January 27, 2014
Cherry Hill, New Jersey
Vanessa Smallwood (46) disappears; her remains will be found in a submerged vehicle 6 years later

Two days before her disappearance, Smallwood spoke with a cousin about being unhappy in her marriage. “Her statement was she knows her Boaz is out there. And she’s going to find him,” the cousin told reporters, referring to the Biblical landowner who falls in love with a field worker.

Vanessa Smallwood
via NJ.com

Smallwood was last seen on January 27 as her husband visited a drycleaning business, and waited inside the couple’s Chrysler minivan while her husband entered the drycleaners. When he returned, he found both Smallwood and the vehicle were missing.

Smallwood was reported missing on February 6, 10 days after her disappearance. Investigators told reporters they were able to find a single ping from Smallwood’s cellphone in Clayton, New Jersey, about 26 miles (42km) south of Cherry Hill, but her trail ended there. No other trace of her was left behind, including credit or debit card usage.

The case remained unresolved until mid-January 2020 — nearly 6 years to the day after Smallwood’s disappearance — when divers from an underwater construction company checking for obstructions in the Salem River found what they believed to be human remains in a submerged car. The vehicle was a Chrysler which was so “mangled” the year and model were difficult to ascertain. “The vehicle is just crushed,” Salem County Prosecutor John T. Lenahan told reporters. “It’s indescribable.”

The recovery of Smallwood’s vehicle from the Salem River
Matt Gray | NJ Advance Media

The remains, which had been found approximately 42 miles (68km) southwest of Cherry Hill, were positively identified as belonging to Smallwood. An autopsy was conducted and, while the cause of death was not released, Lenahan stated, “it does not appear as if there was any foul play.”

“We still don’t honestly know exactly what happened,” Smallwood’s cousin told reporters. “We wanted some form of closure. So we have that. We know she’s no longer here with us.”

A map showing the locations of Smallwood’s disappearance, the cellphone ping, and her submerged body
Created with Google Maps

Vaness D. Smallwood. The Charley Project. Accessed: January 27, 2021. https://charleyproject.org/case/vanessa-d-smallwood
McDonnell Nieto del Rio, Giulia. “The body of a woman missing for 6 years was found in a car submerged in a New Jersey river.” CNN. January 19, 2020. Accessed: January 27, 2021. https://www.cnn.com/2020/01/19/us/new-jersey-woman-car-trnd/index.html
Torrejon, Rodrigo. “Missing woman found in Salem River was ‘a sweetheart,’ cousin says.” NJ.com. January 18, 2020. Accessed: January 27, 2021. https://www.nj.com/salem/2020/01/missing-woman-found-in-salem-river-was-a-sweetheart-cousin-says.html
Gray, Matt. “Body found in car submerged in N.J. river is woman reported missing 6 years ago.” NJ.com. January 17, 2020. Accessed: January 27, 2021. https://www.nj.com/salem/2020/01/body-found-in-car-in-nj-river-is-woman-reported-missing-6-years-ago.html
Gray, Matt. “Vehicle containing human remains found in South Jersey river.” NJ.com. January 16, 2020. Updated: January 17, 2020. Accessed: January 27, 2021. https://www.nj.com/salem/2020/01/vehicle-containing-apparent-human-remains-found-in-south-jersey-river.html
Walsh, Jim. “Vanessa Smallwood, missing almost six years, found dead in Salem River.” Courier Post. January 17, 2020. Updated: January 18, 2020. Accessed: January 27, 2021. https://www.courierpostonline.com/story/news/2020/01/17/vanessa-smallwood-missing-maple-shade-woman-found-submerged-vehicle-salem-river/4506076002/
Rojas, Cristina. “Police search for missing Burlington Twp. woman continues 8 months after disappearance.” NJ.com. October 6, 2014. Updated: March 29, 2019. Accessed: January 27, 2021. https://www.nj.com/mercer/2014/10/months-long_search_for_missing_burlington_township_woman_continues.html
Napoliello, Alex. “Police searching for missing Burlington County woman.” NJ.com. April 1, 2014. Updated: March 29, 2019. Accessed: January 27, 2021. https://www.nj.com/mercer/2014/10/months-long_search_for_missing_burlington_township_woman_continues.html

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