The rape and murder of 9-year-old Candy Rogers in 1959 it touched the community of Spokane, in the state of Washington. It wasn’t until 62 years later that his case was finally resolved and the culprit discovered, allowing a lockdown for his family and the city’s Police Department.
This Friday, Spokane police released their resolution and told the story of the horrific homicide. “Relentless determination coupled with advancement in technology helped solve one of Spokane’s most heinous and disturbing crimes,” the department tweeted.
On March 6, 1959, the girl went out to sell some candy in her neighborhood, but she never returned. When night fell, the family went looking for her. The community joined the desperate search, as well as several law enforcement agencies. His body was discovered in a wooded area 16 days later. They had raped and strangled her with a garment of the same clothing she was wearing, according to the chronology told by the Spokane police.
Despite the efforts to solve the case, the lack of technology and means to analyze the collected evidence were not enough and the culprit was never found, which persecuted family members and police for years.
It wasn’t until early 2021 that the “no one could forget” case was reopened, when investigators from Spokane and Washington State police learned of a state-of-the-art DNA test being conducted by a lab in Texas and submitted a semen sample collected from Candy’s clothing, Spokane police said.
The result of the test yielded the names of three siblings as possible matches. Of them, only one had had offspring, John Reigh Hoff. But he had died years ago.
Detectives contacted Hoff’s daughter, who quickly agreed to help with the investigation and sent a sample of her DNA. The results showed that her DNA was 2.9 million times more likely to be related to the sample collected from the girl’s body, police added in their tally.
Everything pointed to John Reigh Hoff, who had died by suicide in 1970, so investigators got a court order to exhume his body and collect samples of his DNA. The result then showed a match between Hoff’s DNA and that of the sample, with a probability threshold indicating that it was 25 trillion ( quintillions, in English) times more likely that the sample came from Hoff than from anyone else.
In this way it was finally possible to determine that John Reight Hoff was responsible for Candy’s rape and murder.
The man was 20 years old when he murdered her. He lived a mile from the girl’s home, in the West Central neighborhood of Spokane. Shortly before, at the age of 17, he had entered the Army.
But two years after Candy’s crime, he was convicted of second degree assault with the alleged intent to steal. In that incident, Hoff accosted a woman, stripped her clothes, tied her up in his own garments and strangled her before fleeing the scene. But the victim survived and Hoff went to jail, even though he was only there for six months.
The conviction caused him to be expelled from the Army and he later worked in a lumber yard. Later, he became a door-to-door salesman. At age 31, he committed suicide.
No cell phones or DNA tests: the search and investigation in the Candy Rogers case
When Candy did not return home on March 6, 1959, her family and the entire community began looking for her. Some 1,200 people searched the area and a command post was even established.
Several agencies joined the search, including the U.S. Air Force, which experienced another tragedy as part of this case, when the Sikorsky H-19 helicopter supporting the operation collided with high-voltage power lines and crashed, killing three of its five crew members.
It wasn’t until March 22 that the girl’s body was discovered, buried under a shallow layer of leaves. The discovery of the body, however, did not facilitate the investigation and, although they collected evidence and analyzed thousands of leads, including some suspects, the authorities could not find the culprit.
The case was passed from generation to generation among Spokane cops.
Decades had to pass before DNA could be analyzed as scientific evidence and in this case, thanks to the fact that the evidence was properly preserved throughout this time, it was possible to analyze it and solve the case … more than 60 years later.