida
Feb. 1991: John files for divorce in Okaloosa Country, Florida. Later that month John withdrew the petition.
Late Feb. 1991: Fran called to tell me I needed to fly home, Mama was very ill. I stayed for 6 weeks, trying to help with Mama and getting to know my sister’s new husband. John was always VERY evasive when asked about his past. This raised red flags for the family, but John was accepted and given the respect due my sister’s husband.
Memorial Day weekend, 1991: Fran and John move to Princeton, New Jersey, where John had found a new job after Cromalloy downsized and left him jobless.
Labor Day weekend: John and Fran take a belated honeymoon trip to the Pocono Mountains. Fran falls and breaks her left hip.
Sept 28, 1991: Our family’s last contact with Fran; she and her daughter, Dedy, talked at about 10:30 AM.
Sept. 30 thru Oct. 2: After repeated calls to Fran with no answer, Dedy and I called John at work. John told us he thought Fran was with us. He had arrived at home on Tues. and found a note saying, “Be gone for a few days, don’t forget to feed the fish.” John stated that Fran had said she wanted to do a little traveling so he assumed that is what she had done; left to visit family. He had no idea where she was or how she had left the 3 story condo carrying a medium sized suitcase, briefcase, and purse. This she was supposed to have accomplished while still on a walker after her hip break.
Dedy and I told John to get to the police and file a missing persons report. He said he did not want to file the report because when Fran got home she would be mad. We had to tell him we were on our way up there to do it ourselves when he finally decided to file the report with the West Windsor Township Police Dept. on Oct 4, 1991, but not until after he had finished his work day.
Nov. 2, 1991: My husband and I made the first of many trips to John’s hometown in Ohio. I felt the name John Smith was a very convenient name. Our first stop was the city library where we researched the school annuals for the local high schools. We found the John was exactly who he said he was.
Jan. 9, 1991: My mother passed away, John attended the funeral. This was the first time John referred to Fran in the past tense. He brought a portable sewing machine to Dedy’s daughter stating, “Fran would have wanted Nici to have this.” He never again referred to Fran in present tense.
Feb. 22, 1992: Dedy and I made the trip to New Jersey, and at John’s invitation we stayed at the condo with him. We found that all of Fran’s things were there, even her deodorant, hair spray and makeup. I asked myself, what woman, knowing she was at least 6 weeks away from being able to support herself, or even traveling, would leave these things behind. Of course these things are easy to replace, but with limited funds, and no future income lined up, why spend the money for things you already have?
We also found the yellow suitcase that Fran was supposed to have lugged down 3 flights of stairs while on a walker. Because Dedy and I were invited guests to the home we were able to do something the police could not: search and photograph the residence. (The police had no probable cause to obtain a search warrant.)
Because Fran’s bosses were not notified by John, as Fran had asked him to do when she broke her hip, her bosses thought she had just moved on to another job, had left without notice, therefore, she was let go. While Dedy and I were in New Jersey we had the opportunity to talk with Fran’s prior employers, through that conversation we learned that John, who had always presented himself as a life-long bachelor, had been married before.
The next day, in our meeting with Detective Michael Dansbury, we confirmed that John had been married before to Janice Elaine Hartman, and the divorce, in Nov. 1974, was friendly. They simply split and went their own ways. After Detective Dansbury supplied the information on Janice’s family, I became obsessed with finding them. For the rest of the time we were in New Jersey John did not know we had discovered his first marriage and continued to talk about this being his first marriage and how was he to know what a husband would do and how a husband was supposed to act in this type of situation.
Mar. 5, 1991: I located and had first conversation with Janice’s brother, Garry Hartman. When I told Garry that I believed our sisters had been married to the same John David Smith III and that my sister was missing, his words to me were, “My God, Lady, you got a problem, my sister disappeared in Nov. 1974, never to be seen again.” I put Garry in touch with the West Windsor Township Police Department; who in turn contacted the Wayne County Ohio’s Sheriff’s Department. This reopened Janice’s case.
March 1993: Dedy and I, along with Mike Dansbury from New Jersey, met with Detective Sgt. Brian Potts of the Wayne County Ohio Sheriff’s Department for a sharing of information. Garry Hartman was also supposed to be a part of this 3 days of meetings, but he arrived accompanied by his attorney. That action shut down Garry being a part of the meetings. While in Ohio, all investigation documents were turned over to Dedy and me for our review and comment.
July 30, 1998: the FBI opened a cold case investigation file for both Fran and Janice; we were assigned Special Agent Robert Hilland as the lead investigator.
Sept. 1999: When 20/20’s John Miller came to do the first of 3 stories he informed us that John had remarried. This is the ONLY story that 20/20 has devoted three, hour long programs to, in order to follow the case to trial. We knew we could not chance contacting his new wife, Diane Bartallen, by phone or mail, as we were afraid for her safety.
Dedy wrote a short note to Diane which the producer overnighted to the ABC affiliate in San Diego, and that station delivered our note to Diane at her place of employment. On the evening of Oct.4, 1999 she called me, she stated she did not believe the FBI, not even when they laid all the facts out on a table for her to look at. She did, however, believe and trust Dedy and me. This opened up a wonderful line of communication between the three of us.
