One Friday afternoon in 1959, Candice Rogers came home from school, played with her dog, ate an oatmeal cookie and then set out to sell Camp Fire mints in her neighborhood in Spokane, Washington.
Candy, as she was known, was 9 years old and a Bluebird, a younger member of the Camp Fire Girls, a youth group focused on outdoor activities.
When Candy did not return home by dark, her grandfather, mother, friends and neighbors began to look for her and were soon joined by police officers and sheriff’s deputies. Around 9 p.m., boxes of Camp Fire mints, believed to be Candy’s, were found strewn along a road.
Candy disappeared March 6, 1959. Over the next 16 days, thousands of people searched for her. The effort included Marines, airmen and military aircraft, but also residents on foot and horseback. An Air Force helicopter involved in the search crashed, killing three crew members.
On the final weekend of the search, 1,200 people turned out.
On March 21, 1959, two off-duty airmen hunting in the woods about 7 miles from her house noticed a pair of children’s shoes. The next morning, police returned to the area and found Candy’s body. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled with a piece of her own clothing.
The crime rocked Spokane. Hundreds of tips poured in, but none led to Candy’s killer, frustrating detectives who investigated the case decade after decade.
“I keep saying it’s the Mount Everest of our cold cases — the one that we could never seem to overcome, but at the same time nobody ever forgot,” said Sgt. Zac Storment of the Spokane Police Department.
On Friday, more than 62 years after Candy was killed, Spokane police announced that they had solved the case with DNA evidence and old-fashioned detective work.
The department identified the suspect as John Reigh Hoff, who died by suicide in 1970, when he was 31. His daughter provided a DNA sample that linked her father to semen that had been found on Candy’s clothing, which had been preserved as evidence in an era long before the advent of genetic testing at crime scenes.
Hoff, who was buried in the same cemetery as Candy, was later exhumed, and a DNA sample taken from his remains confirmed it was his semen, police said.
While the identification brought some relief to Candy’s few surviving relatives, Storment said that it was agonizing to have to tell Hoff’s widow and four children that Hoff was responsible for such a heinous crime.
“I took those people’s lives and their childhood and dumped it on its head,” he said at a news conference Friday. “What they believed about their father and their growing up has been forever changed.”
Hoff grew up in Spokane and had a record of petty juvenile crime. He joined the Army when he was 17 and served in Korea as an inventory clerk. He was 20 and lived about 1 mile away from Candy when she was killed in 1959.
In 1961, he was convicted of grabbing a woman, undressing her, tying her up with her own clothes and strangling her before fleeing, police said. She survived, and Hoff served six months in jail, police said.
As a result of the conviction, Hoff was declared a deserter and discharged from the Army, police said. He sold cutlery and worked in a lumber yard and a meatpacking plant, where he suffered a chemical burn on his face.
It was not clear if Hoff knew Candy, Storment said, although they had at least one connection: Hoff’s stepsister, who was 10, was a Camp Fire Girl who served as Candy’s “big sister” in the program.
Storment said he had recently spoken to the stepsister, now in her 70s, who recalled sitting next to Hoff, crying and telling him how distraught she was at Candy’s death.
Hoff’s daughter, Cathie, said she felt disbelief, anger and sadness to learn that her father had been identified as the suspect. She was 9 when he died.
“It’s just really sad to find out that someone — not even just your dad, but just someone in your family — could do something like that,” she said in a videotaped interview with Spokane police, which identified her only by her first name.
Cathie said she had lived most of her life thinking her father died by suicide because he was depressed.
“And now I think, no, he was evil,” she said. “It wasn’t an escape, in a way, from it, but he got to die with people thinking he was an upstanding man. And he wasn’t.”
A cousin of Candy’s, who was interviewed in the police video, said: “I feel like Candy’s loss was just a horrible loss. She was so cute. And she didn’t have much time.”
Another relative, identified only as Cheryl, spoke of Candy’s parents and grandparents, saying: “I think it’s really sad that they passed away with not knowing who had taken their granddaughter’s and daughter’s life.”
After Hoff’s body was exhumed from the cemetery where Candy had also been buried, his family had him reburied in a different cemetery.
“I’m very, very sorry for what my dad did, that he took her life, horribly,” Cathie, Hoff’s daughter, said in the videotaped interview. “I hope that it gives her peace knowing that, even though it’s not really justice because he doesn’t get any punishment, but that his name has this on it now. And they can know it’s solved.”
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