Long-missing man's remains found in Fla.

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.