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Naming The Nameless Dead

By: Lona Manning

There is a story behind every case, and sometimes finding the name of an unidentified person only awakens a new and deeper mystery.

Take, for example the tragic case of Sean Cutler. In 1995, in Vermont, a black Labrador carried a human skull to his horrified owner, who promptly called the police. More remains were found in nearby woods. The bones went unidentified for eight years until a woman named Carol Cielecki, using the Doe Network to search for her missing ex-husband, read about the find. She matched the description of the remains to an Internet posting about a handicapped man who went missing in New Jersey in 1994.

Sean Cutler was blind and confined to a wheelchair as a result of a 1975 carbon monoxide accident that had killed his mother and left him brain-injured. He had been awarded a $1 million settlement for the accident and was in the care of his father. Sean's father, Lewis Cutler, told his in-laws that Sean was in a group home in Canada. In 1997, Lewis Cutler and a companion died in a mysterious house fire, leaving no answer to the question of what happened to the million dollars, or to Sean.

For five years, his relatives had nowhere to turn until the Vermont remains were identified as being Sean Cutler's in the fall of 2003. Thanks to the Doe Network, Sean's family was at last able to claim him and lay him to rest, even though the manner of his death probably will never be known. Bringing killers to justice is beyond the Doe Network's mandate, Matthews explains, adding firmly, "We are not private detectives."

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Missing Morris man's body is found
Woodbridge sister mourns victim killed snorkeling in Fla. 19 years ago

April 1, 2008
The Star Ledger, NJ
Star-Ledger Staff

Todd Smith sold his motorcycle and trailer in May 1989, then dropped his 2 1/2-year-old daughter at his ex-wife's house. That was the last anyone heard from the Morris County resident until last month.

Florida authorities scouring cold cases and attempting to determine identities of long-forgotten "John Doe" victims hit a match. Smith had been dead since May 18, 1989, the day after he went missing. Smith, 25, was the victim of a snorkling accident near Daytona Beach and his body was never identified, until last month, said his sister, Kimberly Smith Schmalenberger.

"My mother called me crying and said, 'They found him -- they found Todd,'" Schmalenberger, of Woodbridge, said yesterday, as the family prepared to hold a memorial service 2 p.m. Sunday at the Trinity Reformed Church in North Plainfield. "I dropped to my knees. The only other time I've ever done that was on Sept. 11, 2001."

Nearly two decades of mystery surrounding Smith's disappearance was ended by Kari Larson, a forensic technician in Volusia County, Fla. She was assigned to review cold cases and found enough similarities between the snorkeling death in 1989 to a missing person report on the DOE Net work, a collection of more than 200 volunteers, including Smith's ex- wife, Carol Cielecki, who swap leads and try to help each other solve missing-person cases.

Larson contacted an investigator with the Morris County Prosecutor's Office to share information on Smith, who lived in Rockaway Township at the time of his disappearance. It took them three weeks of trading fingerprints and other information, but Smith's identity was confirmed. Cielecki had entered her ex-husband's name and information into the DOE Network files.

It turns out Smith left for Florida after he dropped off his daughter Ashley and sold his motorcycle. Schmalenberger said her brother liked to take spontaneous trips, often without telling anyone.

"He was a great guy, a real free spirit," Schmalenberger said of her brother. "We assume he took a plane down to Florida to go swimming. Maybe he had the next day off. Sometimes, he'd like to get on a plane to go somewhere, play a round of golf, and come home. But, this time, we never saw him again." Smith was a car sales manager for Honda and Hyundai who worked in Bridgewater and Morris County.

"Todd was a sports car enthusiast and an avid motorcyclist," Schmalenberger said. "He also en joyed bicycle riding with his father and loved a round of golf."

She said the investigators who visited her mother, Barbara Giles Smith, and father, Donald Smith, on Jan. 30, also visited her at her Iselin home.

"By that time, my brother (Eric Smith) was here and we made the positive identification of Todd through pictures," Schmalenberger said. "It was a shock and extremely unexpected."

She said she believes it took so long to identify her brother be cause a description of him entered into the national database for missing people in New Jersey didn't match the information Florida authorities had. Schmalenberger praised the efforts by Larson to end the mystery.

"We are eternally grateful to her for all she has done to bring much needed answers to our family," Schmalenberger said. "We are equally grateful to the DOE Network for all they do to help families get answers, as well as Debra Van Fleet, detective and supervisor with the Morris County Prosecutor's Office in New Jersey for her professionalism and kindness."

Old Bridge Police Chief Thomas Collow, who is also the president of the Middlesex County Police Chiefs Association, said it is much more common now than when Smith disappeared for law enforcement agencies to solve these types of cold cases because of the inter-departmental cooperation now possible through national databases.

"There is more availability to discuss and review the cases with the new technology," Collow said.

Schmalenberger said it was im portant to her family to have clo sure, especially for Smith's daughter, who is turning 21 this year.

