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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Crime/Public Safety

With Candy Rogers’ killer finally identified, the 9-year-old’s relatives unpack new layers to a grim family legacy

Washington State Patrol forensic technician Brittany Wright, left, who pulled the DNA that helped solve the Candy Rogers case, meets a family member, Emily Evers, on Dec. 17 at the WSP Crime Lab in Cheney.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Washington State Patrol forensic technician Brittany Wright, left, who pulled the DNA that helped solve the Candy Rogers case, meets a family member, Emily Evers, on Dec. 17 at the WSP Crime Lab in Cheney. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

When Spokane police solved the 62-year-old cold case murder of 9-year-old Candice “Candy” Elaine Rogers, it sent a wave of emotions and memories through multiple generations of her family.

One family member recalled her parents and siblings unknowingly living next to Rogers’ murderer before he killed himself at his home.

One of Rogers’ cousins remembered searching for hours for her the night she went missing.

Yet another relative, a 19-year-old Gonzaga University student, said the fact the case was solved largely through DNA analysis nudged her further toward a career in forensic science. The Spokane Police Department announced in November that DNA confirmed John Reigh Hoff, who wasn’t a suspect in the killing until that year, had abducted, raped and strangled Rogers.

Rogers was selling Camp Fire Girls mints when she went missing during the evening of March 6, 1959, in West Central Spokane.

About 3½ miles northwest of Spokane Falls Community College, under a pile of pine needles and brush some 130 feet off Old Trails Road, police found Rogers’ body 16 days later.

“We have a kidnapping of an innocent 9-year-old who was brutally and violently assaulted and murdered,” Spokane Police Chief Craig Meidl said when Hoff’s identity was announced. “A 9-year-old who had absolutely no concept of evil that exists. There are few crimes that are more impactful to a family member than the murder of a loved one.”

The killer next door

Karen Jo Tierney’s parents and two older siblings lived next door to Hoff and his family on West Rosewood Avenue in northwest Spokane for about 1½ years until the 31-year-old man killed himself in 1970 – before Tierney was born. Tierney’s mother, Judy (Geisbush) Tierney, was Rogers’ cousin.

Tierney said they did not know Hoff was the killer until police made the cold case breakthrough in November. Her mother lived in that same Rosewood house until her death in 2015. Now, Tierney lives there with her father.

She said her parents didn’t know Hoff well. Tierney said her brother remembers Hoff’s chemical burn on his face that he sustained working at a Spokane meat packing plant, and that Hoff’s wife wore a lot of makeup.

Tierney said she was told that Hoff’s wife one day in 1970 ran out of the Hoff couple’s house screaming that Hoff had a gun. Tierney said her siblings were outside playing, so her mother called them into the house. Hoff then reportedly shot himself in the doorway of his house, Tierney said.

She said she was told her mother helped clean up the mess from Hoff’s suicide.

Tierney said her mother kept a large scrapbook filled with newspaper clippings of Rogers’ case.

John Geisbush, Rogers’ oldest cousin and Judy Tierney’s brother, said his sister would often show visitors to her Rosewood Avenue home her scrapbook of Rogers. He said he believed Hoff and his wife were shown the scrapbook.

“The guy really probably got his nose rubbed in it without the person who was rubbing his nose in it knowing about it,” Geisbush said. “And maybe that did increase the stresses the guy was having.”

Geisbush, now 78 years old living near Kingston, Washington, said his sister was adamant police would find Rogers’ killer.

“I just thought it was sort of ironic that John (Hoff) lived right next-door to her,” he said.

Tierney said her mom would be “mortified” if she knew Hoff was the killer.

“I guess I thought more of my mom and how close she was to this, and how she would feel about it,” Tierney said through tears.

‘An emotional trip’

Geisbush and Judy Tierney’s twin sister, Joanne Poss, recall receiving the news their cousin was missing.

Geisbush, a 15-year-old Gonzaga Prep student at the time, said his friend and his friend’s father picked him up from his house on East Carlisle Avenue and went looking for Rogers as dozens of others did the night she went missing.

Rogers’ mother notified his mother the evening Rogers disappeared.

“It kind of rattled us a little bit,” Geisbush said.

Geisbush said they searched the Fort George Wright area for four or five hours, deep into the night. There was a light dusting of snow, so he looked for footprints.

He described the volunteers’ search that night as “unguided” and a “free for all.”

Geisbush said he thought Rogers got lost or something, and did not believe she was dead.