First week of Dec. 1999: Dedy and I were invited to appear on The Leeza Gibbon’s Show and flew to California. While there we met with Diane and she opened up a storage unit that she had rented prior to her marriage to John. In that storage unit were a suitcase and a briefcase, which she turned over to us. We went directly to an office supply store to copy everything in the suitcase and briefcase.
The interesting thing we found was an address for John in Hammond, Indiana. We knew he had worked for a temporary agency based in Indiana, but did not know he had actually lived in Indiana. Dedy and I kept a copy of each document for our files and then sent copies to each law enforcement agency involved with the cases.
Feb. 2000: I talked to Brian Potts, (Wayne County Sheriff’s Department, Ohio) and told him the documents in the California storage unit told us something we did not know before: John had lived in Indiana. I requested we send letters to law enforcement and coroner’s offices in Indiana for any information on unidentified female human remains.
Brian was in the middle of a court case and explained that he would get the letters done as soon as he was released from having to appear in court each day. My husband and I found a web site for US counties and located addresses for all law enforcement and coroner’s office’s in Indiana. Within 24 hours of my conversation with Brian, we had made peel and stick labels for each agency and sent them overnight to Brian. By the time Brian had the labels he had been able to write letters, the deputies of Wayne County sat at a table that evening and stuffed the envelopes, and the letters were mailed the next day.
Three days after the letters went out Brian received a call from Inspector Jerry Burman of the Newton County Sheriff’s Department and stated, “Brian, I think I have your girl.” Inspector Burman explained that the remains had been found by a road repair crew in April 1980, where they had been dumped in a roadside ditch. The remains were in a crudely constructed plywood box. The northern Indiana media dubbed the case: The Lady In The Box.
On March 3, 2000: The Jane Doe remains in Newton County were exhumed and taken to Ohio, where they were turned over to an FBI forensic lab. They were identified as being those of Janice Hartman-Smith. Brian brought Janice’s remains back home to Ohio on her birthday.
Because the FBI asks a lot of questions but give few answers, we were not aware that on May 5, 1999, John’s brother Michael, had told the FBI about the box he had seen John build in the Fall of 1974, and that that box was stored in their grandfather’s old Marathon gas station. In the summer of 1979, the box had been opened by their grandfather, Michael, and a neighbor. When Michael realized that the box contained the remains of Janice he was instructed, by his grandfather, to call John. When Michael protested that they should call the police, his grandfather stated that this was family business and should never be spoken of again.
Michael made the call to John. John asked one question, “Did you open it?” When Michael said they had, John simply stated, “I’ll be right there.” John then drove from Hammond, Indiana to Seville Ohio that day, picked up the box and put it into his car. That was the last time Michael saw the box. This information was given in Brian’s letter to the authorities in Indiana. Michael’s description of the box matched what the road repair crew had found in 1980.
After the Wayne County, Ohio Grand Jury met and a warrant for murder was issued, on Oct. 3, 2000, John was arrested without incident, at his place of employment, LaForza Auto, in Escondido, California.
Oct 11, 2000: John is arraigned at Wayne County Courthouse, Wooster, Ohio.
Oct. 20, 2000: Bond hearing, bond is denied.
May 29, 2001: There was a hearing held to determine if the evidence of Fran’s disappearance could be entered into testimony during the trial. The argument was that with two missing wives, with very similar circumstances, this constituted what is known as a “Fingerprint MO. The action was denied.
We were very disappointed and heart sick by the decision, for there would be no voice for Fran and no form of justice for her in these proceedings. We now feel the good Lord was looking out for us with this ruling, because many cases, using evidence of a fingerprint crime, have had those convictions over turned to appellate courts.
July 2, 2001: Jury selection begins
July 3, 2001: The jury is selected and seated.
July 19, 2001: John is found guilty of second degree murder for Janice.
July 20, 2001: The sentencing hearing is held, but because one can not be given a greater sentence at the time of conviction than what they would have received at the time the crime was committed, the sentencing guidelines had to revert back to what was on the books in Ohio in 1974. John was sentenced to 15 years to life, the maximum punishment at that time for second degree murder.
John is eligible for his first parole hearing in April 2011. Our family, all the detectives from across the country, and the Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor, Jocelyn Stefoncen, who prosecuted the case, will attend any and all parole hearings in an effort to keep him behind bars for the rest of his life.
Sept. 2001: Dedy and her brothers won a civil case against John for the wrongful death of their mother. A $1,000,000.00 judgment plus all investigative expenses and attorney fees was awarded to them. (Of course we do not ever expect to receive so much as a penny from this judgment, we were aware of that fact going into the suit, what we all needed to hear was a judge say, “Yes, John David Smith III, you are 100% responsible for the death of Betty Fran Gladden-Smith.”)
Fran remains listed as Missing But Presumed Dead. Our family continues to work her case. There is seldom a day that goes by when something is not looked into concerning her case. Brian Potts and Mike Dansbury have retired, but remain dedicated to Fran’s case. Special Agent Robert Hilland is confident that Fran’s case is solvable and that someday we will have our answers and be able to take Fran home to Florida for a proper burial. At present, I am working with the DeKalb County Medical Examiner's Office, and we have submitted specimens for the DNA to be run and compared to see if an unidentified female they have might be Fran."
Betty Fran Gladden-Smith
Missing since: Sept. 1991
Case File: #91-013139
If you know anything about Fran’s disappearance, please contact the West Windsor Township Police Department, Lt. Dave Mansue, at 609-799-1171