Portland, OR

Police Never Test Gun As Evidence In Family's Disappearance

Still Unsolved

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The Martin FamilyPhoto by(KOIN)

This case centers around a family on a Christmas vacation. The Martin family — consisting of 54-year-old Kennet Martin, 48-year-old Barbara Martin, and their four children — resided in Portland, Oregon. Their oldest (and estranged) son, Donny, lived in New York at the time. 

In December of 1958, Kenneth and Barbara took their 3 daughters with them to get Christmas decorations. Just a little before 1:00 pm, the family traveled to the Columbia River Gorge to get material for a Christmas wreath. They told friends that they had planned to be back home by that evening.

That would, unfortunately, never happen. 

Witnesses reported seeing the family at different points during their trip. According to a Cascade Locks gas station owner, the family stopped there for a brief time. He was able to provide a receipt that verified the sighting. A waitress at the Paradise Snack Bar also saw them. There, she says that she served them their food. 

Then, On December 9 of the same year, Kenneth failed to show up to work. His boss — feeling that wasn’t like him — reported him missing. Their daughters were continuously marked absent from school without any alarms being raised. 

Following the missing person report, the police went to the Martin family home in order to investigate. They found nothing that would lead them to believe that the family left intentionally. This was further supported by the complete lack of activity in Kenneth’s bank account. There was no money drawn from the account after December 7 (the day that they disappeared). 

Two months later, tire tracks matching the Ford the family drove were found leading into the Columbia River. Paint chips found at the scene also belonged to the same car. Investigators would use sonar to try and find something in the river but came up with nothing substantial. 

But a shocking discovery was made the very next day.

A fisherman and his wife were in an area not too far from where the police searched when they saw 2 bodies. Dental records were able to definitively confirm the bodies as Susan and Virginia Martin — the 2 youngest children. They had drowned in the river. Curiously, though, Virginia was determined to have had a hole in her head. 

The case began to grow cold. Then, a new lead came in. A man says that he found a .38 caliber handgun with dried blood on it near an area of interest. The gun was even damaged in a way that would suggest it was used to bash something. The man brought the gun to the Hood River sheriff to be taken as evidence. For reasons that have never been explained, the gun was never processed or taken into evidence. It was even given back to the man who turned it in so that he could keep it.

Walter Graven, the detective assigned to the case, believed that there was foul play. His grandson has said, “He believes that it was a homicide and it would be solved when the vehicle is located.” 

Many rumors — some of which include the involvement of their son Donny — have stemmed from this cold case. Unfortunately, though, it remains unsolved to this day. 

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