William Paul Smolinski, Jr., known as Billy to family and friends, was born on January 14, 1973, to Janice and William Smolinski, Sr. He attended Kaynor Technical High School for three years and then Naugatuck High School for one year, graduating in 1991. He studied auto mechanics at Naugatuck Valley Community College for one year, as well as for his CDL in Bridgeport, CT. He was considering pursuing a career in law enforcement.
Billy is an athletic guy who loves fishing, hunting, horseback riding, snowmobiling, and going to demolition derbies. He also loves listening to music and working on cars. He enjoys drinking beer with friends, and going for cheeseburgers or barbecue at Big Franks in Waterbury. He would often drop in at his younger sister Paula Bell’s house in the morning with a bag of bagels. Billy had no history of drug use, did not have a police record, and did not drink to excess.
He worked as a part-time tow truck driver for Durable Towing and was a full-time apprentice heating and air conditioning technician at Midland Heating & Air Conditioning. He also mowed lawns in the summer and plowed driveways in the winter to earn extra money. He was a dependable employee and had just been offered extra hours at his part-time job. He was physically and mentally in good health.
Billy was last seen at his home at 130 Holly Street in Waterbury, CT, between 3:30 and 3:45 p.m. on August 24, 2004. A neighbor said that Billy rang their doorbell and told him he was going out of town for three days to look at a car he was considering buying and asked them to watch Harley, his five year old German Shepherd dog, while he was gone. When the neighbor went to check on the dog and let her out the next morning, the house was locked and no one was home, but Billy’s truck was in the driveway. A key that was supposed to be hidden outside the house was not there. It is unknown how Billy left the house, whether he was driving someone else’s vehicle or was in the company of another person. The neighbor said Billy was acting normally and did not seem agitated when they saw him.
The Smolinski family found his behavior to be odd, since Billy had just returned from a vacation in Florida, and it was out of character for him to leave town without telling them, especially leaving the care of his dog to someone other than a family member or close friend. At the time he vanished, Billy was a first-time homeowner and was getting his house ready to paint when he had some spare time. Friends reported that Billy was very excited about having his own house and was planning home improvement projects. Inside the house, there was no indication that Billy was not planning to return. A receipt from Burger King time-stamped 2:59 p.m. was found in the trash inside the house, indicating that Billy had picked up the meal right before he spoke to his neighbor and that he had definitely been inside the house before he saw the neighbor. He had unpacked his suitcases after returning from Florida just 48 hours earlier. Also, Billy was devoted to his dog and would never have left without having arranged proper care for Harley. He treated her like his child, and it was seeing Harley left unattended that made alarm bells go off for the family.
Upon learning of his behavior, his family contacted the Waterbury Police Department and wanted to file a missing persons report immediately. Waterbury police refused to take the report and insisted on waiting three days, the time that Billy had specified to his neighbor that he would be gone (to their credit, the police department has since changed their rules about missing persons, realizing that evidence and clues can disappear and trails can go cold quickly). So it was three days before any investigation was begun, even though Billy’s truck was sitting in the driveway. Billy’s wallet and keys were found inside the white Ford pick-up truck. The truck was not checked for fingerprints, nor was it impounded. Prior to his disappearance, Billy deposited most of his last paycheck in his bank account. His accounts have not been accessed since he vanished, nor has his Social Security number been used.
Rather than waiting for the police and their three-day waiting period to be up, the Smolinski family sprang into action, doing everything they could to find Billy: putting up missing person flyers where they would be seen, calling everyone they could think of, contacting the media. Yet, Billy’s former girlfriend Madeleine Gleason and her friend Frances Vrabel were caught on film tearing down the missing person posters, often within minutes of when they were put up.
Gleason claimed that the Smolinskis were targeting her in some way by saturating her neighborhood and the places that she went with the flyers. She went so far as to sue Billy’s mother and sister Paula Bell as well as the Waterbury Observer newspaper in 2006, saying that they were harassing her and that the flyers had damaged her reputation at her job at B and B Transportion, where she worked as a bus driver. The Smolinski family put up flyers by the thousands all over Connecticut and as far away as Grand Central Station in New York, everywhere they could think of that people might see them, in an effort to find Billy. Gleason is not a suspect or even a person of interest in Billy’s disappearance, but her behavior is certainly suspicious for someone who has nothing to hide.
Gleason is several years older than Billy. Just days before Billy’s disappearance, they took a vacation together to Florida. They quarreled during the trip because Gleason kept receiving calls on her cell phone from another man, a married man named Chris Sorenson that Gleason was involved with. When they returned to Connecticut on August 22, after having dated for a year, the couple broke up. After the break-up, Billy went to Gleason’s house in the middle of the night to talk to her; she said that when he left, he was a little depressed but seemed all right otherwise. Although he was angry about Gleason cheating on him, Billy’s family says he was not despondent over the break-up and did not seem bothered much at all.
