Voice Platform and Support Network for Families of Missing and Victims of Crime
One month after Billy Smolinski disappeared in August 2004 hundreds of flyers with his photograph on them were being systematically destroyed in Woodbridge, Seymour, Ansonia and Bethany. The Smolinski family investigated and discovered that Billy's old girlfriend, Madeline Gleason, and her friend, Frances Vrabel, were the culprits. The women grew so bold as to tear the posters down seconds after Janice Smolinski tacked them up. Pictured above, Vrabel, left, begins to tear down one of Billy's posters even before Janice has finished hanging it. In a weird twist, a complaint filed by Vrabel with the Woodbridge police led to the arrest of Janice Smolinski, and Gleason sued Smolinski for harassment. The lawsuit is being heard in New Haven Superior Court on Tuesday, November 29th.
Story By John Murray
That’s the word that best describes the seven-year investigation into the murder of Billy Smolinski, a case that includes a love triangle, a grave digger, a politician, a long distance trucking company, a suicide, a drug overdose, the mob, two bodies floating in Long Island Sound, a billionaire, and enough police blunders to film a new Keystone Kop movie.
Police botched the investigation from the outset. Miscues by the Waterbury Police Department, the Shelton Police Department, the Woodbridge Police Department, the Connecticut State Police and the FBI have left a path of destruction that resembles the aftermath of the Halloween nor’easter – broken leads and darkness scattered across the landscape.
Billy Smolinski was 31 years old when he vanished.
After Billy vanished his family has spent the past seven years seeking answers as to what happened to him on the night of August 24th, 2004. So far the search has resulted in Janice, middle, getting arrested, and Paula and Janice getting sued. They have vowed to continue searching until they have their answer.
Additionally, this bizarre case has exposed a systemic flaw in police training which has triggered local, state and federal reform into the way law enforcement officers respond to the report of a missing adult. The case has drawn international attention from an hour-long Discovery ID show about the investigation that has aired in Australia, Canada and Europe. There have been inquires from India about missing person reform, and how lessons learned from the Smolinski investigation might apply to India.
But just when it appears impossible for the story get any more bizarre, it has. This Tuesday, November 29th, the Smolinski family is being dragged into New Haven Superior Court to face an outrageous lawsuit filed by Billy’s ex-girlfriend, Madeline Gleason, whose son is alleged to have strangled Billy in her apartment on August 24th, 2004.
Gleason, who is represented by high-powered attorney, John Williams, is asking for $115,000 in damages from Billy’s mother, Janice Smolinski, and his sister, Paula Bell.
In a case long on reform and short on justice, Madeline Gleason - a named suspect in the disappearance of Billy Smolinski - is attempting use the court system to legally extort money from Billy’s grieving family.
Madeline Gleason states into a video camera after stopping her Woodbridge school bus to tear down a missing person flyer for Billy Smolinski.
Jan and Paula’s crime? Hanging missing person posters of Billy Smolinski on telephone poles in the lower Naugatuck Valley. The Smolinskis had permission from CL&P to hang the posters on the poles, but Madeline Gleason, and her friend, Fran Vrabel, would follow them through Woodbridge and tear the posters down.
Strange behavior to be sure, but when one factors in that Madeline Gleason was Billy’s ex-girlfriend, and that just months before they had openly talked of getting married, Madeline’s behavior morphed from strange, to bizarre.
Why wasn’t Madeline Gleason helping the Smolinskis search for their missing son? Why was Gleason destroying hundreds of missing person posters? Why didn’t she care that Billy Smolinski had just vanished off the face of the earth?
Convinced that Gleason knew what happened to their son, the Smolinskis videotaped Gleason and Vrable destroying the posters and took the film to the Waterbury Police Department, which at the time was the only law enforcement agency investigating Billy’s disappearance. The response from Waterbury PD was a big yawn. The Smolinskis then begged the Woodbridge Police Department to intervene, and they were told to stay out of Woodbridge, a town where Gleason had powerful political connections.
At the time of his disappearance, Billy Smolinski was involved in an explosive love triangle with Madeline Gleason and Chris Sorenson, a married and influential politician in Woodbridge. Gleason and Sorenson had been conducting an affair for years, a fact that Billy had discovered the week before while vacationing with Gleason in Florida. Billy called to threaten Sorenson three times on August 24th and disappeared hours after threatening his male rival,
The Smolinskis sought help from Connecticut state’s attorney, John Connolley, whose only advice, the Smolinskis said, was to stay out of Woodbridge.