"She needed to know her father didn't leave her, that he loved her," she said.

Schmalenberger said her family wants people who have loved ones who are missing to know that they shouldn't give up hope. She encouraged them to remain active with networks that pursue missing- person cases.

"Not knowing has been eating at my family and me for many years," Schmalenberger said. "Knowing is so much better."


Long-missing man's remains found in Fla.

March 29, 2008
Home News Tribune Online, NJ By MICHAEL DEAK

It was not the answer Todd Martin Smith's family wanted, but it was an answer they could live with.

Smith, who grew up in Bridgewater and Bound Brook, went missing in May 1989. And for more than 18 years, his family didn't know what had happened to him.

That changed on Jan. 30, 2008.

Thanks to a forensic technician who was working on cold cases in Florida, Smith was identified in January as the victim of a scuba-diving drowning off Daytona Beach, Fla. on May 18, 1989, the day after he went missing, according to his sister Kimberly Schmalenberger, of Iselin.

Smith was 25 at the time.

In January, Kari Larson, a forensic technician in Volusia County, Florida, was searching the database of the Doe Network, a Web site created in 1999 to help find missing people, Schmalenberger said.

On the Web site, Larson found information and pictures about Smith that matched photos in the county's cold case files about a drowning victim in 1989.

With help from the Morris County Prosecutor's Office — because Smith was living in Rockaway at the time of his disappearance — a positive identification was made, bringing closure to Smith's family, Schmalenberger said.

"There was shock but also a lot of sadness," Schmalenberger said. "That four-letter word, hope, is gone."

Smith was an "amazing guy," his sister recalled.

On the day before he went missing, he had sold a motorcycle and a trailer, his sister said.

Then, she surmised, because he had a day off, he took a cheap flight to Florida without telling his family or friends. He routinely did things without telling others, she said.

Smith, who sold vehicles for Honda and Hyundai, was a sports car enthusiast and motorcyclist, often participating in drag races in Englishtown and Atco. He also liked bicycling and was an enthusiastic golfer with a low handicap, his sister remembered.

Smith attended Crim and Hillside schools in Bridgewater and graduated from Bound Brook High School in 1989.

Schmalenberger said her brother went missing before DNA testing made the identification of remains easier. A clerical error, she said, put conflicting information about her brother's physical characteristics on the National Crime Information Center database that might have delayed the identification, she said.

After the remains were identified, Smith's body was exhumed, cremated and has since been returned to New Jersey where the ashes will be buried next to his mother, Schmalenberger said.

Efforts to reach officials in Volusia County, Florida were unsuccessful late Friday afternoon.

Text Version:

(Introduction to show begins)

TODD MATTHEWS (Missing Pieces Host):  I’m Todd Matthews.  This is Missing Pieces and tonight we have Carol Cielecki.  How are you doing, Carol?

CAROL CIELECKI: (Guest):  I’m fine thank you.  And you?

TODD:  Good.  I’m doing great.  I hope I didn’t butcher your name.


TODD:  I always email you so we never really actually speak and, you know, Carol is a Doe Network member as well, and like so many of us, we never actually physically see or speak to each other, yet you have a relationship with them that’s based basically on emails.

CAROL:  That’s true.

TODD:  So, it’s kind of interesting, and it’s hard to actually know a person like that, but we really do end up getting to know each other really well.

CAROL:  We do.

TODD:  Now, what brought you, originally, to the Doe Network?

CAROL:  Back in 1989, my first husband disappeared, and his disappearance, at first, just seemed like one of his little trips that he used to take.  He would just get up and go for a couple of days and then come home, and he usually did that when he was under a lot of stress.  So, we had been divorced six months at the time, and he disappeared one day, and his girlfriend called me the next day and she asked me if I knew where he was, and I said, “Well, no, but he does this, so don’t be surprised.  He’ll be back in a few days.”  And she seemed more worried than I was, and I said, “No, no, he does this.  He’ll be back.  Don’t worry about it.”  And days turned into weeks, and then months, but within like the first week, I believe, it was his mother who reported him missing...

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …and we had absolutely no idea where he went or what he did for nearly 19 years, and we just found out this January that he had drowned the day after he disappeared.  He went down to Florida, to Daytona Beach, and he was snorkeling out in the ocean and he drowned, and he had no identification on him, so the authorities down in Florida had no idea who he was.  But, in the meantime, during his absence, I got to a point where I had been helping people search for missing family members and helping adoptees reconnect with their birth families, and I had just gone through my second divorce, and I was starting to think about filing a death claim for social security for my daughter to get her some survivor’s benefits, and I was checking around on the Internet looking at missing persons reports, just to see if the law enforcement agency in New Jersey had ever put anything out there on the Internet.  And I thought, “Wow, what a great idea this is, to use the Internet for searching for missing persons.”  And I didn’t see anything about his case, his name was Todd Smith; there was nothing on Todd’s case out there, and then I started to think about unidentified bodies, and I thought, “I wonder if there is anything on the Internet about unidentifieds?”  While I was searching under missing persons in New Jersey, I came across a case file for a missing young man from New Jersey…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …and a lot of things about his case really caught my eye.  He looked like he had some type of a developmental disability, and I found out that he was blind and he was in a wheel chair, and that his family from Upstate New York didn’t know his whereabouts when his father was killed in a house fire.  He was a dependent adult and when they got news of the house fire, they didn’t know what happened to this 28-year-old boy…a boy.  So, that case kind of caught my eye because of many things.

