Billy Smolinski Jr. vanished eight years ago and his family’s relentless search to find answers has led to his mother Janice, middle, being arrested, and his mother and sister being sued.
Story By John Murray
The Smolinski family is headed to New Haven Superior Court today in what may be the final chapter in a bizarre civil lawsuit filed against them by a named suspect in their son’s disappearance. Billy Smolinski Jr, vanished from his life on August 24th, 2004, and when local law enforcement were sluggish to respond to pleas for help, Billy’s family and friends launched their own search.
They hung thousands of missing person flyers throughout western Connecticut, but ran into a hornets nest in Woodbridge where the posters were being destroyed, and Billy’s former girlfriend, Madeline Gleason, drove a public school bus. Billy and Madeline had ended their year-long relationship 48 hours before he disappeared. The rift in the relationship was simple – Madeline was cheating on Billy, she was having an affair with Woodbridge politician Chris Sorenson.
Billy Smolinski Jr. was tangled in an explosive love triangle that cost him his life. The last three phone calls he made on August 24th, 2004 were to Chris Sorenson’s house, and Billy had left a threatening message, “watch your back at all times Chris.” In the eight years since Billy vanished a multi-jurisdictional investigation involving the Waterbury PD, the FBI, the Connecticut State Police, Seymour PD and Shelton PD, information has been developed that Billy Smolinski was murdered by Madeline Gleason’s son, Shaun Karpiuk, and buried in an unknown grave in the lower Naugatuck Valley. One report indicated that Billy was murdered in Madeline Gleason’s apartment.
In the months following Billy’s disappearance the Smolinski family discovered it was Madeline Gleason and her friends destroying and vandalizing the missing person flyers. The Smolinskis would staple them onto telephone poles, and within minutes they had been torn down. The Smolinskis would return the following day and replace the flyers, which would then be destroyed. Day after day, week after week, the Smolinskis continued to replace the flyers.
The escalating confrontation ended when Janice Smolinski was arrested by the Woodbridge Police Department for allegedly hanging a flyer on school property. The complaint was filed by Fran Vrabel, Madeline Gleason’s best friend, a fellow school bus driver, and an accomplice in systemically destroying the flyers. In one shocking video captured by the Smolinski family, Vrabel walked up to Janice Smolinski and ripped down a flyer in her face, and threw it at her feet.
But Woodbridge was home turf for Gleason, Sorenson and Vrabel, and it was a grieving mother searching for her missing son that remains the only arrest in this upside down investigation. When the Waterbury Observer published an in-depth article in March 2006 revealing the love triangle, and exposed an inept investigation by the Waterbury PD, an already bizarre situation took a hard turn into the absurd – Madeline Gleason sued Janice Smolinski, Paula Bell (Billy’s sister), and The Waterbury Observer for harassment and invasion of privacy.
It took five years for the lawsuit to make it to trial, but during two emotionally charged days in early December 2011, the combatants came face to face in New Haven Superior Court. The Observer, thanks to legal motions filled by Atty. Mark Lee, had been removed from the lawsuit.
Atty. Mark Lee and the Smolinski family.
Atty. Lee is now the lawyer representing Janice Smolinski and Paula Bell. Lee told the Observer that final written arguments were submitted to the judge weeks ago, and now the judge has called all the parties back into court today. Although Lee said he’s not sure what to expect, he believes the judge might give an indication of his impending decision.
Or, he might render his decision today. Gleason, represented by high-powered lawyer John Williams, has asked for $150,000 in damages. Atty Lee has argued that Gleason has no proof of any damages, and not a single bill to back up her claims.
“I have a pit in my stomach,” Janice Smolinski said. “This should not have happened. If the police had listened to our cry for help we wouldn’t be in this situation. Billy’s disappearance could have been solved quickly, and his murderers brought to justice. Instead, I have been arrested and sued. The way the police responded to a report of a missing adult – our son – has destroyed our lives.”