Details of Disappearance
Karen and her brother Michael were last seen at approximately 9:20 p.m. on June 22, 1979, leaving their home in Ardmore, Pennsylvania with their mother, Susan Gallagher Reinert, and getting into her vehicle, an orange Plymouth Horizon hatchback.
They were never heard from again. A photograph of Susan is posted with this case summary. She was employed as a teacher at Upper Merion High School at the time of her and her children's disappearances.
Susan, Michael, and Karen were planning on meeting Susan's boyfriend, William Sidney "Bill" Bradfield, on the day of their disappearances. A photograph of Bradfield is posted with this case summary. He was the chair of the English department at Upper Merion High School; Susan also worked there.
Susan and Bradfield had begun their relationship in 1974, while Susan was still married to Michael and Karen's father. In March 1979, three months before she and her children disappeared, she told friends Bradfield was going to marry her.
She had given him large sums of money to invest for her. She had $730,000 in life insurance with Bradfield as the sole beneficiary, and she had changed her will to make Bradfield the sole heir to her estate, to the exclusion of her children. Susan did not know that Bradfield was also dating at least three other women.
At 5:20 a.m. June 25, Susan's nude 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, bound with a chain, and 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.
In 1981, Bradfield was charged with misappropriating Susan's money. She had given him $25,000 to invest in a six-month certificate at twelve percent interest, and was murdered shortly before the certificate was due to mature. He was convicted of theft by deception and sentenced to two years in prison.
Shortly after his release in 1983, Bradfield was rearrested and charged with conspiring to murder Susan, Karen, and Michael. 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.
Dr. Jay Charles Smith, who was the principal of Upper Merion High School at the time of Susan's death, was charged with murdering her and the children in 1985. By then he was already in prison, serving a five-year sentence for unrelated convictions of drug possession with intent to deliver and receiving stolen goods.
A photograph of Smith is posted with this case summary. Authorities believed he had committed the actual killings, but Bradfield had 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.
(Curiously, Smith's daughter and her husband, Stephanie Hunsberger and Edward Hunsberger, both disappeared in 1978. The last confirmed sighting of them was on February 25, 1978; there were several reported sightings of the couple after this date, but none of them were verified. Smith was never charged in either of their cases and it's unclear what happened to the Hunsbergers.)
Michael and Karen are presumed deceased, but their remains have never been found. They were declared legally dead in 1987, and their father died in 2002.
After Bradfield's death, authorities discovered a photograph among his belongings which shows a stone in a wooded setting, standing upright as if marking something. An image of this photograph is posted with this case summary. Police are seeking to identify the place where it was taken; they believe the children's remains may be buried there.
Joseph Wambaugh published a book about the Reinert family's murders, titled Echoes in the Darkness, in 1987. Karen and Michael were declared legally dead in March the same year.