TODD:  And that was Sean Cutler, right?

CAROL:  That was Sean Cutler.  That’s correct.  That was an area of New Jersey where I was raised, and I have a sister who is mentally retarded and he had the same facial structure as my sister, so that stood out.  But I thought, “If this family knows…” they thought that he was in a nursing home somewhere in the South, or somewhere in Canada, that was what they were told, but I thought, “Well, Social Security must be paying for this nursing home, or some agency, and there should be a paper trail,” and I thought, “Well, they’ll find this boy,” and I didn’t really think too much about it and I shut the page down; I shut down that page on the computer, and later the same day, I was looking at unidentified bodies, I had found some websites.  One of them is the Doe Network, and I saw a case file from a John Doe that was found in Vermont, and he had very similar disabilities and similar facial features, and the timing was just right for the disappearance of Sean Cutler, and sadly enough, it was Sean Cutler.  His father…we surmise, his father killed him and put his body in the woods in Vermont, in an area of Vermont where his ancestors were from, and he was going to leave the country with money that remained in the trust fund in Sean’s name, and the father ended up getting killed in a house fire in the process.  And so his body was there for…oh, I think it was about 7 years, and the case was eventually solved by the tips that I sent in to the Vermont State Police.  And in the process, I got to know Sean Cutler’s cousin, Patrick Harkness, and he got in touch with the Doe Network, and he became very interested in the work that the Doe Network does and he persuaded me to join the group as well.

TODD:  And you know what Pat provided for us?  For quite a while, Pat was able to provide complete web service for the Doe Network.  He actually had his own Internet company, at the time, and he did a great job.  He provided us web space and he did us a great service and we really appreciated that.

CAROL:  He’s an amazing person, and the hope that he held out that his cousin would be found alive, it was amazing.  He’s the person responsible for putting the missing poster out there on the Internet and using all the resources that were available…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …and luckily, it took a set of eyes to put everything together and we were able to make the match.

TODD:  Now, in Sean’s case, what was the disconnect?  What did not happen that should have happened?

CAROL:  I think, in Vermont, they had believed that the person whose bones they found was probably somebody local, or the body was placed there by somebody who knew the area, because it was such a remote area.

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  So, they really didn’t look too far out of their own boundaries to try to figure out, you know, who this could be.  But they did put the poster out on the Internet on the Vermont State Police website and I believe that the Doe Network must have picked it up from there.

TODD:  And often, that’s what we do, we harvest.  They’re not always submitted by law enforcement or family members to Doe Network, often we get them directly from news media, other websites, and we credit the other websites when we do find data and add it to our archives as well as it does reflect other websites.

CAROL:  Right.  Right, and then we check to make sure that the information is correct and current and that way we get to build up a relationship with that law enforcement agency.  And it was a match, and I was invited to the memorial service for Sean, and it was very touching to meet the family, and they were so gracious and such a loving family.  And, after the service, Sean’s aunt came over to me and she said, “You have no idea how much this means to us,” and I looked at her and I said, “Yeah, I do.  I do, because we have our own person in our family who is missing,” and she knew right away, what I meant.  Actually my ex-husband’s case was eventually solved as a result of his listing being placed on the Doe Network.

TODD:  What a circle.  It just…now, you were divorced from him for six months before he went missing, right?

CAROL:  Right.

TODD:  Did…you obviously still have some feeling for him over the years because you had children together.

CAROL:  Yeah, we had a daughter together, and his family has been very good to us over the years.  Unfortunately, his mother just passed away, May 2nd of this year, only a few weeks after we had Todd’s memorial service.  And her death was not a result of her hanging on and waiting to hear what happened to her son; her death was completely unrelated, she had some complications from surgery, but we were just at her memorial service this weekend, on the 19th anniversary of Todd’s death.  We held her service that same day, and I had the opportunity to get up and speak to the congregation, and one of the things that I wanted to make clear was that Todd’s mother was a very forgiving person and that she taught me that divorced people can get along; they don’t have to be adversaries just because they are divorced, and she really set a great example for that with the way that she treated her ex-husband.  They were very good friends up until the very end.  She treated me and my second husband and my son like we were still part of the family.  And the day Todd disappeared, the last time I ever saw him, I was at work in the morning; I drove to work with my daughter in the car with me, and he was going to pick her up for visitation that day, and I had a box of doughnuts, I used to bring them in for the mechanics at the car dealership, and we were making the exchange, putting her car seat into his car, and just shooting the breeze, and he looked over and he said, “Oh, what do you have there?”  I said, “I’ve got doughnuts.  Would you like one?”  And he said, “Sure,” and he picked up a coconut doughnut, I don’t know why I remember that, but he picked up a coconut doughnut and he stuck it in his mouth, and he got in the car and put the seatbelt on and took off, and that was the last time I saw him.  We were still on very friendly terms, you know, we still had a good friendship, and he was a wonderful, energetic person, just so full of life and always wanted to try new things.  But he was just the kind of person that would just get up and go, and he would just go on the spur of the moment, and sometimes he’d tell people, “I’m going for a few days.”  Sometimes he’d take somebody with him, and sometimes he’d just take off.

