Imagine being charged with first-degree murder in the brutal slaying of a former coworker, a crime that had remained unsolved for over a decade.
In 1945 that is exactly what happened to a former Southampton resident. He was an enigmatic character whose actual name remains a mystery to this day. Newspapers of the time referred to him as “John Hanyluk,” “John Danyluk,” “John Donnelly” and “Robert Donnelly” but his real name, perhaps by design, will forever remain a part of the puzzle.
At the time of his arrest, the man accused would be using the name “John Donnelly” but many newspapers referred to him as “John Danyluk,” which was the name he was reported to be using at the time of the murder.
The story began in 1932 when Paul J. Smoluk, a New Jersey-based carpenter, temporarily moved to Port Washington, New York, to work on an office building there. A man named John Danyluk was to relocate from Southampton to New Hyde Park to work with him.
On June 12, when the normally reliable Mr. Smoluk did not show up for work, his supervisors and coworkers became alarmed and immediately began trying to contact him. His habit at the time had been to go back to New Jersey and spend the weekends with his wife, but he never showed up that weekend to visit his wife either.
An all-out search was launched. Six days later, Mr. Smoluk’s body was found on a dirt path in the middle of the woods, in Nassau County. It was battered and bludgeoned, according to the police and newspaper reports.
His car would later be found in another wooded area near in Nassau County with all four doors locked. He had suffered three fractures of the skull, two in the front and one in the back at the base. The police believed the weapon had been a hatchet or an axe.
Both Nassau and Suffolk county police conducted exhaustive investigations but were unsuccessful in solving the murder mystery. The investigations involved both counties since there was some doubt as to where Mr. Smoluk had actually been killed.
As the years went by, leads evaporated and the police were left with no suspects. Soon, the murder of Paul Smoluk gave way to other, more pressing and timely, crimes.
Then in 1945, 13 years after the murder, an investigator for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office received what was termed “important information” from an inmate who was incarcerated. The information received from the inmate would lead to the arrest of the man the police knew as “John Danyluk.”
As it turned out, Mr. Danyluk had been a resident of Southampton in 1922 and had pleaded guilty to two separate charges of second-degree forgery and one charge of grand larceny at that time. It was reported that the information supplied by the informant had revolved around another possible forgery incident in 1932, 10 years later, in which Mr. Smoluk—the murder victim—had been involved, though his role was “not criminal,” according to the police records.
At the time of his arrest in 1945, Mr. Danyluk was going by the name “John Donnelly.” He reportedly had spent the past 13 years, after leaving Southampton, moving from community to community across Nassau County.
In 1945, charged with the 1932 murder of Mr. Smoluk, Mr. “Donnelly was transferred to Riverhead and held without bail to await the action of the grand jury. In October of that year, the grand jury carefully considered all of the evidence put forth by the District Attorney, but the testimony of the jail-house snitch who decided to talk 13 years after the fact was apparently not enough to warrant a first-degree murder charge. As a result, the grand jury came back with no indictment. Mr. Donnelly was discharged from the county jail and sent home, as the evidence was insufficient.
But who did assault and brutally murder Mr. Smoluk with an axe and leave his body on a lonely road in June of 1932? Unfortunately the crime was never solved and Mr. Smoluk’s murder remains a mystery to this day.
In spite of the fact that no one has been held accountable for this terrible crime, one could argue that the system did its job and worked as it should have in this case. After 13 years had passed, the jury required much more then the word of a jail-house snitch to convict a man of first-degree murder, in spite of his past.
The final question in the case, “Who was John Danyluk/Hanyluk/John Donnelly/Robert Donnelly?” was never sufficiently answered. No birth records could be found for any of the names given by the only suspect ever charged in this crime. His true name has been lost in history and has become yet another unanswered question in the unsolved murder of Paul Smoluk.