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Seemingly "Nice" Man with Two Missing Wives Discovered To Have "Chilling History" By Investigators

After two of John Smith's wives were found to have gone missing, Janice Hartman and Betty “Fran” Gladden Smith, family members took on a decades-long quest for justice. 

By Jill Sederstrom
John Smith, Dateline: Chameleon

John Smith was described by some who knew him as a “really nice” guy — but he was hiding “dark secrets” from his past, including two missing wives, according to Dateline.

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Smith’s chilling story and one family's relentless journey to bring him to justice are the focus of an all-new two-hour episode of the newsmagazine, titled “Chameleon," airing Friday, April 26 at 9/8c p.m. 

“When a New Jersey woman goes missing, investigators uncover her husband’s chilling history, including dark secrets about another missing wife,” reads the episode's synopsis. “Would he be caught before he put another woman in danger?” 

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Dateline correspondent Andrea Canning told NBC Insider that she hopes the episode will show viewers “the power families can have when they are determined to get justice.” 

“The victims' loved ones refused to give up on catching her killer,” she added. “They chased him for decades in an effort I’ve never seen on Dateline before.” 

Janice Hartman, Betty "Fran" Gladden Smith, Dateline: Chameleon

Who was John Smith?

From the outside, Smith appeared to be the perfect gentleman. 

“John was great with my mother and my grandmother,” Sherrie Davis, the sister of victim Betty “Fran” Gladden-Smith told Dateline, as seen in a preview of the upcoming episode.

Summer Hathaway, the daughter of Smith's third wife, Diane Smith, told Dateline: “He was really, really nice.” 

But when Gladden-Smith, who mysteriously disappeared in 1991 from New Jersey, her daughter, Dedy Childers, began to suspect that her mother’s husband wasn’t telling her everything he knew.

"I said, 'John, where's my mom?' He said, 'I thought she was with you,'" Childers told Dateline. “I was absolutely panicked because I knew something was really wrong."

As one investigator explained, things started to “snowball” when they learned that Smith’s first wife, Janice Hartman, had also disappeared years earlier, in 1974, from Ohio.

RELATED: "Shocking Secret" Revealed Decades After Pennsylvania Mom Was Murdered and Her Home Set On Fire

Dedy Childers and Sherrie Davis, Dateline: Chameleon

Just as authorities were putting the pieces together, they learned that Smith had taken a new wife, Diane, putting the unsuspecting woman in danger. 

“How long before the evil side struck again?” Canning wondered in the Dateline preview.

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The shocking twists and turns in the case took Dateline from West Windsor Township, New Jersey to Wayne County, Ohio and Escondido, California.

“The most surprising moment for me was finding out there was a second missing wife," Canning told NBC Insider.

In addition to the interviews with Childers and Davis, the episode will also include discussions with Det. Dave Mansue, and former Supervisory Special Agent Bob Hilland.

Covering the decades-long quest of the victims' family members brought its own share of challenges. 

“This was a very layered story with multiple families and victims," Canning told NBC Insider. “Decades passed ... and a number of law enforcement agencies ... all eventually came together."

To find out how the case ends, watch Dateline Friday, April 26 at 9/8c p.m. on NBC or stream it on Peacock the next day.

And for even more Dateline, sign up for the show's official newsletter and check out its podcast.

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