TODD:  Now, is that one of the things that made life with him difficult, because he would do that?

CAROL:  Um…actually it made it fun because sometimes he would take me.

TODD:  Ah.

CAROL:  We went off the California one time on the spur of the moment.  He had a brand new corvette that was sitting out in the driveway, and I called it the ‘lawn ornament,’ and I said, “Come on, we’ve got to go somewhere.”  Well, I guess he took it to the extreme, he said, “Okay, let’s go,” and we drove across the country, and I had to be back for work and I said, “I’m going to fly home.  You just take your time getting home,” and that’s what we did, you know, so I enjoyed the spontaneity.  But, there was one time when I was 7 or 8 months pregnant and he just up and left for a day or two and then he came back, he said he went down to southern New Jersey.  He used to ride his motorcycle and do all kinds of crazy fun things, but our divorce was mainly because of his spending habits; he really…he spent a lot of money on a lot of things that I didn’t think were necessary.

TODD:  And that’s often number one, you know, the number one thing for divorce is the money, and the difficulties.

CAROL:  Yes.  Yes.

TODD:  Well, did you find that made it difficult to actually search for him, because you knew that he did have this…what we would say here in the South, this wild hare, you know, he could have been gone, did that make it difficult as far as reporting him and searching for him?

CAROL:  Well, actually, we were very fortunate because in all these searchings that I do, I see a lot of cases where somebody takes off or somebody is unaccounted for, and law enforcement isn’t always willing to take the report and we’re very fortunate that law enforcement took us seriously and they took the report immediately.  There were two different law enforcement agencies involved in the initial investigation and they really did a lot of things behind the scenes that you don’t see.  I mean, it’s not like the cases you see on TV where people are walking through the woods with search dogs, and airplanes and helicopters, you know, this was just more or less trying to find a paper trail.

TODD:  Find a paper trail, yeah.

CAROL:  And trying to find where he might have gone.

TODD:  Well, your Todd is like the classic prime ingredient for somebody that is going to end up a John or Jane Doe.

CAROL:  No.  No, there were thoughts that maybe he borrowed money from the wrong people, you know.

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  It was New Jersey and that was fertile ground for that type of crime and, you know, that’s what crossed my mind.  Actually, for the longest time, I thought, he had some financial difficulties, so I thought maybe he was trying to just get away from his debts and his obligations and that’s the story that I chose so that I could move on with my day-to-day business, but there were other members of the family who were convinced that something happened to him and were very afraid that somebody did something to him to harm him.  And when we found out, in the end, what really happened, it was a great relief to us that nobody hurt him.

TODD:  Because there was no crime…that’s the…

CAROL:  Yes.

TODD:  Now, how do your feel about his mother?  Do you think that she was grateful to…if she could have chosen, do you think she got…now I know you said she wasn’t hanging on waiting for this information, because her death was unrelated…

CAROL:  Right.

TODD:  …but, do you think that this was something that she really wanted and needed to know?

CAROL:  Absolutely.  Yes, absolutely, and she really handled it very well, and I think going through some of the papers, we’ve had an opportunity to sit down and look through some of his things related to his finances and some other paperwork that he had, but she wrote some notes when this was all going on, and she pretty much…I guess a mother knows…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …that’s the only way that I can describe it.  She pretty much knew in her heart that he was gone all along.  They had a very close, very loving relationship, and I think that she just knew in her heart that something happened to him.

TODD:  It was good that the two of you got to sit down and do that before she passed away, because even though Todd did have a girlfriend, and you ended up marrying again, you still had that relationship with her and you were the one to sit down with her.  You had his child and it was important that you guys got to work that out and settle all that.  I mean, I think you’re very fortunate with that, to be able to…a lot of people never get that, that one little final…

CAROL:  That’s true.  I feel like, I mean, there were a lot of things, as horrible as things were…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …and how difficult it has been for 18…19 years, you can only imagine the range of emotions, and I feel saddest for the people who are missing their children.

