Stephanie Hunsberger

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Top Row and Bottom Left and Center: Stephanie in the early 1970s;
Bottom Right: Stephanie, circa 1978

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Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

  • Missing Since: February 25, 1978 from Northwales, Pennsylvania
  • Classification: Endangered Missing
  • Age: 24 years old
  • Height and Weight: 5'0 - 5'8, 100 - 140 pounds
  • Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian female. Red hair. Stephanie's maiden name is Smith
  • Medical Conditions: Stephanie has a long-standing addiction to heroin, dating back to her mid-teens.
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    Details of Disappearance

    Stephanie and her husband, Edward Hunsberger, were both addicted to heroin. By the time they met and married in 1977, neither of them were regularly employed and Stephanie sometimes worked as a prostitute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In September 1977, the couple tried to make a new start by moving into the King of Prussia, Pennsylvania home of Stephanie's father, Dr. Jay Charles Smith, who was the principal of Upper Merion High School. A photo of Smith is posted below this case summary.

    The last verified sighting of Stephanie and Edward was on February 25, 1978, when they visited Edward's parents in Northwales, Pennsylvania. When they left, Edward told his mother, "We'll be back a little later." His parents never saw either of them again. After several weeks with no contact, the Edward's parents got in touch with Smith to ask where Edward and Stephanie were. Smith said the couple owned a significant amount of money to drug dealers and had fled to California. They left all their belongings behind, including their toothbrushes and an uncashed income tax return. Smith later admitted he cashed at least two of Stephanie's welfare checks after her disappearance and kept the money for himself.

    Edward was on probation at the time of his disappearance; he'd been convicted of armed robbery in 1975. He was required to seek treatment for his drug addiction and keep in touch with his probation officer. Edward and Stephanie had a scheduled appointment with a methadone clinic in February 1978, but neither of them showed up for it. When a staff member contacted Smith in March 1978 to ask about Stephanie's whereabouts, Smith told her he had gotten some Placidyl and "really good pot" and he was going to try to detox his daughter himself. After the Hunsbergers missed additional appointments, the clinic staff assumed the couple had relapsed. Edward also failed to maintain contact with his probation officer, and in September, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

    On August 19, 1978, Smith was arrested in the parking lot of a local mall. He was carrying multiple loaded guns and a syringe filled with sedative drugs. When authorities searched his home, they found three pounds of marijuana, a large quantity of prescription pills, and some security guard uniforms that would eventually be connected to several unsolved armed robberies over the past year. Smith claimed the drugs were Stephanie and Edward's. Although he maintained his innocence, on June 25, 1979 he was convicted of drug possession with intent to deliver and receiving stolen goods, and sentenced to five years in prison.

    Smith told his attorneys he'd seen Stephanie and Edward together on August 19, 1978, the same day he was arrested for robbery, and that he saw Stephanie again in the spring of 1979. There were other unsubstantiated sightings of Stephanie, but not her husband, in the next year: a neighbor of Smith's said she saw Stephanie sometime in 1979, a confidential informant told police he had met Stephanie in mid-August 1979 and that both she and Edward were alive and well in Philadelphia, and Smith's younger daughter claimed she'd seen Stephanie several months after Smith's June 1979 conviction.

    In 1985, Smith was charged with the murders of Susan Reinert and her two young children, Michael and Karen. The three of them vanished on June 22, 1979, and three days later Susan's naked body was found in the trunk of her own car which was parked in the parking lot of the Host Inn in Swatara Township, Pennsylvania. A man telephoned in a report about a sick woman in the trunk of a car in the inn's parking lot, which led to the discovery of Susan's remains. She had been beaten and bound with a chain, then killed with an injection of morphine 24 to 36 hours after the beating. There was no sign of Michael or Karen at the scene and an extensive search turned up no signs of either of them.

    Susan's boyfriend, William Sidney "Bill" Bradfield, who was chair of the English department at Upper Merion High School where Susan and Smith both also worked, was convicted of misappropriating $25,000 of Susan's money in 1981. Shortly after his release from prison on that charge, in 1983, he was charged with conspiring to murder Susan, Karen and Michael. Photos of Bradfield and Susan are posted below this case summary. Prosecutors said Bradfield had murdered Susan and the children for Susan's life insurance, and to keep her from finding out he had stolen the money she'd given him to invest. He was convicted of murder and given three life sentences in prison, but investigators did not believe he had acted alone. They thought Smith had actually committed the murders and Bradfield merely orchestrated them. Smith's lawyer argued that Bradfield had deliberately framed him, but Smith was convicted of three counts of murder and sentenced to death.

    In 1998, Bradfield died while in custody. He never admitted to involvement in Susan's murder and Karen and Michael's disappearances. Smith's conviction was overturned in 1989 after evidence was uncovered which cast doubt on his guilt; the evidence was allegedly unethically concealed by the prosecution during his trial. A retrial was ordered, but never conducted. Smith was freed from prison in 1992. He subsequently filed a civil rights lawsuit against his prosecutors, but the suit was rejected in 1998. Smith died of heart disease in 2009.

    There have been no reported sightings of either of the Hunsbergers since 1979; they have never been found. It's unclear whether Smith was involved in either of their disappearances, but his relationship was Stephanie was extremely troubled, and police have identified him as a suspect in Stephanie and Edward's cases.

    Edward was declared legally dead in 1985. Joseph Wambaugh published a book about the Reinert family's murders, titled Echoes in the Darkness, in 1987.

    Susan Bradfield Smith
    Left: Susan Reinert;
    Center: William Bradfield;
    Right: Jay Smith

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    Investigating Agency
    If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:
    Pennsylvania State Police
    717-346-3378

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    Source Information
    Pennsylvania State Police
    The Crime Library
    FindLaw: Cases and Codes
    The Times Herald
    The Patriot-News
    Echoes in the Darkness
    by Joseph Wambaugh
    The Lehigh Valley Express-Times
    NamUs
    The Tyrone Daily Herald
    The Indiana Gazette
    The Camden Courier-Post
    The Philadelphia Inquirer
    The Philadelphia Daily News

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    Updated 2 times since October 12, 2004.

    Last updated November 10, 2016; picture added.

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