With the Waterbury police conducting a sluggish investigation, the Smolinskis were determined to engage Madeline's increasingly bizarre behavior. They believed she knew something about Billy's disappearance and they intended to find out what. Thus began a daily cat and mouse game. The Smolinski family would go around Woodbridge, Seymour, Ansonia and Bethany every day and re hang Billy's posters on telephone poles. Every night they were torn down. This went on for several months until Janice noticed one day that the posters were disappearing within minutes, in broad daylight.
"Madeline and her friend, (Frances Vrabel), started following me and eventually started ripping the posters down right in front of my face," Janice Smolinski said. 'It was a huge insult that I wasn't going to coil back and go home and forget about."
Madeline's in-your face tactic riled up a soft-spoken woman. "She had the nerve to do that right in my face and I was determined that I wasn't going to back down. I just kept hanging Billy's posters and went about my business. When she tore them down, I put up another."
Eventually Paula and Janice witnessed Madeline and Frances, who are both school bus drivers in Woodbridge, stopping their buses to get out and destroy Billy's posters.
Madeline Gleason racing back to her Woodbridge school bus with a missing person flyer in her hand. Despite being a named suspect in the disappearance of Billy Smolinski, Gleason continues to drive school children in Woodbridge for her employer, B&B Transportation, which financed her lawsuit against the Smolinskis and the Waterbury Observer.
"We couldn't believe what we were watching," Paula said. "Madeline never helped search for Billy when he went missing. Why was she doing this?"
The bizarre behavior continued almost daily until April 2005 when Madeline pulled the bus into the Woodbridge police parking lot. Paula and Janice saw an opportunity to confront Madeline's behavior with the police, and they followed her inside.
Once inside the police station both Paula and Janice state that Madeline taunted them, saying that if she had married Billy she would have referred to Janice as "Mommy." After a few "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy" taunts, Paula blew a fuse and lunged at Madeline and said she was going to kill her. By the time the Woodbridge police sorted through the tangled raw emotion, according to the Smolinskis, they were under threat of arrest on five different charges.
The police report states that Gleason complained that the Smolinskis "have been smothering the areas along her bus route, in front of her residence, the bank she frequents and now at a gym she just joined. Gleason stated that she has been tearing down a portion of these posters because she feels it is too much."
The report also stated that Janice had told Madeline that she wasn't going to stop hanging Billy's posters until Madeline broke and told the truth.
"I did say that," Janice said. "I believed she knew something about my son's disappearance and the police weren't doing anything about it. I wasn't going to stop."
According the report the police had some sympathy with the Smolinskis and asked them to stop distributing flyers around Beecher School, but they could continue hanging flyers on poles around town.
Although the police report doesn't reflect this, both Janice and Paula state the Woodbridge police agreed to let them go if they didn't take a videotape of Madeline ripping down the posters to the media.
"We didn't know our rights then," Janice said. "So we agreed and we left." But the following day Janice Smolinski was back in Woodbridge hanging up Billy's posters. That night they were torn down again. Day after day Janice and her family faithfully re hung Billy's posters, and night after night they were destroyed.
The Smolinskis consulted with a lawyer who advised them they had every right to hang posters near school property, and the following day, April 10th, 2005, Janice once again started hanging posters near the Beecher School entrance.
"The superintendent of schools drove by and asked me what I was doing," Janice said. "I explained my son was missing. She was very nice and said she'd appreciate it if I didn't hang it on that pole anymore, and I never put it there again."
Two weeks later the Woodbridge police called and asked Janice to come down to the police station. Madeline's friend, Frances Vrabel, had filed a complaint against Janice for hanging posters by the school. Janice was arrested for first degree harassment.
"It was so backwards," Paula Bell said. "The police tried to make us seem crazy, but we were just trying to find Billy. The only arrest so far in this case has been my mom. She just wants to know what happened to her son and she ends up sitting next to criminals in the New Haven courthouse."
The charges were eventually dismissed, but the event left Bill Smolinski rattled. "This shakes my belief in the system," he said. "We just want the truth and we're are not getting the truth."
Six years later the truth remains elusive. Despite the enormous media attention on the case, and perhaps because of it, the investigation has been passed around like a hot potato from police department to police department. Currently the investigation is being handled by Sgt. Ron Goodmaster of the Seymour Police Department, and members of the Connecticut State Police Cold Case unit.
