Details of Disappearance
Gertrude was last seen at her home in Astor, Florida sometime in late July 1986. She left her purse behind at home and has never been heard from again. She and her husband, Stephen Cabe Snedegar, had divorced in 1983, but were still living together at the time she went missing.
He told the police that she had simply left him, but he gave five or six different stories about her disappearance to various relatives and investigators. Gertrude was the fourth person associated with Stephen to have disappeared over a five-year period, and one of three that was never found.
Stephen had operated a waste oil business in Greenfield, Indiana. In June 1981, he and Gertrude sold the business and moved to Florida. The couple had four children. Their 22-year-old daughter, Lora Lynn Morris, who remained in her parents' Greenfield home after they moved, disappeared in August 1981. A photo of Morris is posted with this case summary.
On August 10, Gertrude arrived for a visit with Morris. Investigators believe the visit may have been an attempt to stop Morris from reconciling with her ex-husband, whom Stephen and Gertrude disliked. The morning after her mother's arrival, Morris vanished from her home in Greenfield, leaving her purse and car keys behind, the lights and television on, her bed unslept-in, and the patio door ajar. Gertrude reported her missing that afternoon.
In April 1982, Morris's body was found in a cornfield east of Morristown, Indiana. She had been wearing underwear and a man's white t-shirt when she disappeared, and when she was found she was wearing the same clothes, plus a pair of blue jean cutoffs. She had been shot three times in the head with a .25-caliber gun. Her homicide remains unsolved.
During the time Morris was missing, Stephen told police he was sure she was dead, and that he thought one of his enemies had killed her to get revenge on him. He said two men, one of them Paul Anthony "Tony" Lambert
, had unsuccessfully tried to buy his business just before Morris vanished. Both Stephen and Gertrude said they thought these men were involved in her disappearance.
Three weeks after Morris disappeared, in early September 1981, Lambert also went missing. He was last seen in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he had gone to meet with Stephen. Stephen had set up the meeting on the pretext of offering him a job managing a new waste oil business, but he actually wanted to question him about his possible involvement in Morris's disappearance.
Stephen later told police that Lambert met him in New Orleans and that he denied having had anything to do with Morris's disappearance. Stephen said they parted ways after half an hour. He said Lambert left in a vehicle with a blonde woman, but gave different descriptions as to what the vehicle looked like.
Stephen, a pilot, subsequently told some friends and relatives that he had taken Lambert out on an airplane ride over the Gulf of Mexico, and that Lambert did not return from their trip. Lambert has never been heard from again.
A possible witness in Morris's disappearance and murder was Charles Darwin "Chuck" Smith, a Knightstown, Indiana resident who formerly worked as a driver for Stephen's company. He was working as a gas station attendant in Greenfield when Morris disappeared, and he saw her at the station with a rough-looking man the day before she went missing.
Smith said Morris was a passenger in a vehicle driven by the man, who had long, dirty hair, a tattoo on his arm and a wallet on a chain. Smith stated Morris appeared scared and that the man wouldn't let him to talk to her. Smith initially told only Gertrude about the man, and she said both she and the police already knew the man's identity, but he told the police about what he'd seen anyway. He took a polygraph about his statement and passed.
Smith subsequently lost the gas station job and by early 1982 he was unemployed. Around that time, Gertrude asked the police for Smith's unlisted phone number, saying she'd heard he was unemployed and she had a job for him. She asked the investigators not to tell Stephen about it.
In March 1982, a man from the John Rodgers Trucking Company in Knoxville, Tennessee called Smith and said Stephen had recommended him for a truck driving job. Smith agreed to take the job, and have his family follow him to Knoxville later. On March 27, a bus ticket was purchased for Smith in Knoxville. He picked it up in Indianapolis, Indiana the next day, boarded the bus, and has never been heard from again.
Subsequent investigation revealed the John Rodgers Trucking Company did not actually exist, and Stephen said he had never heard of such a company and that in any case he wouldn't have recommended Smith as an employee to anyone. Curiously, however, the ticket agent who sold Smith's bus ticket in Knoxville was named John Rodgers.
By July 1986, the Snedegars were having serious problems in their relationship. Gertrude told her other daughter, Brenda Challis, that five nights in a row, she had awakened to find Stephen holding a gun to head, and she was convinced he was going to kill her.
The last time Challis saw her mother, Gertrude was getting dressed to go out country dancing with Stephen. Challis reminded her to take her purse, but said she wasn't going to, as Stephen had enough money for both of them for the night.
Gertrude has never been heard from again. The next morning, Stephen told Brenda that she had left him and moved to Tallahassee, Florida. He spent the morning in his office crying. Later that day, he showed Brenda a suitcase in the trunk of his Mercedes that was full of stacks wrapped, large denomination bills totaling $1 million. He said that Challis must come get the money if the police arrested him.
Authorities later got a report that Stephen and another man took a plastic-wrapped body out in a fishing boat on the Ocklawaha River, but searches of the river turned up no body. Brenda and her husband traveled to Indiana to report Gertrude missing a year after she was last seen.
By the autumn of 1989, Stephen had terminal cancer. He told a detective from the Lake County Sheriff's Office that he would write down everything he knew about his daughter's murder and the disappearances of his wife, Lambert, and Smith, and that the police could have the journal when he was dead.
A grand jury convened in Florida in 1990 to investigate Gertrude's disappearance. Stephen was considered a key witness in the probe, but he died in January, shortly before he was scheduled to testify. He was 53 years old. The police were never given any of his writings, but witnesses saw papers being burned behind Stephen's house just a few hours after his death.
One possibility as to Morris's death is that Gertrude killed her during an argument over Morris's planned reconciliation with her ex-husband, and that Gertrude's now-deceased father helped her dispose of the body. Gertrude owned a .25-caliber gun, the same caliber as the murder weapon, and carried it in her purse. The police didn't learn about the existence of her gun until 1994.
Investigators theorized that Gertrude engineered Smith's disappearance because what he had seen would have incriminated her, and that Stephen killed Gertrude after he realized it was she who had killed their daughter.
Since Stephen's death the investigation into Morris's murder and the disappearances of Gertrude, Lambert and Smith has stalled. Police searched his former property in Astor in 1994, looking for possible buried bodies, but found nothing. They exhumed Morris's casket to retrieve a letter Gertrude had had buried with her, but haven't disclosed the letter's contents.
All of the cases remain unsolved. Photographs and vital statistics for Smith are unavailable.