By Erica Morse
Editor-in-Chief, Victims News Online
Published 10:00 p.m., May 5, 2014
(VNO) – Early last evening, an article began to circulate online and via social media that caught the attention of everyone following the case of a Connecticut man missing for nearly a decade. That article, published by the New Haven Register, accurately depicted a search effort conducted yesterday by the family of missing William “Billy” Smolinski, during which a trained cadaver dog hit on a possible “clue” in the case. Billy Smolinski vanished from his home in Waterbury, CT, in 2004.
From their home in Waterbury, CT, William and Jan Smolinski spoke with Victims News Online this evening via phone. Billy has not been found,” Janice Smolinski told VNO. “I’ve been fielding calls and texts since this morning: from media outlets, friends, and my own sister. They’re asking if the remains are male or female. There are no remains. No one has been found, but two cadaver dogs have returned alerts in that area”.
Since that day, his mother, father, sister, and many friends have been fighting to find him, including hosting search efforts with volunteers and trained handlers, accompanied by certified search-and-rescue (SAR) dogs. During Sunday’s search, a trained cadaver K-9 named “Murphy” returned a strong hit from a lake in an area of the Lower Naugatuck Valley, known to locals as, “The Valley”. Within hours of the article regarding the cadaver alert, the missing man’s family began receiving calls from local media outlets, asking for details about his recovery; and for the missing man’s family, this glimmer of hope has turned into a day of clarifying many details.
Now, the Smolinskis are asking for help — from law enforcement to divers to recovery agents — who may be able to assist in providing a trained team to go into the lake and locate whomever may be in there. Due to the specific terrain, trained teams will be needed, according to the family. “I don’t know what – or who – is in there,” Jan Smolinski told VNO. “It could be Billy; it could be someone else’s loved one; we don’t know. I made some calls today to find out who needs to lead the next steps — to see who should handle this — and I’m awaiting responses to those questions”. The area was one of three on the search list for Sunday, all selected as a result of tips received in 2013, before the harsh winter halted efforts. Recent warmer temperatures in Connecticut have finally allotted the family better conditions to resume search efforts, and a team of volunteers was assembled.
The first area searched, according to Jan Smolinski, did not yield any results; they were unable to gain access to the second location; and then, the third location, “changed everything”, she said. Yesterday was the day,” she continued. He (Murphy) went on full alert: his paws went up on a tree, his nose went up, he sat down, barked, and started into the water. He started swimming and went in circles and wouldn’t stop; when we were finally able to get him in, he was shivering”. Upon removing Murphy from the water, a second cadaver dog, described only as a German Shepard, was brought in to evaluate the area; the second dog also hit on the same area in what Jan describes as a “triangle pattern”, but did not enter the water. “We couldn’t believe what we were seeing”, she said. Jan has been on searches with Murphy before, and has seen — first-hand — the differences between his alerts for a human versus potential evidence in a case. The Smolinskis were with Murphy and his handler, Debbie Monde, when Murphy alerted on human remains back in 2009 at the edge of land owned by MassMutual. One month later, a security guard for the company discovered the body of missing CT man Jody King within feet of where Murphy alerted on the other side of the property line. For Billy Smolinski’s family, it is hope for closure, for the opportunity to lay him to rest, and a chance at justice that has been brewing for nearly a decade.
Billy Smolinski disappeared on August 24, 2004, after allegedly telling a neighbor he was going “up north” for a few days to look at a vehicle to purchase. His truck was later found parked in front of the house he owned in Waterbury; his keys and wallets were found later by police after a thorough search of the vehicle. For almost 10 years, his family has insisted Billy would not have just “left”, or “moved away”, as suggested by some. In a 2012 interview, Jan Smolinski told this reporter, “I knew immediately something was wrong. “Billy did not disappear willingly”.
Since then, Jan and Bill Smolinski, along with their daughter, Paula, have been fighting not just for Billy’s rights, but for the rights of other missing persons as well. Since 2012, they have been fighting for the rights of every family to post ‘missing’ fliers on public property, after being sued by their son’s former girlfriend. In August 2012, Connecticut judge ruled against the Smolinskis and awarded more than $50,000 in damages to Madeline Gleason, the woman who was their son’s girlfriend until a few days before his disappearance. The case has become a landmark in the missing persons’ arena, and is currently in its second appeals’ process. Additionally, their work with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons’ (NamUS) Database has brought much-needed attention to one of the most underused clearinghouses for missing persons’ information.
The NamUS database is currently the largest of its kind, housing thousands of missing persons’ reports, DNA profiles, case reports, photos, and other important statistics on each missing person. In February 2010, the House passed “Billy’s Law”, which expanded the online public information regarding missing persons. However, the family is still working to achieve funding, with the goal of every law enforcement agency knowing about — and utilizing — NamUS as the primary database for missing persons’ information.
In the meantime, the Smolinskis are awaiting word back from law enforcement on where to send the search reports from yesterday’s events. The family has been primarily responsible for search efforts over the last few years, maintaining a private tip line, following every lead, and offering a $60,000 reward for information leading to the whereabouts or recovery of Billy Smolinski. However, they feel yesterday’s search effort turned up a new clue that could mean the difference in finding Billy, and are asking for officials to take control, once again, of the search and investigation. After 10 years, it’s hard to be patient”, Jan Smolinski said. “All we’re asking for is for Billy to be found. Say it’s not Billy; it’s someone’s missing loved one – or loved ones. We are very angry, but we can’t say it. We’re heartbroken, and just have to follow-up on every lead. And right now, this is the best lead we have. I’m just at a loss for words, to be honest, and don’t know how to feel”. Bill Smolinski mirrored his wife’s frustration, telling Victims News Online, “I’m angry. Heck, I think the only person we haven’t asked for help is President Obama”.
At the time of his disappearance, William “Billy” Smolinski was approximately 5’10” tall, weighing 200 pounds, with brown hair and blue eyes. A $60,000 reward is being offered; anyone with information is asked to contact the New Haven, CT, office of the FBI at (203) 574-6941.