According to Billy’s phone records, the last three phone calls Billy made were to Sorenson on August 24, but Sorenson said he did not see Billy at all that day. Sorenson said he recognized Billy’s voice on one call, telling him to watch his back.
Madeleine’s lawyer, high-powered Connecticut defense attorney John Williams, has stated that he does not believe Billy is missing at all but went off on his own free will. At first, Waterbury police also believed that Billy left of his own accord. By 2006, the Waterbury police department had exhausted all leads and asked the FBI for assistance. The FBI disagreed with both Gleason’s lawyer and the local police: they believe foul play is involved in Billy’s disappearance and that he was murdered.
Billy’s mother Janice was arrested by the Woodbridge, CT, police for trespassing while putting up flyers about his disappearance; the charges against her were eventually dropped. The family believes the arrest was at the instigation of Madeleine Gleason.
Several years after Billy went missing, the Smolinski family was shocked to learn from a source close to the Waterbury police that Billy’s missing persons file contains information that he was murdered. Police received a tip that Madeleine Gleason’s son Shawn Karpiuk killed Billy and told a friend that Billy got what he deserved, and that he and a friend had buried his body. Karpiuk died of a drug overdose in 2005.
In 2008, Chad Hanson, a local man, was named in at least two anonymous tips as Karpiuk’s accomplice in Billy’s murder. When questioned by police, Hanson claimed to have helped bury Billy off Bungay Road in Seymour, CT, although he said he had no part in Billy’s murder. He said that he helped Karpiuk bury a barrel in a wooded area but did not realize that Billy’s body was inside until later. After a massive police search of the area turned up no evidence, Hanson admitted that he had lied and that he had no idea what had happened to Billy Smolinski. Hanson was serving out the remainder of a jail sentence at a halfway house in Waterbury for charges relating to Billy’s disappearance (making a false statement and interfering with a police investigation) when he escaped. He was recaptured after being on the run for a week.
In April 2012, the family hired a private detective to search a site in a wooded section in Shelton, CT. Jean Petrucelli, a cardiac nurse who lives very close to the area, believes she saw Billy’s white pick-up being driven into the woods followed by a smaller red car as she sat on her back deck on a summer evening in 2004, right around the time that Billy vanished. She noticed the two vehicles because she had never seen vehicles being driven into the woods before, nor has she seen any since. She noticed that the truck had unusual headlights, big and round, and that the grill on the front of the truck was flat; when she saw a photo of Billy’s truck, she immediately identified it as the same type of vehicle, if not the exact same truck. The two vehicles scraped against the trees as they forced their way into the woods. A police investigator agreed to meet Ms. Petrucelli after she contacted them in 2012, but he did not keep the appointment and police never followed up with her, until the private investigator began looking into her story and found evidence that may relate to the case.
The Waterbury police have agreed to reinvestigate the case from the beginning, based on new evidence and leads that were not investigated in 2004. It is always difficult re-visiting a case so many years later: witnesses move out of the area or have passed away; memories are not as clear as at the time of the event; evidence has been destroyed deliberately, by accident, or by nature. The family feels that the police ignored tips in 2004 and did not follow through on other leads. In 2012, the Waterbury police began a complete review of the case from scratch.
In August 2012, the lawsuit against Janice Smolinski and Paul Bell came to trial, and Madeleine Gleason was awarded $52,000 in damages for defamation of character. The Smolinski family is appealing the ruling. Families of missing persons are fearful that if the ruling is allowed to stand, it could alter the way they distribute flyers and disseminate information about their missing loved ones. It could also open the way for any potential witness or suspect to sue a missing person’s family for attempting to locate that person. Many people feel the ruling is blatant censorship and in violation of the Smolinkskis’ first amendment right to free speech.
William (Billy) Smolinski Jr. was 31 years old when he vanished; today he would be 39. He is a Caucasian male, with short light brown hair and blue eyes. He is 6 feet tall and weighs about 200 lbs. He is slightly bow-legged. His left ear is pierced and he wears a small diamond stud earring. He has a tattoo on his left forearm of a blue cross with the name Pruitt incorporated into the design; on his right shoulder is a tattoo of a blue cross outlined in orange. He does not smoke. When last seen, he was wearing a gold rope chain with a cross pendant, blue jeans, a blue work shirt and work boots.
If you know anything about William Smolinski’s disappearance, contact the Waterbury Police Department, 204/574-6941.