Gail Ann Russell was a 30-year old mother of two young boys living on Oakley Avenue in Hudson, Pasco County, Florida, in 1995. She worked as a clerk at a local Circle K convenience store. Gail was in a long-term relationship with the father of her two children, Larry Podolski. Larry was the same age as Gail and worked as a cook at Red Lobster, as well as doing landscaping work on the side.
Larry and Gail had a volatile relationship. Gail’s family reported that they had never seen signs of abuse, but knew Gail was not happy in the relationship and did not want to marry Larry. Larry claimed their relationship was good and the two planned on marrying in February of the following year.
Prior to Gail’s disappearance, Pasco County Sheriff Department Deputies were called to a reported disturbance at a Taco Bell on the corner of US Hwy 19 and State Road 52. Upon arrival they found Gail bleeding from scrapes to her knees and elbows. Gail told deputies that Larry became angry at her and smashed the windshield of their truck. When she tried to stop him, he pushed her down, resulting in the scrapes. Larry was arrested for domestic violence, but maintained his innocence. He was adamant that Gail had made the story up.
The following day, Gail recanted her story, telling the State Attorney’s Office that she had made the whole thing up. Charges against Larry were dropped. However, two weeks later, charges were brought against Gail for filing a false police report. Gail was subsequently arrested. Around this time, Gail made several comments to family members that made them concerned for her safety in the relationship.
On Sunday, September 3, 1995, Larry and Gail worked a couple of jobs for the tree trimming business, starting around 1:00pm. Their two boys, Joey (4 years old) and Brian (2 years old), were at a babysitters house. The times of the evenings activities have changed with Larry’s recounts over the years. The following timeline is what was initially provided to the Pasco Sheriff’s Deputies and the media following Gail’s disappearance.
Around 10:00pm on September 3rd, Larry and Gail finished their work and went to a local dive bar Bobkatz for a few drinks. They left the bar sometime later, picked up their boys from the babysitter, and were home by 12:30am. Once home, they went straight to bed.
At about 1:00am, Larry reported hearing a knock (some accounts say at the front door of their mobile home, others say on the bedroom window). Gail got up to investigate and he went back to sleep. When Larry awoke the next morning, Gail was gone. Larry reported that he called to Pasco County Sheriff’s Office to report Gail missing around 1:00pm on September 4th, and was told that he had to wait 48 hours before filing a missing persons report. PCSO has no record of this call and did not have any such policy at that time.
Larry ultimately did not report Gail missing until 67 hours after her disappearance. After the initial report, PCSO investigators described Larry as “uncooperative.” Investigators initially believed Gail may have chosen to leave. After interviewing more than 40 friends and family, investigators changed their theory and began to suspect Larry was involved in her disappearance.
Gail’s family was not aware that she was missing for several days. Her mother called the home phone to speak with her and Larry would say that she was “out” or “busy.” Gail’s family lived out of state and contacted a family friend who lived near Gail. She went to the residence and was told by Larry that Gail was busy doing laundry. The friend was suspicious and contacted Gail’s mother. She questioned Larry, who told her Gail had left him for another man and took everything, including her glasses/contact lenses, driver’s license, and $245 they had in the home to pay their monthly bills.
Gail’s siblings traveled to Florida quickly and found the items Larry said Gail took, her glasses and identification, in her top bedroom drawer. According to her sister, Gail would not leave without her glasses or contact lenses.
The lead investigator on the case, John Stanley, died before he could close what he described as the most frustrating case of his career. Investigators questioned more than 100 people in connection with the case and fielded new calls and leads for years. Larry found himself in local jails frequently on unrelated charges and investigators would travel to neighboring counties to question him. They never received enough information to bring charges against him. Detective Sessa took over the case after John Stanley passed. He told the local newspaper that they knew what happened to Gail, he just couldn’t prove it in court.
The absence of evidence was not for lack of effort on the part of the PCSO. After Russell’s disappearance, they searched the trailer for blood evidence. Cadaver dogs were used around the trailer property and in an adjacent junk yead. The septic system was pumped and inspected. Gail’s family offered a $10,000 reward for information and hired a private investigator and a psychic. Gail’s sister was able to raise an additional $50,000 through her connections in the entertainment industry to continue the search in nearby areas.
Larry’s behavior was considered suspicious by many, but never incriminating. Two days after Gail’s disappearance, Larry went to the food stamp office and advised them Gail had left the state. He asked that the monthly food allotment be changed from her name to his. Larry often refused to discuss the circumstances of Gail’s disappearance in-depth with investigators. Often getting angry and irate when the questioning began. He twice refused to participate in polygraph testing.
Rumors swirled around the small town, having a impact on Larry’s family, especially his father who owned a deli. Larry’s father Joseph described the situation as “hell on our family,” and noted how cruel people could be in accusing his son. He further noted to anyone who would listen that his son was not smart enough to get away with that serious of a crime. He was not smart enough to destroy every piece of evidence.
Joseph Podolski also said that the case was not properly investigated. PSCO Investigators did not follow up on a statement by Gail’s oldest son, Joey, who was four at the time. Joey stated that two men came and put tape over his mothers mouth and put her in a car with a tailgate. Joey repeated this in multiple Facebook posts on the Pasco County Sheriff Department’s Missing Person post regarding Gail. Many other past friends commented about what a sweet person and loving mother Gail was. Joey replied to every post, desperately seeking more information on his mother.
Unfortunately, unless someone with information comes forward, answers will likely never be found for Gail’s family. Larry Podolski died of a drug overdose in 2004. Joey appears to have died in 2020.