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  I can’t imagine what that’s like for those parents, but for me, as an ex-spouse who still had caring feelings for this person, how difficult it was for me, and how difficult it was to explain to his two-and-a-half-year-old child what happened to her father.  It was just horrible, but on the up-side, we feel very fortunate, first of all, that his body did wash ashore and that his body didn’t go out to sea, because we would have never known.

TODD:  No.  That’s true.

CAROL:  And so we’re very fortunate that the body washed ashore and that the body was in good condition.  They had fingerprints and photographs, and we’re very fortunate that we finally have an answer, and now that my daughter is older and has a good understanding of how things work in life, you know, it’s good for her to know at this point.  I think she’s handled it very well.

TODD:  And now she knows that he very well would likely have been a part of her day-to-day life had this not have happened…

CAROL:  Absolutely.

TODD:  …so she wasn’t abandoned.

CAROL:  Exactly.  That’s the hardest thing to try to articulate to her, that he didn’t abandon her.  The two things that first popped into our head were that he didn’t abandon her and that nobody hurt him, and that was so important to us.

TODD:  Now, your first reaction, when you first found out, “This is it”?  And you and I were talking already because I was emailing you about another situation and I think that you thought I knew something that I didn’t know yet, and you clued me in, so we had to kind of…we were working on another article with AP and suddenly I had this is my lap too.

CAROL:  Uh-huh.

TODD:  You know, I’m the media director for Doe Network, so I’m thinking, “Hmm, this is not time for this yet,” so often with something like this that’s new, you have to just kind of shove it under the rug for a minute until you can kind of figure out how to deal with it.  And that’s what we had to do until you were ready because you were right in the middle of it unraveling.

CAROL:  Yeah.  There were some other issues that we had to deal with on the side.

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  We had to line up all of our ducks, so to speak, before we were ready to speak to the media about anything, and you had a request from the Associated Press for an interview, and I thought it was related to Todd’s case and it was just related to the Doe Network in general, and I was like, “No, I can’t talk right now!”

TODD:  Yeah.  I thought, “Why?”  I thought, you know, “Here’s your opportunity to maybe find Todd,” you know, is what I was hoping…

CAROL:  Yeah.

TODD:  …and then it was just clear and I thought, “Oh no,” you know, it was good and bad at the same time, but I thought, “She’s just got to go through what she’s got to go through with it then hopefully there will be an opportunity later to explain it,” but I was hoping this was an opportunity to bring him home to you.  So now, when you first found out that it had happened, that this is him, that this is probably going to be him, how…?

CAROL:  Okay, well, I’m going to backtrack a little bit.  Back…and I guess it was around November or December of last year…

TODD:  Uh-huh.  2007.

CAROL:  …we were discussing dental records, and one of our panel members, Dr. Rich Scanlon, he’s a forensic odontologist, he and some of his colleagues have created a new system for entering dental records into the NCIC.  They have a whole new way of coding dental records and I happened to catch a conversation he was having with another member and I emailed him on the side, and I said, “Can you just check and see if my ex-husband’s records are entered?”  And he said, “Well, I’ll be glad to do that.”  And he said, “No, they’re not entered with the new system,” he said, “but if you can get a hold of those records, please have them forward them to me and I’ll do the coding myself.”

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  And I thought, “What a great opportunity,” because we just want anything, any tool that’s out there for us to get the answers, we will use.  So I called up the prosecutor’s office in New Jersey and I spoke to the investigator and I told her about the dental system, which she was already starting to work on getting DNA samples for all their long-term missing persons to put into the Texas Clearinghouse, and she said, “I’m going to call you after the holidays to get updated phone numbers for all of Todd’s family members so that we can collect the DNA samples from them.  She said, “Do you think that the family will cooperate?”  I said, “Absolutely!  They are 100% behind anything that you have available to use.”  So she said, “Okay.  I’ll call you at that time.”  So, January 29th, I believe it was, my phone rang, and she said, “Hi.  This is the investigator from…the detective from the prosecutor’s office, and now is the time that we’re going to get some DNA swabs.”  And I gave her all the phone contacts and everything, and spoke to her a little bit more about some of the resources that we have available on Doe Network, and that was that.  And the next day, my sister-in-law…I still call her my sister-in-law because we just consider ourselves family, there’s no ‘ex’…my sister-in-law called me, and she said, “Are you sitting down?”  And I thought she was going to tell me something else because there was something else that was going on with family at the time, and I thought she was going to give me news that I already had, so I said, “Yeah, I’m sitting down,” and she said, “They found him,” and I think my heart was in my throat, and I said, “Oh my God.  Oh my God.”  I got up and jumping, I was completely beside myself and I said, “What happened?”  She said, “He drowned.”  She said, “They found him in the ocean at Daytona Beach and he had flippers and a flashlight,” and as soon as she said that, I said, “Well, I know that case!  I know that case!”  Oddly enough, that case had come to us at the Doe Network last year.

