It’s been more than 15 years since Linda Smatlak has heard the sound of her son’s voice. Donald Smatlak — he preferred to be called Donny — called her around 4:00 pm on Saturday, January 28, 2006, from his North Versailles, Pennsylvania apartment to say he was going to visit a friend later that night. The 25-year-old hadn’t sounded upset about anything at the time, but when Linda called him back a short time later to see if he wanted to have Sunday dinner with her and his father, Donny didn’t answer.
Linda wasn’t overly concerned at first. Although it was unusual for Donny to not answer his phone, his mother assumed that he was busy and would call her back as soon as he got a chance. As the night wore on with no call from Donny, Linda started to feel uneasy. She tried to push her fears aside; Donny had mentioned that he was going to visit a friend who lived about 35 minutes away in Delmont, PA, and it was possible he was too busy socializing to realize he had missed a call from his mother. She called him several more times throughout the evening, but he never answered his phone and never called her back.
By the following afternoon, Donny still hadn’t called his mother back. Linda had decided to make homemade soup for dinner that night, and she placed another call to her son to see if he wanted to come over to eat. Donny didn’t answer the call, and Linda was concerned enough that she and her husband decided to drive over to their son’s apartment to make sure nothing was wrong.
It didn’t take long for Donald and Linda to arrive at Donny’s apartment, which was located about five miles away from their North Huntingdon, PA home. They didn’t get any response when they knocked on the door, so they decided to use their key to enter the apartment and make sure Donny wasn’t hurt or sick.
Once they were inside, Donald and Linda were met with only silence. The apartment was empty and nothing appeared to have been disturbed. Although Linda was still concerned about the fact that she had been unable to contact her son, she knew there was nothing else they could do at that point. Their son was an adult, and he had been out of contact for less than 24 hours. His parents returned home, hoping he would soon call with a reasonable explanation for why he hadn’t been returning their calls.
Monday passed by without any word from Donny, and Linda grew increasingly worried. Her worry turned to outright panic the following day when she got a call from the friend Donny had planned to visit in Delmont. According to the friend, Donny had never shown up Saturday night like he said he would and hadn’t returned any phone calls. After several days, the friend decided to call Linda to see if she knew where Donny might be.
As soon as Linda realized that no one had been in contact with Donny since Saturday afternoon, she called the North Versailles Police Department and reported him missing. They searched through Donny’s apartment and the trash dumpsters but didn’t find any clues pointing to his whereabouts. They also spoke with Donny’s neighbors, but none of them had seen him since Saturday.
Investigators noted that Donny’s car wasn’t parked anywhere near his apartment, which made them wonder if he had simply decided to go away for a few days. Linda was adamant that Donny never would have done so without letting his parents know; he was extremely close with his parents and usually called his mother every day just to chat. It was completely uncharacteristic of him to be out of contact for an extended period of time.
Detectives obtained Donny’s cell phone records and contacted all of the people he had spoken to in the days and hours leading to his disappearance, but none of them were able to provide police with any leads. As they did a little more digging, investigators learned that Donny actually had two cell phones, only one of which his parents had known about. His friends reluctantly admitted that they thought Donny might have been selling marijuana as a way of making extra cash; this revelation came as a complete surprise to his family.
Donny was the oldest of Donald and Linda’s two sons. He was a graduate of Norwin High School, where he had been a decent student who was well-liked by his classmates and teachers. He had been on the football and track teams, but he seemed to lose interest in athletics after his freshman year of high school and preferred to spend his free time hanging out with his friends.
After he graduated from Norwin High School, Donny went on to attend the University of Pittsburgh. He graduated from there with a degree in criminal justice in 2004; although he had once considered a career in law enforcement, he ended up working in the produce department at a local grocery store.
Donny had moved out of his parents’ home about nine months before he went missing. Even after he got his own apartment, he maintained a close relationship with his family and would return to his parents’ home several times a week to eat dinner with them. He had an especially close relationship with his mother, and would sometimes meet her for lunch during the week.
Several weeks before he disappeared, Donny had lost his job at the grocery store. He immediately started searching for a new job, and had lined up several interviews before he went missing. Even after he lost his job, his friends noticed that he never appeared to be short on cash. In fact, a substantial amount of money was found inside his apartment after he vanished, leading police to speculate that he had been selling drugs. According to several of Donny’s friends, he had actually been selling marijuana for years. The news came as a complete shock to his parents.
It’s unclear exactly how deeply involved Donny was in the drug world, but it appears that he was selling more than he was using. He maintained frequent contact with his parents, and he never appeared to be high when he visited them. Still, once they learned about his connection to the drug world, his parents worried that drugs had something to do with his disappearance.
From the start, detectives said that they were unable to rule anything out in Donny’s case. They agreed that foul play was possible, but pointed out that they had no physical evidence to indicate that Donny had been harmed. During the earliest stages of the investigation, they seemed to believe that he had simply vanished voluntarily.
The first potential break in the case came on February 9, 2006, when Donny’s car was located. It was found in the Oakland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, about 20 miles away from Donny’s apartment. It was unclear how long the car had been at that location; a resident of the area called police to report it after seeing a news broadcast about Donny’s disappearance. It appeared to have been abandoned near the intersection of Megran Avenue and Louisa Street; when found, the car’s windows were down and there was snow inside the vehicle.
As far as Donny’s friends and family knew, he did not know anyone who lived in the area where the car was found and they didn’t believe that he was the person who had left it there. They pointed out that Donny had always taken great care of his car, and he never would have walked away from it without making sure the windows were up and all the doors were locked. Investigators canvassed the Oakland neighborhood, but they were unable to find anyone who recalled seeing Donny in the area.
After Donny’s car was found, detectives began to lean away from the theory that he had voluntarily disappeared. Although they still had no physical evidence pointing to foul play, they didn’t believe he would have willingly abandoned his only means of transportation. They were also troubled by the fact that he hadn’t reached out to any of his friends or relatives.
Investigators continued to interview Donny’s friends, acquaintances, and former co-workers, but none of them were able to shed any light on his disappearance. Little progress was made on the case over the next few months, and Donny’s family began to worry that they were never going to see him again.
Although detectives desperately wanted to provide Donny’s family with answers, two years into the investigation they admitted that they were no closer to finding Donny than they had been on the day he disappeared. They had exhausted all the leads they managed to develop, and they received few tips about the case. Their investigation was at a standstill, and it eventually went completely cold.
Investigators from the North Versailles Police Department have reviewed Donny’s case file several times over the last decade, and in 2020 they announced that they were formally reopening the case. They were hopeful that the passage of time might make potential witnesses more willing to provide the information needed to finally solve the case, but to date no new developments have been reported.
Donny’s family is certain that he was a victim of foul play; while they have come to terms with the fact that he is almost certainly dead, they still hope to find out what happened to him.
Donald Smatlak was 25 years old when he went missing in 2006. He has hazel eyes and brown hair, and at the time of his disappearance he was 6 feet tall and weighed 230 pounds. He has a gap between his front teeth and both his ears are pierced. He has a Chinese symbol tattooed on his back, another one on his right shin, and he has his name in Chinese tattooed across his chest. If you have any information about Donny, please contact the North Versailles Police Department at 412–823–1111.