"We are not giving up until we bring Billy home," Janice Smolinksi said. "They can throw me in jail and sue me, but eventually the truth will be revealed and justice will be done."
Gleason also sued the Waterbury Observer in August 2006 for publishing a 10,000 word story, with a dozen photographs, that detailed her strange and public behavior. Waterbury lawyer, Mark Lee, successfully had the lawsuit against the Observer dropped, and is now defending the Smolinskis and will square off against Williams in court Tuesday morning.
Disgusting all that law enforcement and no real law enforcement. this law suit should be thrown out before it even starts. Is there not one ethical le or judge in this disgusting place?
Truly unbelievable. I believe Janice Smolinski to be an 'accidental advocate' for her son, Billy. Janice has been propelled into speaking out for the disappearance of her son. Janice has had to stand up to law enforcement, politicians, community members, neighbors and I'm sure friends and family.
Janice, you really are a hero for what you do for Billy and for the rest of us who also have someone missing in our lives and are trying to do the right thing.
I will be on my knees tomorrow saying a prayer for you for strength to get through this hearing and for a just outcome.
I first became aquainted with Billy's case on Discovery's Unsolved and he is the primary reason I joined this site. Words cannot convey the deep disgust I feel for Madeline, the married lover, and that community at large, including the school district who took a grieving mother to court for pinning up flyers on her missing son. However, I do believe justice will prevail and God will one day hold not only the key people responsible for the disappearance of Billy, but those whose hearts were so cold that they actively hindered the investigation and brought more grief on Billy's family.
This is what I wrote on the comment section on the Waterbury Observer (it's still waiting for approval):
Thank you John Murray for writing this article!
I've come to know Jan Smolinski well over the past 6 years. She was one of the first families of the missing that reached a hand out to help me. There is not a bad bone in her body. A Mom just searching for her son and wanting answers and justice. A quiet, gentle powerhouse who is making needed changes in this world of the missing.
I'm simply sick that the Smolinski's have to go through this travesty. Is not the horror of having a loved one missing enough? Anyone that can do this to this family in my books is capable of murder and/or covering up a murder.
On November 29th New Haven Superior Court you will have criminal(s) sitting in that courtroom but it's not the Smolinski's!
If I could be in that courtroom on Tuesday I would be. I pray many many show up and support the Smolinski's. I will be doing so from afar but all my prayers will be focused on good coming out of this evil.
NamUs Victims Advocate - Kansas
# # #
Praying answers come out of this.
Heartbreaking ... mom Denise Allan
This is disgusting that a mother of a missing man would be charged for trying to find justice...This womens guilt is written all over her actions....The police in this town need to wake up and turn the heat on this women. Also i think her actions of ripping down missing posters stands by itself and she should be removed from her job. No way would i want this women driving my children to school.Where are the parents of the children this women drives to school? Wake up waterbury; if it was your child missing and someone was ripping down the missing posters what would you do?
This town needs to support this family and put the pressure on this women or at least at the very least get her away from the towns children...My heart goes out to this family and i wish i lived here because i would start such a fuss over this that this town would not know what hit them....
Lord, I lift the Smolinsky family up to you in Jesus name I ask that this be resolved in justice for this family. I ask that this woman and any others involved with the disappearance of Billy will have the weight of the world on their hearts and anyone that takes information to their grave will die unclean in your eyes for the burden and suffering they've put on this family. I ask that if there is any human left in these people that the guilt will weigh on them until they can't take it and that You will bring justice where it is needed if they remain uncooperative. I ask that you bring Billy home to his family and give them peace and patience. I also ask that if there is anyone that knows anything about the whereabouts of Billy they will come forward and give this family closure. God I see that there has been a massive miscarriage of justice in this case and I ask that you give them the strength to keep searching and the hope that they will find Billy. God please let a lead come in that will keep this case going so they can bring him home. I ask this in the name of your son Jesus. Amen
I am praying for you and your family Jan. Don't lose hope and don't let the world steal your sunshine.
And the evil forcres just keep on rolling. It's shameful that LE takes the easy way out...How could a school bus driver be allowed to stop and get off the bus while picking up and dropping off kids. Can't believe the school district would tolerate this under any circumstances. How does the school board feel about this? We got your back Janice - just wish we could be there for you. Maybe there needs to be an "Occupy Waterbury" movement.
