November 23, 2021
On the evening of March 6, 1959, nine-year-old Candy Rogers went missing from her Spokane, Washington neighborhood while out selling campfire mints to raise money for her Girl Scout group. She had attended school that day as usual and came home to play with her dog before heading out to sell candy in the area. When she did not return home after sundown, her worried family reported her missing and began searching for the child. Candy's mother, along with her grandfather and friends living in the neighborhood searched high and low but found only boxes of mints spilled across the ground in the area she had been canvassing. Over one thousand volunteers joined the search Candy Rogers over the course of the following two weeks, to no avail.
Nobody would ever see her alive again and her disappearance left the people of Spokane feeling unsafe and paranoid, afraid to let their children walk to and from school alone or play in the local parks.
Sixteen days after Candy went missing two pilots out hunting in the woods several miles from the missing girl’s home discovered a pair of children’s shoes. Suspicious that the shoes could be linked to Candy’s case, they made a report to police that night that eventually led to the discovery of Candy's body, naked and concealed under a layer of leaves and pine needles.
She had been kidnapped and raped before being strangled to death with her own clothing. Police carefully collected and preserved DNA that the killer had left behind on the child’s body, a move that would aid future detectives in solving the case six decades later.
Suspects were questioned and polygraphed over the years, but the case remained cold.
One of the main suspects was a serial killer named Hugh Bion Morse.
Raised in a violent and abusive household in Kansas City, Morse went on to join the Marine Corps as soon as he was able. He began to commit crimes in his early twenties and was dishonorably discharged after being convicted of indecent exposure charges and assaults in North Carolina. He continued his life of crime against women, leaving behind a string of rapes, assaults, and murders as he tore through the country. He even resided in Spokane, Washington, leaving abruptly when the news that Candy Roger's body had been found- a fact that seemed too uncanny to be coincidence. Morse also had a thing for grape flavor bubble gum, which was said to be chewing near constantly. Grape bubble gum was found on Candy Rogers sweater. Morse also strangled his female victims. These similarities and coincidences lead investigators to believe that he was a fit for the crime, however, DNA testing would later eliminate him as Candy's killer.
Announcements were made this week naming Candy Rogers killer, a now deceased man named John Reigh Hoff. Hoff committed suicide in 1970 at the age of thirty and was never brought to justice. At the time of the murder, he would have been around 20 years old and lived in the same area as the victim. Two years after kidnapping, raping, and murdering 9-year-old Candy Rogers, Hoff was convicted of second degree-assault with intent to rob and given six months in prison. The crime involved a female victim whom he stripped, bound, and strangled but did not kill. She survived the attack and went on to give evidence against him. John Hoff had enrolled in the military at the age of seventeen, at one point serving in Korea. He was dishonorably discharged after being convicted of the crime.
After being discharged from the army and labelled a deserter, Hoff became a door-to-door salesperson, selling cutlery sets to unsuspecting potential clients- a harrowing thought considering his history of burglary, violence towards women and sexual assaults.
Investigators were alerted to the identity of the killer after submitting the DNA sample from the crime scene to a lab in Texas earlier this year. The specimen was entered into a genealogy database linking the sample to three potential family members. From there, investigators were able to track down the killer’s daughter, who willingly provided a sample of her own DNA. Hoff's body was exhumed and a sample was taken from his remains to test against that of Candy's killer- it was a match.
Although investigators were relieved to finally identify Candy’s killer and officially close the case after a long 62 years, they admitted it was difficult to inform Hoff’s wife and children that their father was not the man they thought he was.
Although investigators are unsure if Hoff knew Candy before he harmed her and took her life, there was a connection- Hoff's stepsister who was just ten years old in 1959 was enrolled in the same youth program as Candy. She had even served as Candy's mentor since she was a year older. John Hoff's stepsister, who is still living and was recently interviewed by police, recalled a chilling memory of crying at the news of Candy's murder while her killer sat next to her in the same room and said nothing.
Cathie Hoff said of her father: “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. And now I think, no, he was evil. 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.”
November 16, 2021