SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Police in eastern Washington say they have solved the slaying of a 9-year-old girl, 62 years after the crime occurred.
The Spokane Police Department used advanced DNA analysis, forensic genealogy and traditional detective work to name John Reigh Hoff as the killer of young Candice “Candy” Elaine Rogers in 1959. Hoff died in 1970.
“This is kind of the case that’s been the giant log jam for cold cases," Spokane Police Department Major Crimes Detective Zac Storment said during a news conference Friday. '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.”
The case began on March 6, 1959, when Rogers was selling Camp Fire Girls mints in a Spokane neighborhood. She had set out from her home about 4 p.m. and disappeared.
After 16 days of searching, two hunters found Rogers shoes northwest of Spokane. A subsequent search found the girl's body hidden in a pile of pine needles and tree boughs. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.
“It is our hope that at least by solving this case it brings a measure of comfort and closure to the family and to the loved ones in this community as well,” Spokane police Chief Craig Meidl said.
The case went unsolved for six decades, though detectives made progress along the way. More than 40 years after the crime, investigators were able to isolate a DNA sample from body fluids found on Roger's clothing. The testing ruled out one suspect but turned up no matches in a federal database.
As technology improved, the detectives tried again.
“The Candy Rogers DNA was very difficult to crack,” said Storment. “We’d presented it to another lab last year, in 2020, hoping they could do it. They declined it; they declared the DNA too degraded to work.”
Earlier this year, law enforcement officers reached out to another DNA lab that uses forensic genealogy, the Texas-based company Othram. The company was able to build a genealogical profile that helped narrow down to the list of potential suspects to three brothers including Hoff.
When Hoff's daughter learned her father was a suspect, she volunteered to give a sample of her own DNA to help the investigation.
Analysts concluded that it was 2.9 million times more likely that Hoff’s daughter was a genealogical match to the sample found on Rogers’ clothing than a random member of the public would be. Storment then obtained a search warrant to exhume Hoff's body, and subsequent testing allowed police to identify Hoff as Rogers' killer.
Rogers' parents died before the crime was solved.