In March 1959, nine-year-old Candy Rogers went out to sell mints for the Camp Fire Girls in her Spokane, Washington neighborhood. She never returned. Weeks later, her body was found in nearby woods. For 62 years, her killer’s identity has been a mystery. Now, we finally have answers.
At the time of Candy’s disappearance, there was a huge search party sent out to look for her. Dozens of police officers worked with local volunteers to locate the missing girl. A USAF helicopter even joined the search to look from the sky, but their efforts ended in additional tragedy when the Sikorsky H-19 accidentally hit power lines and crashed into the Spokane River. The accident took the lives of Airman Marlice D. Ray, SSgt William A. McDonnell, and Lt. Kenneth G. Fauteck. Two other crew members survived.
Though the searches continued, the only thing initially found was a box of the mints Candy had been selling at the time she went missing.
After weeks of continued searches, Candy’s body was eventually recovered from a wooded location in the area. Two airmen hunting in the woods had discovered a pair of girl’s shoes and wondered if it was connected to the widely publicized case. When they reported what they’d seen, a search began in the area around their discovery. Within minutes, Candy was found. She had been hidden beneath pine needles and brush.
Her autopsy revealed that she had been raped and strangled with a piece of her clothing. Without today’s access to a sex offender registry or modern forensic technology, suspects were more limited. Police interviews conducted failed to turn up the culprit.
One of the prime suspects in the case was a serial killer named Hugh Morse, who had murdered at least four women in the area. He was considered because grape gum, a flavor he was known to enjoy, was found on Candy’s body. However, the evidence didn’t support charging him for the crime. From there, the trail grew cold and remained so for decades.
Sixty-two years later, forensics have changed a lot. A semen sample collected from Candy was sent to be tested using modern methods by detectives still on the cold case. This narrowed down possible suspects to three brothers. The daughter of one brother, John Reigh Hoff, was contacted for a DNA sample that proved to be the strongest match. Detectives then gained permission to exhume her father’s body and conclusively matched his DNA to that of the semen recovered from Candy. Hoff had been acquainted with Candy through his little sister, who was in the Camp Fire Girls with his victim.
At the time of Candy’s murder, Hoff would have been twenty years old. He lived less than a mile away from her in the same West Central neighborhood. Hoff was arrested two years after Candy’s murder for assaulting a local woman. In that case, he was found to have removed his victim’s clothing, tied her up, and strangled her. Fortunately, she had survived the ordeal and was able to identify Hoff as her attacker.
Hoff was given a mere six months in prison and discharged from the army, which he had joined when he was seventeen but deserted. After he was released from prison, he worked mundane jobs until his eventual suicide at the age of thirty-one when his daughter was the age of the little girl he had raped and murdered.
While it is still fairly rare to have cases that have grown so cold solved, it seems to be getting more common where detectives have the opportunity to put fresh eyes on and apply newer forensic technics to a cold case. If enough evidence from the original crime scene was gathered, maintained, and hasn’t broken down, there is a good chance that we will see more of these cases finally closed in the future.
Sadly, Candy was an only child whose parents have long since passed without knowing who murdered their daughter, but her cousins have expressed their gratitude for finally having the closure her remaining family deserves.