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  We got this case from Volusia County, Florida, and I noticed that the date was one day after Todd disappeared, and I always thought Florida was one of the places where he would head towards, because he loved Florida, but there were a lot of things on that listing that didn’t seem to match up.  Florida had the age estimated at 11-20.  They had noted a scar on his left chest, and I knew that a couple of months before he disappeared, he was showing me a small incision where he had a cyst removed, but I thought it was lower in the chest.  I thought it was more on the abdomen, so that didn’t really ring a bell, that was kind of one of those things where it was a little iffy, but he also had a tracheotomy scar, which I thought they surely would have noticed.  Well, they never noticed the tracheotomy scar; maybe it was just too faint, for some reason they just didn’t see it on the body.  The hair color matched up and the height matched, but when they said 11-20 (years old)…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …I thought, “Well, I don’t know.  He had his wisdom teeth removed and I don’t think that they would be grouping him in with 11-year-olds,” so I was thinking that the Doe was probably closer to 17 or 18 years old, maybe somebody whose wisdom teeth hadn’t erupted yet or…

TODD:  It’s amazing that you had already looked at the case though, because I had heard that, that you had already kind of looked at that one.

CAROL:  Yeah.  Yeah, and if anybody should know, I should know.  The other thing that really struck me was the flippers and the flashlight, because in all the time I knew Todd, he was not an ocean swimmer; he didn’t go to the beach.  I went to the beach more than he did.  My parents had summer homes on the island of Martha’s Vineyard and he never went with me.  It was this beautiful island where you can go to the beach every day and he had no interest in going there, and if this Doe was found on a golf course with a 9-iron, I would have jumped on it, but the flippers and the flashlight, it made no sense, and he was not an ocean swimmer and he was not a beach-goer, that was just not his thing.  So this really didn’t look like it was a match.  There was no reconstruction.  There was no postmortem photo.  There was really nothing for us to look at, and I pretty much said, “No, I don’t think this is him.”  Well, when we got the news, for about two weeks, we were walking around saying, “Flippers and a flashlight…what was he doing?  What was he doing?”  It just made no sense, and I said something to his brother, I said, “You know, Todd went to Aruba the year before,” he was another one of these, you know, two or three day trips that he takes…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …and he went with some girl, well, we were going through a divorce at the time, and the only thing I remember about the girl is that she was a nanny.  I don’t remember her name.  There’s no way to prove this, but maybe he went snorkeling when he was in Aruba, and that kind of went in one ear and out the other, you know.  And then a few days later, his sister called me to ask me to search through his belongings to try to find a document, and as I was going through the belongings, I found a group of pictures, and the first picture was like a hotel complex and it was in a tropical setting, with the palm trees, and in the parking spaces in the parking lot, there were identical white cars, and I thought, “Well, this is strange.  What kind of a place is this?”  And I turned it over and I saw ‘July ’88,’ and I said, “Okay, that’s when he went to Aruba.”  These were his pictures from Aruba.  The next picture shows him on top of a motorcycle in the same parking lot, and next to him is a little scooter, so I figured he rented a motorcycle for himself and a scooter for his companion.  Next picture shows him in full snorkeling gear underwater, and my heart jumped out…I couldn’t believe I found this, and I called his sister right away, and I said, “You’re not going to believe this, it makes sense now.”  He went snorkeling in Aruba the summer before and when he went down to Daytona Beach, he thought to himself, “You know what, I want to do that again.”

TODD:  That’s exactly what he did.  And think, a lot of that was right there in your own possessions, it’s…they’re there, but they’re almost invisible at the time, and it all makes sense when it all comes together.

CAROL:  Yeah, and that was one of those things I was like very thankful for that answer, because otherwise, I would have been walking around completely perplexed over the flippers and flashlight.  And knowing the waters of Aruba, you know, he was snorkeling in a very protected area, the Caribbean is nothing like the Atlantic Ocean with the waves and everything. 

TODD:  It was a different story.  Aruba is just the perfect place to go snorkeling…

CAROL:  Yes.

TODD:  …this was a wild ocean.

CAROL:  Just out in the ocean…and we surmised that he was caught in a riptide…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …and having no ocean swimming experience, he wouldn’t know that he was supposed to swim parallel to the shore.

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  So, he probably got caught up in…there were people who saw him struggling; they saw him from the beach and there was another set of people, I believe they were on a dock, and they called the beach patrol and they came out with a helicopter and searched the ocean and they couldn’t find him, but at 3:30 the next morning, his body washed up on the shore.  So, for all the years, they tried, they tried to track him down through hotels and motels and car-rental places.  They even tried to match up a missing man from somewhere in the South, I don’t remember where, it could have been Tennessee, and then there was another man, I believe, from Germany or England, somebody from abroad that they thought he might be.  But, luckily, what happened…one of the investigators from Florida was working on cold cases and she had his postmortem photo in front of her, and when she went onto the Doe Network, she pulled up Todd’s missing person’s poster, and I believe I had three different photographs of Todd, and she looked at it and she saw the dates and the description and the pictures, and she said, “That’s my John Doe,” and she called up to New Jersey and she sent them a fingerprint from the body.  They had fingerprints that they had collected from his vehicle and there were a couple of different sets of prints, from what I understand, and they could never actually tell which ones belonged to him, so they couldn’t send a known sample to NCIC.