Tomorrow will be determined by a judge after we testify in court. How long it will take is undetermined. I will let you all know the outcome when it is over.
One good thing that happened today we got another co sponsor for Billy's law .
Thank you all so much for your kind words and support. We will keep on moving forward, the system is hurting, changes need to happen. Victims are victimized over and over again. With the Grace of God we will get through this trial, a few more hours let the truth be told. Love, Faith and always hope, Jan
Emotional Day in Court For Smolinski Family: http://waterburyobserver.org/node/646
Story By John Murray
Janice Smolinski sat at the defense table with her daughter, Paula Bell, and Attorney Mark Lee, and listened to Madeline Gleason testify under oath about the events surrounding the disappearance of Billy Smolinski. Gleason had been dating Billy Smolinski at the time of his mysterious disappearance and was named a suspect in police reports written by the Woodbridge Police Department in the Spring of 2005.
The report stated that Madeline Gleason was a suspect until she passed a polygraph test, and six years later, she has still not taken a polygraph test. But in a bizarre twist Gleason and Smolinski came face to face in New Haven Superior Court today, November 29th, with Smolinski seated at the defense table, and Gleason playing the role of victim. Gleason has sued Janice Smolinski and Paula Bell for allegedly harassing her in the months and years following Billy Smolinski's disappearance,
Gleason testified in court that the Smolinski family has repeatedly accused her of murdering Billy Smolinski, fabricated a love triangle, harassed her, defamed her, threatened to kill her and turned her into an emotional wreck. She has asked for $115,000 in damages.
In a pre-trial hearing in Judge Jonathon Silbert's chambers there was an effort to get the Smolinskis to offer a small amount of money to Gleason to make the lawsuit go away. The Smolinksis refused.
The trial started an hour later in courtroom 5-D and was presided over by Judge Tom Cordino. Gleason's lawyer, Attorney John Williams, called several witnesses before Gleason took the stand. Gleason, dressed in black and wearing black leather boots with tassels, expressed anger, cried, pleaded and told the court she feared the Smolinskis might harm her 13 year old son. Gleason testified that Janice Smolinski had repeatedly confronted her, climbed into her car, swore at her and threatened to kill her.
While listening to Gleason's testimony Janice Smolinski said her heart began to pound and she began to shake. "I could not believe the lies coming out of her mouth," Smolinski said. "I knew it was going to bad, but this was way over the top."
Moments later Smolinski decided enough was enough and she exploded. "Stop it," she yelled, interupting the court proceedings, "that's my son your talking about, my son," and she began to sob.
Janice's husband, Bill, leapt to his feet in the back of the courtroom and yelled, "That's enough," he said pointing at Gleason, "you're lying." And he stormed out of the courtroom.
Judge Cordino called the lawyers into his chambers and then Bill Smolinski barged back into the courtroom and rushed the defense table to console his wife. Minutes later the lawyers emerged to talk to their clients and try and calm the situation down. Judge Cordino came out and said that in a case with such raw emotion it was understood that it was "sometimes impossible to control them."
During the first day of the trial the Smolinskis had to sit and listen to Gleason make the case that she had been harassed and was due monetary damages. Several of the witnesses called by Gleason's side contradicted themselves and had trouble remembering dates, and Attorney John Williams produced no evidence backing up Gleason's allegations of harassment. The trial will resume next Monday when the Smolinskis have the opportunity to counter Gleason's version of events.
"This was a tough day," Janice Smolinski said, " we were all shaken in the courtroom today. "They're making a lot of allegations against us, but they have no proof. We'll get our chance in court on Monday."
(The Observer will publish more details about the first day of the trial in the days ahead)
I'm sorry, but does ANYONE else think that the Waterbury Police were not doing their job, AT ALL during this case. First, they didnt even take the call seriously when the family reported Billy missing. Maybe if they had done that in the first place they would have more clues and evidence. Then, they charge his mother for what, disrupting the peace?!?! You know who disrupted the peace? The criminal, when SHE took Billy away from his family in the first place. Every missing persons case, all they want is the truth. They want to bury their son to rest. Is that too damn much for people to call and anonymously say, this is where he is? And for this witch of a woman...I dont even want to call her a woman, to write "who cares?" and deface posters of him, shows that she does not want people looking for him because then they will find evidence that it was her that had done this awful and disgusting thing. I am so tired of people getting away with things like this. This is not the America I want to raise children in