Billy Smolinski Jr. vanished from Waterbury August 24th, 2004.
Story By John Murray
Seven and a half years after Billy Smolinski Jr. disappeared from Waterbury, Connecticut, the local police department is taking another look at the case. The new development was triggered when Billy’s parents, Bill and Jan Smolinski, met with Waterbury Police Chief, Michael Gugliotti, on March 22nd.
“The Smolinskis asked me a lot of questions that I had no answer for,” Gugliotti said. “I wasn’t involved with the investigation seven years ago, but it was a complete disaster. We need to find answers to their questions.”
Chief Gugliotti has assigned two detectives from the cold case unit to start the investigation over. “I want fresh eyes on the case,” Gugliotti said. “There are a lot of obstacles to overcome, but the new investigators will have no preconceived ideas. Some of the people in the case are dead, and others are lawyered up, but our #1 objective now is to gather all the data from the investigation and compile it in chronological order. It’s a puzzle we have to put together.”
The investigation has involved three local police departments, the Connecticut State Police, and the FBI. One of the first questions the Smolinskis asked Chief Gugliotti was, “who was handling the new tips coming in?”
Bizarrely, for the past year, there has been no law enforcement agency willing to state clearly that they are the lead investigators in what is now a search for the body of Billy Smolinski. Credible evidence has been gathered that points to Smolinski being murdered on the night of August 24th, 2004, and his body buried in a grave in the lower Naugatuck Valley. But when five law enforcement agencies each declined to take the “lead” in the investigation, the Smolinskis set up a tip line that goes directly to them, and they have been using a private investigator, and private search and rescue dogs to conduct their own searches.
Vigilantes? Hardly. Their son has been missing for nearly eight years, and if law enforcement is reluctant to press forward with an investigation, they were determined to.
“We are pleased that Chief Gugliotti took our questions seriously,” Janice Smolinski said. “We welcome any effort from law enforcement to help bring Billy home.”
Waterbury Police Chief Michael Gugliotti. Photo by John Murray
The Smolinskis are willing to move past the bitterness they have directed at the Waterbury police if Chief Gugliotti follows through with his statements. But there is a lot of bitterness to overcome.
“The investigation was exclusively in the hands of the Waterbury police for two years,” Janice Smolinski said. “We had a lot of trouble convincing them anything was wrong when Billy went missing. He was a strong, 31-year-old man, and we were told he would come home when he was ready.”
Eighteen months after Billy vanished from his life, the then deputy chief of the Waterbury Police Department, Jimmy Egan, told the Waterbury Observer that, “Billy was probably having a beer somewhere in Europe.”
That statement was made with the full knowledge that Billy Smolinski didn’t have a passport, his keys and wallet were found tucked underneath the seat of his truck, and no money had been withdrawn from his bank account since he vanished.
Frustrated with the Waterbury Police Department, Janice Smolinski began a relentless effort to get the FBI to look into Billy’s disappearance. The Smolinskis wanted investigators to dig deeper into a love triangle that involved Billy, his ex-girlfriend, Madeline Gleason, and a married politician in Woodbridge, Chris Sorensen.
In August 0f 2006 the FBI took over the investigation, and while still working with the Waterbury PD, the federal investigators reached out and included the Shelton and Seymour police departments. In May of 2007 several locations in Shelton were probed by investigators as possible burial sites, and the Connecticut State Police brought in cadaver dogs to sniff around.
A year lapsed, and then a tip from a convicted felon, Chad Hansen, led to a massive excavation of a farm meadow on Bungay Road in Seymour. Hansen later admitted he had fabricated the story, and is now serving two-years in prison for the false statements.
While investigators tried to figure out what happened to Billy Smolinski, his parents sought local, state and federal reform in the way law enforcement officers responded to the report of a missing adult. Waterbury changed their procedure to treat each report of a missing adult as a homicide, until proven otherwise. Connecticut has altered the way police officers are trained to handle adult missing person cases, and federal legislation, Billy’s Law, is now being considered in the United States Senate.
“We have made great process in changing the way police handle cases of missing adults,” Janice Smolinski said, “but we still haven’t brought Billy home.”
Jan and Bill Smolinski have become national spokesmen for missing adults.
As the case drew national and international attention, Discovery ID produced an hour long show dedicated exclusively to the disappearance of Billy Smolinski. The show has aired dozens of times around the world, and individuals in Bulgaria, Scotland, Australia and Canada are closely following the case.
As the Smolinskis used police gaffes to push reform, the police began to back off. The case had triggered federal legislation and was now a political hot potato. After three years on the case the FBI unceremoniously backed out of the investigation. Waterbury PD went quiet. Shelton PD stopped following up on leads. It seemed nobody wanted to get caught with the hot potato in their hands.
Janice Smolinski pleaded with the Connecticut State Police to get involved and she successfully lobbied the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office. The Western District Major Crime Squad conducted interviews, searched quarries, and have performed their own digs for the body of Billy Smolinski, but the state police will only say they are “assisting”. The question of who they are assisting remains unanswered. The investigation is a complicated multi-jurisdictional probe, and no law enforcement agency is publically stating they are the lead.
While reluctant to say he’s re-opened the case, Police Chief Gugliotti told the Observer, “I talked to Lenny Boyle (from the Chief State’s Attorney’s Office) and he gave us his blessing to get involved again. We are willing to hold the hot potato. We are going to gather data from every agency and place all the pieces of the puzzle on the table. There is no other option. I want to find some answers.”
The Smolinskis are cautious, and encouraged.
“At this point we don’t care where the answer comes from,” Janice Smolinski said. “It could come from the police, a private investigator, or a compassionate member of the public. There are people in the Naugatuck Valley who know what happened to our son, and they know where Billy is buried. We are not going to give up until we bring him home. We will find our answer.”