He’d married his first wife, childhood sweetheart Janice Hartman, when he was fresh out of highschool. John said he was heartbroken when she divorced him in November 1974 after just four years of marriage.
A year on, John met Betty ‘Fran’ Gladden and after a whirlwind romance lasting only a few months they were married. When Fran died of cancer a year later, John was again left devastated. Diane couldn’t help but fall for this man who had been through so much tragedy and pain.
Three months later, Diane and John got married. It was a year later that police knocked on Diane’s front door with crushing news - that John wasn’t the man she thought he was.
The officers informed Diane that they’d been investigating him for years and suspected him of murdering Janice in 1974 and Fran in 1976. Court records showed that Janice had filed for divorce due to a domestic violence claim against John. Three days after the divorce was granted, Janice disappeared.
The police also told Diane that Fran hadn’t died of cancer, but rather she too had disappeared. John had reported Fran missing, claiming she’d packed a suitcase and left a note that read, <Feed the fish. I’ll be back in a few days.>
Fran’s family vehemently denied that she’d taken a trip considering she’d been recovering from a recent hip replacement and was bedridden. Two missing wives had raised serious suspicions, but without bodies police couldn’t charge John with any wrongdoing.
The breakthrough had come when John’s brother, Michael Smith, contacted the police in 1999 claiming he knew what happened to Janice. For five years after Janice disappeared, John stored a four-and-a-half foot long plywood box filled with her belongings in the garage of their grandfather’s petrol station.
When their grandfather asked Michael to dispose of the box, Michael pried it open and discovered Janice’s mummified remains. Her legs had been cut off so she’d fit. Michael insisted he’d wanted to call the police, but claimed his grandfather punched him in the face for even considering betraying a family member. Instead, John was called and he took the box away.
The information was shared with other police departments and matched with a box containing unidentified remains that had been found on the side of a remote highway back in 1980.
It had taken 20 years - but finally the truth of what had happened to Janice was revealed. John was placed under surveillance and that’s when police realised he’d not only married for a third time but he was also seeing other women. They feared John was ready for marriage number four and Diane was next on his hit list.
‘I was in total shock,’ Diane told US TV programme <Crime and Investigation.> ‘I could not believe that they were telling me all of this about John Smith. I did not see anything but love for me through John's eyes.’ Diane still wasn’t convinced that the man she adored was capable of such crimes, but when John was made aware of the police investigation he went on the run.
It was then that Diane knew, for her own safety, she had to accept the truth. 'It was a terrible struggle knowing that I had been married for the last seven months to a man that could have done such terrible, horrific things,' Diane says. Diane filed for divorce.
Soon after, she was at home with her daughter Summer when John broke down the front door. Enraged that Diane was divorcing him, John charged up the stairs, two at a time. 'It wasn't a mad person, it wasn't an angry person. It was a devil person,' she remembers of that frightening day.
When John realised Diane wasn’t alone, his demeanour instantly changed from threatening to cajoling. ‘Why are you doing this to me, baby? Let’s talk. I want to talk to you,’ John pleaded. When Diane told him the police were on their way, John tried to run but officers were already watching the house. He was arrested as he ran out the door.
In 2001, John David Smith was sentenced to life in prison with a minimum term of 15 years before he’d be considered for parole, for the murder of Janice Hartman. In November 2019, John, 68, was indicted for the murder of Fran Gladden despite her body never being found.
Diane hopes it will lead to charges. ‘He might be paroled, and nobody wants that,’ Diane says. ‘He will murder again.’
For more, see this week’s that’s life! – out now!