Prayers answered for kin of 2 teens last seen in Frankford in 1968

Posted: June 10, 2014

THE PHILADELPHIA Police detective's business card sat in Russell Samuel Stiver's wallet for years, long after Stiver left the city, his large family reduced by two.

Once a year, whether he was living in Missouri or Ohio, Stiver would drive his Ford station wagon back to Philly alone, to find out if police or anyone else had seen or heard from his daughter Sandra or daughter-in-law Martha.

One day soon, three of Stiver's children - Hazel, Tom and Patrick - will drive back to Pennsylvania, 46 years after Sandy and Marty went missing. They will return to Ohio with Sandy's remains, and with the hope that they'll be able to bury a lingering question.

"We've been praying and praying for this day for so many years," Hazel Stiver-DeMoss told the Daily News yesterday from her home in Richfield, Ohio. "But we still don't know who did this, who killed them."

The two bodies had been discovered in 1968 and '69 in Berks County, one atop a flat rock in French Creek State Park and another in a patch of poison ivy off Route 82 in nearby Caernarvon Township. Unidentified, they were buried in a potter's grave.

Last week, officials in Berks County said that DNA tests on the bodies confirmed that they were those of Sandra and Martha Stiver.

A sister made the link

Hazel Stiver-DeMoss, who was 9 years old when her sister disappeared, first made the link between her missing family members and the bodies in Berks, while searching through the "Berks County Jane Does" on the Doe Network, a website for missing and unidentified people.

Sandra Stiver, 14, and Martha Stiver, 17, were last seen near the El at Frankford and Kensington avenues in Frankford. It was late spring or early summer, Hazel remembered, because the windows of the family's rowhouse were open at the time.

Hazel said eight children were in the house, all jostling to get their parents' attention and a smidgen of privacy in their one bathroom. She said Sandy had become close with Marty, who had met her brother Tom at a teen dance, gotten pregnant, and later moved with them from Kansas City to Philadelphia, leaving behind her daughter.

"My dad always believed in his heart that she talked my sister into running away to get that baby," Hazel said. "The last thing anyone remembered was that they went to the corner store and didn't come back."

The disappearance haunted Russell Stiver, a painter who had to move the family around for work until he died of cancer in 1974, Hazel said. Their mother, Elizabeth Stiver, is still alive but in poor health in Ohio.

Hazel recalled good times in Philadelphia, her family bonding over glasses of Kool-Aid and board games, and the endless trips in the station wagon, which Russell Stiver would often give a new coat of white paint.

"We were just a poor family," she said, "but we were happy."

According to the Reading Eagle, the Stiver girls ended up in Reading, possibly working at a department store and the Reading Fair in the summer of 1968.

Authorities who discovered Sandy Stiver's body on Aug. 22, 1968, believed she had been shot five times, a week earlier. She was wearing a religious medal that read: "I am a Catholic. In case of emergency, call me a priest."

Marty Stiver's body was found eight months later on April 18, 1969, in French Creek State Park, but authorities believe that she also was killed in August 1968. She was found nude with three teeth missing, a sandal and panties nearby. Authorities were unable to determine the cause of her death but believed it was a homicide.

Investigators thought they had made a break in the case in August 1969, according to the Reading Eagle, when they found pictures of two girls who could have been the "Berks County Jane Does" in an abandoned hangar known to be a biker-gang hangout.

'Everybody was crying'

After the disappearance, Tom Stiver went to Kansas to look for his young wife, his sister said. Meanwhile, Marty's family there went looking for her in Philadelphia, her brother Robert Gard said.

"I know she wanted to come back to Kansas to get her daughter," Gard said. "It hurt us all when she left. She didn't want to move up there. I hung on her shirttails my whole life. Everybody was crying when we loaded up the car and she took off."

Gard, 62, said his parents and siblings died without getting answers, and he'll let Marty's daughter, Samantha, decide what to do with the exhumed remains.

Gard, who chose not to discuss suspicions about the case, said he went to Philadelphia a few times to look for his sister but it was fruitless.

"It's a rough part of town," he said.

Hazel Stiver-DeMoss said the DNA discovery has been a relief for her mother, who guarded her daughters closely after Sandy's disappearance. She said she'll still worry, perhaps a little too much, about her own children and grandchildren, but she can't help it.

"They keep telling me, 'We live in a such a small town,' but I don't care," Stiver-DeMoss said. "I still watch them like hawks."

On Twitter: @JasonNark

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