TODD:  Ahh.

CAROL:  They had a couple of different sets but they could never say which ones were his, so when the print came from Florida, they compared it to the prints that were found in the car and there was a match, and then they compared his dental records.  And then his sister went down to Florida and brought him home.  They cremated him in Florida, and she brought him home, and this makes me cry every time I say it, but when she came off the plane…it’s very sad, she had to put him in a suitcase, you know, with all these crazy regulations that they have now…she put the suitcase down, she said she fell to her knees, and she said, “Todd, you’re home.”

TODD:  Hmm.

CAROL:  So, and we buried him in April.  We had a beautiful service for him, and we just buried his mother on Monday, this week, right next to him.  And their headstones are together and it’s all done up now and they look beautiful and, you know, they’re at peace now, they’re together.

TODD:  Who would have thought, this journey?  You just went all over the place, and then suddenly, it’s just over.

CAROL:  Yes.  Yes, and it gives me…it sort of fuels the fire for me to keep going…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …with other cases, and it’s really given me a new perspective on some of the things that we looked at, and knowing that not everything is perfect, because New Jersey had his eye color listed as brown, I think, and I think that that’s why, you know, initially that would never have created a hit, because Florida had his eye color as green or hazel and New Jersey had it as brown, and his eyes were actually very bright blue, so I don’t know who came up with what, but I’m just glad that we have an answer.

TODD:  Well, you know, you had set a lot of things into motion already.  The DNA, I know that it went to the Texas Department, and George Adams is down there, he’s great, he’s working with NamUs.  I think, eventually, the DNA would have compared and eventually, probably would have kicked this case out, but his mother never would have known.

CAROL:  That’s true.

TODD:  There wouldn’t have been enough time.

CAROL:  That’s true.

TODD:  So, that’s why I think it’s important, you know I’ve had people say, “Well, when NamUs comes on line, people won’t have to do this anymore,” and I think it’s even more important that we keep doing this because, as people are gathering…investigators are gathering data to put into NamUs, more things are coming to the surface, and then circumstantially, we’re able to connect some of these together and have cold tips that cause a comparison to happen quicker, and you know, it’s saving time.  A lot of things are happening, so DNA is not the only way that, you know, you just can’t sit back and think, “It’s in there; we’re just going to wait it out.”  You could be waiting a very long time for both halves of the puzzle to be in there.

CAROL:  Yeah.  I mean, there could be cases where we’re trying to make a comparison and we see that fingerprints are available…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …well, a fingerprint match is going to come up a lot quicker than a DNA match and it’s going to cost a lot less.

TODD:  Absolutely.  And dental…

CAROL:  Or a dental match, yeah.  So, we’re looking for matches, you know, that could be made any possible way, and when we consider the matches that come before us in the panel, we look at what’s available to us, you know.

TODD:  And when Carol says, ‘the panel,’ we’re talking about the potential-match panel at Doe Network.  We don’t just…when we get possible matches, whether we generate them internally, or whether they come from the public or another tipster, we don’t just send thousands of potential matches to medical examiners, you know, we have a process of filtering comparative analysis.  We also look at, “Do we already know if it’s been ruled out already?”  Whether it’s been made public or not, we may have a private record stating that we’ve already been able to rule this out.

CAROL:  Yes.  And there is also oftentimes there is information that is available to a select few members…

TODD:  Yes.

CAROL:  …and they can say, “No, I don’t believe this is a match, based on some other information that I’m not at liberty to disclose.”

TODD:  Yes, and that happens a lot, you know.  I think a medical examiner often feels comfortable, “I’m willing to tell you this because you’ve become a primary contact for me, but this is not something that I want in the media.

CAROL:  Exactly.

TODD:  It’s their ‘ace in the hole’ and, you know, I’ve been able to use that knowledge before to help filter and just prevent just over and over and over, you know, the same matches, over and over again, because that does wear people out trying.  But you have to try and look at it and give some type of answer, but it does tap the resources quite a bit.

CAROL:  Yes, and sometimes we’ll look at a match and it may not seem like a very strong match, but you know, it has a little bit of merit to it and if we see, “Hey, there are dentals available for both, then this should be a relatively easy rule-out.  Let’s go ahead.”  Or if there are fingerprints available, and you know, we can’t always rely on fingerprint matches just to be generated.  Sometimes they don’t make hits just on their own; sometimes you have to…

TODD:  Initiate it.

CAROL:  …do a closer analysis.

