Saturday, May 5, 2012

Who Murdered the Camp Fire Girl?

Candy Rogers kidnapping and murder was never solved
by Robert A. Waters

On March 6, 1959, in Spokane, Washington, nine-year-old Candice Elaine "Candy" Rogers vanished while going door-to-door selling mints for her Camp Fire Girl troop.

Late that afternoon, when Candy didn’t return home, her mother reported her missing. The Spokane Police Department immediately launched an all-out search. Lawmen and volunteers swept the area for miles around. Known sex offenders, called “perverts” by the media, were questioned. Helicopters from nearby Fairchild Air Force Base circled above the search grid in a desperate effort to spot the girl--tragically, one of the choppers crashed killing three airmen.

Twelve hours into the hunt for the missing girl, searchers located six boxes of mints scattered beneath a nearby bridge. The discovery seemed to foreshadow what was to come.

Seventeen days after Candy disappeared, hunters found a pair of girl’s shoes in a remote field. Police were called and, after a brief search, located the remains of the missing girl. Candy lay in a clump of bushes, her body covered by pine boughs and brush.

United Press International reported that the body had been discovered twelve miles from her home. "Her legs were tied together at the ankles with parts of her own slip," the article read. "[Candy] had been raped and death was due to strangulation, Coroner William Jones said. Parts of her slip were found around her throat. The body, fully clothed except for her shoes and red leotard, was completely covered with underbrush except for one knee. Death probably came on the night she disappeared, Jones said."

Spokane Police Chief Clifford Payne, clearly shaken and angry, spoke to reporters. “We'll put every available man on the case and keep them there until the thing is solved,” he said. “We know what we're looking for now. We're looking for a maniac."

Candy's mother, Elaine, a divorcee, collapsed when told the news.

Hundreds of leads poured in. Police checked out an Idaho mental patient named Donald Dean Stokes, but he was quickly eliminated. Tommy Lee Miller told friends that he'd murdered a girl in Spokane, but police determined that he’d been in Colorado at the time of the kidnapping. In Sacramento, another former mental patient, William Edward Beckwith, went on an hours-long “joy ride” with a thirteen-year-old girl. After arresting him for kidnapping, police questioned Beckwith about Candy Rogers, then released him to a mental institution.

Investigators seemed to be swimming upstream. Leo Freed, described as a “floater,” who regularly faked illnesses to receive public hospitalization, was questioned and released. Two suspects committed suicide after Candy’s body was found, but neither could be definitively linked to the crime.

Several deranged men confessed to the murder, but police eliminated them all. Over the years, every promising lead wilted under the glare of police scrutiny.

Decades passed, and still the murder remained unsolved.

Then, in 2001, a DNA profile developed from Candy’s clothing renewed hope that the murderer might yet be identified. Police began collecting genetic samples from major suspects. One, a convicted serial killer named Hugh Bion Morse, had long been considered the prime suspect in Candy’s death. A drifter who'd murdered two Spokane women in a cross-country killing spree, Morse had attempted to molest two young girls who were selling Girl Scout cookies. Although he admitted killing three women, the murderer always denied any connection with Candy Rogers. In 2003, Morse died in prison. When his DNA was compared to that found on Candy's clothing, it didn’t match.

Several other suspects have been eliminated by DNA. Others are still under suspicion.

Fifty-three years after Candy Rogers walked away from her home into a nightmare, the outrage still haunts the Spokane Police Department. While the unknown murderer may be dead, investigators still search for answers.

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