John Smith Stored the Remains of His First Wife in a Wooden Box — What Happened to His Second?

The body of John Smith's first wife was found in a wooden box Smith made himself. What happened to his second wife?

Jennifer Tisdale - Author

Apr. 26 2024, Published 4:16 p.m. ET

According to, in September 1991, 49-year-old Fran Gladden-Smith left a note for her husband John that read, "Going away for a few days. Don’t forget to feed the fish." The couple was new to Princeton, N.J., and had just moved there from Florida earlier in the year. It would have been odd for his wife to suddenly pick up and leave. Smith would later tell police that Gladden-Smith had packed a suitcase before leaving, but her suitcase was still in their condo.

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This small but significant lie cast a suspicious doubt over Smith's story, who was their first suspect after he reported Gladden-Smith missing on Oct. 4, 1991. Unfortunately, she was never found, though decades later, Gladden-Smith's family would get some answers, however unsatisfying. What happened to Fran Gladden-Smith? Here's what we know.

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What happened to Fran Gladden-Smith? Only her husband really knows.

On July 19, 2001, Smith was sentenced to life in prison without the opportunity for parole in the first 15 years. He was found guilty of murder in August 2000, but it was not connected to the disappearance of Gladden-Smith. This particular case was in reference to Smith's first wife, Janice Hartman, who disappeared in November 1974. It was while he was in prison that information about Gladden-Smith came to light.

Despite not knowing where Gladden-Smith's body was, the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office indicted Smith in 2019. Unfortunately, the case was dismissed after a judge decided that the jury wouldn't be permitted to know that Smith was already in prison for the murder of his first wife. "Mercer County Judge Peter Warshaw ruled in October 2022 the jury would not hear about the Hartman case, saying one spousal murder does not prove another and introducing it as evidence would prejudicially tilt a jury against Smith," per

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Smith brokered a deal with the state in order to have the case dropped, which involved him revealing where Gladden-Smith's body had been dumped. He told them that "two days after his wife died, he put her in a dark blanket and discarded her body in an industrial dumpster at the Carborundum facility in Keasbey, Woodbridge Township, where he worked at the time." It's important to note that he did not admit to being the person responsible for Gladden-Smith's death.

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The body of Janice Hartman was found in a box.

Hartman and Smith were married in 1970 when they were both 19 years-old and newly out of high school. It didn't take long for Hartman's friends and family to learn about Smith's troubling behavior. He would often yell at Hartman about her inability to cook a meal that satisfied him, and once threw a chessboard at her. In 1974 she decided to divorce Smith and by November of that year, it was finalized.

Three days after the couple was legally divorced, Hartman disappeared and it was Smith who filed the missing persons report. He told police she was last seen "Nov. 17, 1974 with a stocky man who had a mustache at the Sun Valley Inn, a local tavern," per Smith v Bobby. That Thanksgiving weekend, Smith's brother Michael found him building a wooden box that he used to store some of Hartman's clothes in. It stayed until June 1979 when Michael discovered skeletal remains inside of it.

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When he asked his brother what happened, Smith concocted a wild story about two men attacking him and Hartman. He then claimed an FBI agent threatened to frame Smith for murder. Strangely, Michael chose to believe his brother and did nothing when Smith took it and got rid of it. Nothing happened until May 1999 when Michael received a non-prosecution agreement which lead to him agreeing to record phone conversations with his brother.

Nothing came of the recordings but police were eventually able to connect Smith to Hartman's death. He never confessed to Hartman's murder and as of the time of this writing, has remained silent about Gladden-Smith's.

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