TODD:  Well, you see, your case in point, Todd’s case is actually a prime example of data being off a little bit, you know, it could be, and you can’t always take it as gospel, because you don’t know.  Did an anthropologist look at the body, or did a pathologist look at the body?  What assumptions were made?  What was made by…?  You really don’t know.  You really don’t know what happened at that point in time.  Who made these decisions?

CAROL:  And I, as a family member, had I…had this match come to me as a panel member, and I didn’t know Todd, and didn’t know his habits, and that he was not really an ocean swimmer, and this seemed very off-kilter for him, I…for me, as a person knowing Todd, I rejected the match, but as a panel member, I may have looked at that and said, “Well, sure.  You know, the height is on, the hair color, the timing is impeccable, you know, the age is off a little bit and there’s a little discrepancy in the scar information, but it would be a shame not to check this because everything else looks good.”

TODD:  The forest for the trees…you can’t see the forest for the trees, in that case. 

CAROL:  Right.

TODD:  I mean, sometimes you can be too close.

CAROL:  As a family member, it was like, “No way,” you know, so…

TODD:  That’s why it’s important to have people that are family involved in the panel and in Doe Network, as well as people that are outside on the opposite end.  You know we all have a different background and makeup and I think that those opinions and different points of view are very important…very important.

CAROL:  And our people come from such a wide array of disciplines; people who are working in every imaginable field, you know, and I think it’s wonderful because you’re really getting different perspectives from all different walks of life, but everybody has one common goal and that’s to name these people and bring them back to their families, and everybody that I’ve come across at the Doe Network has a big heart…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  …and I’m very thankful.  I’m thankful that this organization exists and I’m very thankful that I’ve had the opportunity to put his case out there, and I always say, “You know, it’s just one small link in the chain.”  You know, when I solved the Sean Cutler case, somebody asked me, they said, “Oh, you solved the case,” and I said, “No, I’m just that final link.  There are so many people out there…

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  ….who, without them, this case would have never been solved.”

TODD:  Because everything gets tweaked just a little bit, you know, we’ll do the forensic reconstruction with Project EDAN, and that’s another step.  Every rule-out is another step.  So, I mean, all of these are constantly…and I think a lot of media that I work with often, they want to see the ones that…they want to see something happen quickly and you can get it all in a nutshell, but they also want that ‘years of anguish,’ you know you can’t get it all, I mean, you can’t have everything.

CAROL:  Yeah.  And every case…every single case is different.

TODD:  Uh-huh.

CAROL:  They’re different in so many different ways.  There are just so many facets to every case.  No, we look at what we have and we try to make the best decisions based on that.

TODD:  And I’ve got to tell you, you are one of the easiest people I’ve ever interviewed for this radio show.

CAROL:  Well, thank you.

TODD:  You are.  I mean, you’re…

CAROL:  I’m just a chatterbox.

TODD:  Well, that’s what I need and you’ve done it, and that’s what I like to do…I like to talk as little as possible and just prompt you to tell your story because that’s what I want you to do, but often, I have to really, really work with people and try to get them to get it out, but you’ve done really well…

CAROL:  Well, thank you.

TODD:  …see it didn’t kill you, it was easy, and you were worried for nothing.

CAROL:  No.  I think I lost five pounds pacing the floor.

TODD:  It’s just no big deal.  It’s just, you know, I like to keep this like friends talking and it’s worked out really well and I think I like to pick up things that often media…you know, you notice when you do a media interview, you spend two or three hours, and then a lot of the points that you thought were very important points, just get sheared off.

CAROL:  Yes.

TODD:  And it has to be because it’s edited and I realize it and I do write things that have been published before and I cut away things, and I think, “Wow, I hate to cut that away,” but I’ve got a certain block of space to fill and I have to, so we have this as a public service announcement, everything is included, and I like it that way, and media have been able to use it to help promote cases and push them forward and, you know, it’s just raw and unplugged.  Well, it was good to have you here.  I did enjoy it.

CAROL:  I did ramble.

TODD:  You didn’t.  You covered two cases in one and that’s great, you know, we were able to highlight both cases and they’re very different, but very similar and I think that somebody listening to this program will actually get a benefit from it.  I get letters from people all the time that say, “I heard the back story.  Now I understand it and now I know where I need to go.”

CAROL:  Yes.

TODD:  So, you did provide a very good topic and I think you did a great job and I appreciate you being here.

CAROL:  Well, thank you, and I appreciate you too.

TODD:  Well, maybe we’ll get you back again sometime, when you identify somebody else.  You just keep working on it.

CAROL:  Yeah, I had…are we off the record now?

TODD:  No.  We can say goodnight and then you and I will keep talking and we’ll be back again next week.  Goodbye, everybody.

CAROL:  Thank you.  Thank you.

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Aired: May 21, 2008
Nearly 19 years later, John Doe identified
as missing "Todd Martin Smith"
Guest: Carol Cielecki
Ex-wife of "Todd Martin Smith" and
Doe Network Volunteer
Sean Lewis Cutler
Special Thanks to
for transcribing this episode!