Spokane Police solve murder of 9-year-old girl after six decades searching for answers

click to enlarge 9-year-old Candy Rogers went missing while selling these campfire mints in March 1959. The boxes were found while the community searched for her. Now, her remaining family members finally know who murdered her. - SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL PHOTO
Samantha Wohlfeil photo
9-year-old Candy Rogers went missing while selling these campfire mints in March 1959. The boxes were found while the community searched for her. Now, her remaining family members finally know who murdered her.

Candy Rogers was a fourth-grader at Holmes Elementary School when she went out one March afternoon in 1959 to sell Camp Fire Girls mints and never came home.

A multi-week search for Rogers rocked the community.

Three Fairchild Air Force Base airmen died during the very early part of the search process when their helicopter crashed into the Spokane River. Later, the community grappled with the heinous nature of what they would ultimately learn about Rogers' abduction, rape and murder.


Now, more than 60 years after her death, Spokane Police were able to give her remaining family the closure of finally knowing who took her life.

In a press conference Friday, Nov. 19, Spokane Police Sgt. Zac Storment was able to say with confidence that Rogers was killed by John Reigh Hoff, who died by suicide in 1970 at 31 years old. 
click to enlarge Spokane Police Sgt. Zac Storment discusses the investigation that happened in 1959 after 9-year-old Candy Rogers went missing. Her body was later found and the investigation went unsolved for more than 60 years until a new type of DNA testing helped crack the case. - SAMANTHA WOHLFEIL PHOTO
Samantha Wohlfeil photo
Spokane Police Sgt. Zac Storment discusses the investigation that happened in 1959 after 9-year-old Candy Rogers went missing. Her body was later found and the investigation went unsolved for more than 60 years until a new type of DNA testing helped crack the case.

The case had haunted generations of police detectives in the Spokane area, Storment said, as leads continued to pour in over the years but did little to explain what happened that day in 1959.

The big break came this year when a Washington State Patrol lab forensic scientist told Storment about a Texas-based company called Othram. The company uses state-of-the-art methods in order to test very small amounts of DNA or DNA that have been degraded.

Othram CEO David Mittelman told reporters Friday morning that their company is the only lab in the country right now that does everything from testing and analyzing the DNA to generating leads based on geneology in-house. DNA sequencing that has become a game-changer in medicine is likely to do the same with forensics, he said.


"It's our hyperfocus, and we've taken on a number of cases where the DNA isn't good enough," Mittelman. "All that was needed to push this case over the barrier to the finish line was just a little bit of extra detail, a few extra clues that we were grateful to be able to deliver."

After Othram worked on a semen sample found on Rogers' clothing, the company told Storment to look into three brothers who had lived in Spokane at that time.

Hoff was the only one who had children, and Storment was able to contact his daughter, who voluntarily provided her DNA for testing.

A paternity test showed the DNA from Rogers' clothing was extremely likely to be her father's. That could have been enough to put an end to the case, but Storment got permission to exhume Hoff's body to do a direct comparison of DNA to be absolutely sure.

"Before I’m gonna hang the mantle of child killer, child rapist, kidnapper around a man’s neck, even though he’s dead, we’re going to achieve certainty," Storment said.


The test showed a direct match.

WHAT HAPPENED
Candice "Candy" Elaine Rogers went missing on March 6, 1959 after she set out to sell some Camp Fire Girls of America mints.

When she didn't come home by dark, a rule she always followed, her relatives and neighbors started looking for her, and by 8 pm police were involved in the search, Storment said.


Many neighbors reported seeing her as she went door to door selling the boxes of candy, but there were also many girls in that neighborhood who participated in Camp Fire.

The search grew the next day as the community learned she was missing thanks to news stories on the case, and people joined in to look for her on horseback, on foot, and from the air, Storment said.

That same day, March 7, a helicopter from Fairchild Air Force Base joined the search. But as they flew over the river canyon they hit high tension wires and crashed into the river, Storment said. Three airmen died and two survived, partly thanks to help from searchers who were looking for Rogers on the ground in the area.

While boxes of Camp Fire mints were found in several locations not too far from Rogers' West Central home, it remained unclear where she was for weeks.

On March 21, two off-duty airmen from Fairchild went hunting off Old Trails Road, northwest of Spokane, and noticed a pair of children's shoes next to a tree. They didn't immediately realize their significance, but after going home and talking about it, they realized the shoes could be hers and called police.

The next day, officers found Rogers' body underneath a pile of brush near the shoes. There were clear signs of a sexual assault and her feet had been bound with a piece of cloth from her slip, Storment said. An autopsy would show she had been strangled to death.

Tips would come into the Spokane County Sheriff's Office and later the Spokane Police Department for decades, but other suspects were ruled out and the case remained unsolved.

As recently as earlier this year, Storment says he was still receiving tips from people concerned their relative might have been involved in the grisly case, and he tested DNA from those tips out of Portland, Oregon, Sandpoint, and near Hillyard but nothing was a match.

But after submitting a small piece of the DNA evidence to Othram earlier this year, Storment got the fateful phone call that there were three suspects over Labor Day weekend.

He immediately set to work contacting Hoff's relatives and with the ultimate DNA match to John Reigh Hoff, the case was solved. 
click to enlarge After 62 years working to solve the murder of 9-year-old Candy Rogers, Spokane Police announced in November 2021 that John Reigh Hoff was the perpetrator. - IMAGE COURTESY SPOKANE POLICE DEPARTMENT
Image courtesy Spokane Police Department
After 62 years working to solve the murder of 9-year-old Candy Rogers, Spokane Police announced in November 2021 that John Reigh Hoff was the perpetrator.


AFTERMATH

Storment was emotional as he spoke about the break in the case.

He noted that while having the answer provides some stress relief to Rogers' remaining family (some of her cousins still live in the area), it has created pain and hurt for Hoff's family, whose view of their father was completely shattered.

"There's a strange dynamic going on ... that family is feeling some stress relief but the Hoff family is almost absorbing it," Storment said. "I took those people's lives and childhood and dumped it on its head. What they believed about their father growing up has been forever changed."

Hoff's daughter Cathie provided an emailed statement after the press conference expressing her grief over the situation.

"What has come to light over the last couple months, is the bringing to light the horrible injustice against an innocent young girl, Candy Rogers, by a sick evil man. Who instead of being a protector, committed this terrible crime against her and to her family," she says. "It's also a reminder that nothing hidden will remain hidden."

She was not alive when the crime happened, and her father died by suicide when she was 9 years old.

"The sorrow and gravity of this injustice has weighed heavy on me," she says. "With much sorrow and regret over this heinous crime, I stand for justice just as we all should. I pray for healing for Candy's loved ones, for myself,  for every person affected by this crime."

Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl noted that the tenacity of the many people who worked to solve the case over the years should be a reminder that every murder case will be investigated to the fullest extent until there are answers.

"If you commit a murder in the city of Spokane you will always be looking over your shoulder, because we will never stop looking for you," Meidl said. 

Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Feb. 13
  • or

About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...