The Martin Family Disappearance Case Remains Unsolved – What Actually Happened?

Martin Family Disappearance

There may have been other disappearance cases in the United States of America, but the Martin Family’s disappearance will leave you bewildered. The family’s disappearance has been called one of Oregon’s “most baffling” mysteries, and it spurred the state’s largest manhunt at the time.

The truth of the Martin Family disappearance case

In the 1950’s, Portland was regarded across the country as a centre of immorality and evil. However, the ongoing violence and vandalism in Portland, Oregon have blended with all of the negative aspects of the city, ranging from poor infrastructure to high crime rates.

Just like the disappearance of Alice Creed, There was a family which included Ken Martin, his wife Barbara, and their three young girls. All of them were excited to go outside looking for Christmas greens and they left their house in Northeast Portland in December 1958. 

Unfortunately, the issue emerged when they did not return to their house ever. The sudden disappearance of the Martins family sparked Oregon’s greatest missing persons hunt, and the case remains unresolved even till now.

What happened to the Martin Family?

Kenneth Martin, who was 54 when he decided to take his family out for a trip to the Columbia Gorge countryside on 7th December, 1958. Martin’s wife, 48-year-old Barbara Martin and their daughters, 14-year-old Barbara “Barbie,” 13-year-old Virginia, and 11-year-old Susan crammed into a car around 1 pm.

Their car was cream and red coloured 1954’s Ford station wagon. The Martin family went to see and enjoy nature’s bounty and they also wanted to spend a full day together. The location was not far from their residence in Portland, Oregon though. 

They left town and travelled east along the Columbia River. It had been a late start. They were last seen at Cascade Locks at 4 p.m. when they fueled up their car with gasoline. They continued eastward. 

Martins came to a halt in Hood River at a restaurant. A waitress at the Paradise Snack Bar claims to have served them. Given that the first witness in Cascade Locks was about to correct about the timing, the next 20 miles would have taken them around 30 minutes.

Martin family made sporadic appearances before disappearing

A family had planned to go outside and select a Christmas tree and greenery for decorating a wreath, having left their house at 1 p.m. and informing their pals that they’d be back by the evening.

Boss of Kenn Martin, Taylor Eccles informed the cops when Martin didn’t show up to his office. Also, Barbie and Virginia were marked absent from the school. No single agency was assigned to the case. Everyone was confused and unaware of the actual facts of what happened to them. It’s hard to be unnoticed, right?

Close to midnight, police showed up at the Martins’ home on 56th Avenue. They discovered a load of laundry still in the washer and a stack of dishes drying on the rack. Their house appeared to be a spot where the family wanted to go back and finish their chores.

Everything appeared to be in tip-top condition. Martin’s bank details were checked by the authorities to see if they got mugged or something but found out that no cash had been withdrawn from his account.

But who knew something would happen! Furthermore, the only person who was out of the scene was Martin’s son named Donald. He was considerably older than his siblings and was stationed in New York as a veteran of the navy.

The Martin Family disappearance case took an odd turn

An abandoned car was found near Cascade Locks on the same day the Martin family disappeared. Nearly 40 miles from Martin’s residence in Portland. The car that was found on that day did not belong to Martin’s. It was a white Chevrolet with a LA registration plate.

Despite the fact that the car was not a match for the family’s car, it prompted suspicion. Two ex-convicts, Roy Light and an accomplice, were caught the next day for stealing the identical white automobile.

But in the bushes beside the Chevrolet, a.38 Colt Commander revolver coated in dried blood was found. It was strange. Even without knowing anything about the blood, the pistol had a fascinating background.

That pistol was among numerous goods taken from a Meier & Frank department shop two years until it was discovered in the bush close to the abandoned Chevrolet. The suspect was none other than Donald Martin, older son of Kenn and Barbara.

Donald Martin was suspected of stealing the money from the Meier & Frank department store where he was employed at the time. He was sacked for stealing $2,000 worth of merchandise. According to reports, Donald Martin did not get along with his parents and didn’t appear for the subsequent search for his family.

Later, the pistol had been recovered and brought in by a citizen, but it had been returned to him before the link could be made. The cops were uninterested at the moment. It was cleaned and restored by a resident. It is still in his possession today.

As time passed, a widespread investigation of the family was initiated. The cops found a glove near the area where a white Chevrolet and the pistol were found earlier.  That glove certainly belonged to a woman, and family said it seemed like that’s something Martin’s wife, Barbara would wear.

However, the police were unable to get any more information or tie the glove to the case, just like that pistol, and the investigation was closed. New information emerged, creating an unsettling picture over the span of several months.

The manhunt got underway with some strange discoveries

In February 1959, the officers were dispatched to a location along the Columbia River’s banks where tire traces heading over a cliff at The Dalles were detected by a volunteer searcher. Tire traces matched the Martin family’s Ford’s tyres. 

Then, the FBI examined paint chips recovered from the incident and concluded that the paint that was used on Martin’s car also matched with it. After seeing countless movies, who would ever recommend driving a car on such a rough rocky rail unless you do not really care about the devastation. It is mind boggling. 

Three months later On May 1st, the police used sonar technology to check the river near Bonneville Dam. A Columbia-bound vessel moored in The Dalles. They caught something hefty while hauling anchor. 

Susan’s corpse was discovered on the north bank of the Columbia River, near to Camas, Washington, some 70 miles from The Dalles, through dental records. It was found by a fisherman and his wife, two days after the tyre tracking.

The second youngest daughter of Kenn and Barbara Martin, Virginia’s body surfaced near Bonneville Dam the very next day after Susan’s body was discovered. In the autopsy report, their manner of death was given as drowning, despite the fact that holes in their heads were discovered.

JB Fisher was an author from Portland who had written a book on the case of Martin’s family disappearance and is still known for his efforts regarding missing persons and crimes of Portland. The book’s name is  “Echo of Distant Water: The 1958 Disappearance of Portland’s Martin Family.” He once stated:

“The sheer number of coincidences in this case. I am certainly aware of Occam’s Razor and agree that the path of least speculation is usually the most likely. However, in this case, trying to stick to the accident theory is actually the tougher path. Anyone element would not be enough on its own but taken in totality, it’s another story. That was Graven’s main point all along. If the car did go over the cliff downstream from The Dalles, there is a pretty finite area where it would be. Finding the car is the most important aspect of the search. Granted, the river in that section is very deep (in places nearly 160 feet deep) and the bottom has boulders, overhanging rock, and even caverns. While the currents are strong, the fact that it is so rocky would have kept the car from moving too much.” 

Where is Donald Martin now?

When Donald Martin’s family vanished, he did not return home to Oregon. It seemed like he did not really connect with them, he only returned back when he had to settle the family’s inheritance once, in March 1959, as the lone beneficiary. 

Even though Donald did not show up for their funeral ceremony. In reality, their cremated ashes were left unclaimed in the Riverview Abbey Mausoleum for nearly a decade until being discovered in December 1969 by an anonymous individual. Donald Martin died in 2003.

Final thoughts

In a nutshell, no evidence has been discovered that would lead to the exact facts of what happened that day when the Martins family disappeared permanently. Regardless of how perplexing the Martin family’s disappearance case is, the mystery remains a mystery.

This strange case is still unsolved and we are yet to see what the mystery shapes out be – Was it a murder? Or a case of homicide?