“I was extremely hopeful,” he said. “I really was.”

Poss, now 76 and living in Nine Mile Falls, said she was attending a Camp Fire Girls sleepover in Spokane the night Rogers went missing. Poss, who was 13 at the time, said she remembered not being able to sleep that night because she was worried about her cousin.

People continued looking for Rogers in the days that followed.

“The next two weeks was just constant Candy talk,” Poss said.

Poss said she was naïve and did not think anything terrible happened to Rogers during the more than two weeks she was missing. Similar to Geisbush, she figured she got lost or fell and hurt herself.

Poss said she was walking out the door to church when her mother told Poss that Rogers had been found. Poss assumed she was alive. It wasn’t until she returned to church that her mother told her Rogers was dead.

“Things like that just never happened, and if they did happen, they happened in other cities with other people – not to you,” Poss said.

Geisbush said he didn’t remember if he was immediately told the circumstances of her death.

“It’s hard to fathom what Candy went through,” Geisbush said. “She was like most pleasant, laughing, 9-, 10-year-old kids.”

Geisbush said he had never heard of Hoff.

“It was really uplifting,” he said of the case being solved. “Can you imagine, 62 years later, Spokane police were still spending that much effort to find somebody who had done a terrible thing? That was kind of an uplifting thing, that we’re not letting go of it until it’s found.”

Poss said she was shocked when she learned on the news in November that police identified Hoff as Rogers’ killer.

“It brought back terrible, terrible emotions,” Poss said.

She said she figured the cold case would never be solved, despite their prayers.

Poss said she was active in Camp Fire Girls for years, and Rogers was often a topic of conversation.

“I lived it every candy sale and thought of what had happened,” she said.

Poss said her daughter made phone calls after hearing the newscast, and within 15 minutes, Sgt. Zac Storment, a detective with Spokane police’s Major Crimes Unit, called and profusely apologized to her and her immediate family for them finding out about Rogers’ killer from a news station.

She said Storment told her he did not know she existed and he visited her house that day for over two hours, walking her and other family members through the case.

“It’s been an emotional trip,” she said.

A new chapter in a family tragedy

Emily Evers, Rogers’ third cousin, was born 43 years after Rogers’ death.

But the Gonzaga biology student said Poss, Evers’ grandmother, told her Rogers’ story multiple times, partially as a warning to her and her siblings to be careful.

She said it was a relief to hear the news that Rogers’ killer had been identified.

It was also inspiring.

“I think when I heard about Candy’s case and how it was solved completely with just DNA sequencing, that really inspired me a lot to look into it more,” Evers said of forensic science.

Evers toured the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in Cheney Dec. 17 and met Brittany Wright, a forensic scientist at the lab who concluded three months ago that Hoff’s DNA matched the DNA pulled from Rogers’ clothing.

“I can’t imagine how much hard work and dedication she put into solving this to help not just my family, but everyone else, because it’s such an important case in the Spokane community,” Evers said. “It’s very inspiring.”

Evers said she wants to apply for an internship at the Cheney lab, and while she is strongly considering working as a forensic scientist, she is still undecided on her career. She graduated high school at 16 years old, is in her junior year at Gonzaga and in her first semester in the school’s Army ROTC program. Her father served as a U.S. Army colonel before retiring after 26 years of service.

She said she always enjoyed learning about science throughout her schooling.

“Going into college, working in labs, I would put in my ear buds, listen to music and just have the time of my life in the lab,” she said. “I know I want to use my skills and abilities in science to help other people, and that’s why I know I want to pursue something in biology, because it’s something I’m so passionate about and I’ve just always enjoyed.”

Evers said caring for others is an important value in her family and something she plans to integrate into whatever her career turns out to be.

“We all just really care about the community and are very protective over our loved ones, and just have a really strong sense of loyalty and service,” Evers said. “And I think that’s what kind of draws me to biological forensics and DNA analysis, because Spokane is just something that I’ve grown up really caring for and everyone in my family has grown up really caring for, and I don’t want to see anybody else hurt … That’s one of the most painful things about Candy’s case, is that the man who hurt her could have hurt other people, too.”

Poss said her hope is to create a scholarship at Gonzaga in Rogers’ name. It would ideally be presented to a science student, hopefully to an individual pursuing a career in forensic science, she said.

In the meantime, Poss said her daughter is working with the Spokane Parks Department about putting something at the West Central Community Center in Rogers’ name.

“Now that it’s over,” Poss said, “I don’t want her forgotten.”

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