Veteran Believed to Have Been John Wayne Gacy Victim Located After a 45-Year Search

I was personally able to locate an unreported missing person, Ronald “Ronnie” Lee Smith, although he is now deceased.  A couple of months ago, I reached out to a man named Rob whose Facebook post was circulating publicly through many missing person groups. It was copied to a Reddit post. Rob was reaching out looking for help on looking for his missing cousin, Ronnie Lee Smith.  He mentioned that he had seen a depiction of an unidentified John Wayne Gacy victim (victim number 26) who shared similar traits to his missing cousin, including a gap between the two upper front teeth and similar height (5’5″). He stated that Ronnie was in his early twenties when he vanished after leaving Iowa to take a labor job in Chicago, Illinois. Rob also mentioned that Ronnie kept in contact with his half brother but that his letters eventually stopped, so the entire family believed something bad may have happened to him. The family had also entertained the idea of Ronnie possibly being a Gacy victim for all these years. Little did they know that he remained alive until 2018. This reminded me of Theodore “Ted” Szal, another man who had gone missing under similar circumstances and believed to have been a Gacy victim, who was found 34 years after his disappearance. Although I am a huge follower of the Gacy case—and even wrote a book on it—I actually started to search for him instead of immediately going the “Gacy” route. I thought, if I can’t find him alive / deceased, then I’ll revisit the Gacy concept. Him being a Gacy victim was plausible, as he was a young contractor who, with both parents having recently passed, may have been in a vulnerable state of life. I just did not want to immediately jump to that before conducting a thorough search. And, with the huge clue of the obituary and that being the only Ronnie Lee Smith in the United States who had that same date of birth, it was what I chose to explore first.

Before even contacting Rob, I started out by creating a large family tree for Rob’s family in order to place Ronnie on this tree to determine his date of birth and other information. After I was able to find out his parents’ names (Dean J. Smith and Agnes Smith, nee Moeller), I was able to find out Ronnie’s information. I was able to determine his full name was Ronald Lee Smith, that his date of birth was February 24, 1946, and that he was born in San Diego, California. I also learned he lived in Iowa and several other states and some other details to his military life.

I was able to find an obituary for a “Ronnie Lee Smith” who had the same exact date of birth as the missing person, Ronnie. I knew it was a solid lead right away, so I reached out to Rob, of course, since he was asking the public for help. 

Ronnie’s obituary was very vague and did not list any family members.  I went digging for more info on this person.  Rob and I both contacted the cemetery that handled his cremation. I was able to find Ronnie’s old addresses and his wife’s name (from an old marriage certificate).  His wife had passed away in 1994.  I wanted to find any connection to her to see if any of her (or their) family knew him.  So, I searched for and contacted his late wife’s family members, including her daughter (who turned out to be Ronnie’s stepdaughter). Her daughter received my message last week and replied to me.  She confirmed that the missing Ronnie and her stepfather Ronnie are one of the same.  They were both roofers, both had the same date of birth, both had parents who passed very young, both had a tough childhood, both left school early… and the list goes on.  We compared photos of the missing Ronnie to her stepfather and also concluded it is the same person.  Even his handwriting was compared, as Ronnie’s cousin Rob (the fuel behind this search) produced an envelope with his writing on it, which he sent to his stepdaughter. 

Unfortunately, Ronnie lived all those years without having spoken or making contact to his family. In my heart of hearts, even without knowing Ronnie personally, I believe—or would like to believe–that had Ronnie been reunited with his family, he probably would have embraced them with open arms.  Ronnie’s brother, whose name I’ll keep private unless he wants it public, was loved greatly by Ronnie.  In fact, his last letter from Ronnie was him sending him money and asking him to call, even providing two phone numbers.  It is possible that after Ronnie left town, that he just gradually started anew. He was unofficially “adopted” by a new family as well, and started his own family. Regardless of the outcome, I am glad they have closure of now knowing his final chapters.

Leave a Reply

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: