46 years later, Oakland haunted by slayings
46 years later, Oakland haunted by slayings
By Angela Hill
Posted: 01/28/2010 01:12:14 PM PST
Updated: 01/28/2010 02:40:03 PM PST
Mrs Betty Martin, on the day she was proclaimed Mother of the Year, with her family behind her:...
OAKLAND — An unusual prayer about a murder mystery was sent up during the morning worship service at Oakland's First Presbyterian Church last Sunday.
Many in the congregation likely didn't know what it was about, too young to recall the events to which it referred. After all, it has been nearly a half-century — 46 years this month — since the bizarre double murder of beloved church members Betty Martin and her daughter Carolyn shocked the city Jan. 22, 1964, becoming one of Oakland's most notorious cold cases of the 20th century.
"It's been a very long time, but it's still important," said the Rev. Jack Shriver, First Presbyterian's interim pastor. "They were human beings, and regardless of the time that has passed, it's still something that should be resolved. I want to encourage people to pray for the family and for the resolution of the case."
Oakland homicide detectives say there may indeed be a glimmer of hope in identifying the suspect, thanks to current DNA technology being applied to old evidence. But they caution it's still too soon in the forensic process to reveal their findings.
In the meantime, those who remember the case await results with bated breath. Jeri Sulley was 16 at the time of the slayings and knew the Martins through church activities, often working with Carolyn in the Sunday school. Sulley, who now lives on the Peninsula, requested Sunday's prayer to recognize the anniversary.
"A lot of the people who were teenagers at the time (of the murders) are applying for Social Security now," Sulley said. "We'd really like to have the answer to this mystery. To this day, it absolutely horrifies me."
To be sure, it was an appalling crime. Not just a domestic spat or a robbery gone wrong, but a bizarre tale worthy of a "CSI" episode: the midday killing of the women in their home with no sign of forced entry, no obvious motive; the unusual way their bodies were bound and posed.
Residents feared a serial killer was on the loose, and detectives flew in from other parts of the country exploring whether the case was linked to horrific crimes in their towns, such as those of the Boston Strangler. There was a prime suspect — a young acquaintance of Carolyn's — but never enough evidence to arrest him, much less convict. So the case went cold.
By all accounts, the Martins were a model family, well-known and highly respected in the community. Frank Martin was a doctor of osteopathic medicine with an office in downtown Oakland. He sang in the choir at First Presbyterian, and with the Oakland Orpheus men's choir. Betty, 43, was a church elder, served as part of a women's group of Bay Area churches and had been the intercultural head of the Oakland Council of Church Women. In 1963, the energetic, petite brunette was named Oakland's Mother of the Year for her civic and church work.
The Martins' two daughters were attractive, refined girls. Both also brunette. They looked like twins despite being two years apart. Carolyn, 18, a student at Chico State hoping to earn a teaching credential, was said to be a good student, and popular — back at Oakland High, she had been a member of the rally committee, was a candidate for homecoming queen and was in the drama class. Susan, 16, was also popular, holding the much-coveted post of song girl, leading student-body pep rallies. Both daughters had steady boyfriends.
The Martins' home on Ashmount Avenue in Oakland's upscale Crocker Highlands district, just a stone's throw from the Piedmont border, was always kept in immaculate condition. A black grand piano was the centerpiece in the living room. The family had a small black-and-white dog named T.D.
Jan. 22 began as an average day. It was a Wednesday, cold and a little damp. Frank Martin left for his office, dropping Susan off at school on the way. Carolyn was on winter break from Chico and had arrived home the previous night. Without much going on, she and her mother decided to take T.D. to the SPCA clinic near the airport for his distemper shot. At 9:45 a.m., workers confirmed the dog got the shot, and the women left a few minutes later. With no stops, they likely returned home about 10:20 a.m., police estimated.
The killer may have been waiting, perhaps near the door, pushing his way in as they entered. Or, as police later came to believe, the women likely knew their killer, and let him in.
About 5:30 p.m., Susan came home after song-girl practice and found them there, lying close together on the living room floor, not far from the grand piano. Face down. Strangled. Dead. Their hands and legs were tied behind them in an odd fashion — one with silk stockings and the other with an electrical cord yanked from a nearby lamp. Betty was dressed, except for one shoe. Carolyn's shoes had been removed, her blouse and stretch pants ripped off and flung about the room, and she had been raped. The little dog, T.D., sat forlornly near the bodies.
Nothing had been stolen. Neighbors saw nothing, heard nothing. There was evidence, though. Blood and semen. Dozens of officers were assigned to the case, and for at least six months, four detectives worked solely on the crime. Out of more than 3,000 people interviewed, one young man stood out as a suspect, a student at UC Berkeley who knew Carolyn. But with no DNA technology, police could not firmly connect him to the slayings. The last hint of a lead came in 1979 when a mentally ill man in Walnut Creek claimed, falsely, to have knowledge of the killings.
Frank Martin lived in the same house for many years after the slayings. He died in 1991. Sue Martin's current place of residence is unknown.
Sulley still calls Oakland detectives now and then, hoping to keep the case in their thoughts, and see if they've reached any conclusions.
"I know they have a long list of murders they're working on," she said. "But I wish they could solve this one and put it to rest. I don't want to think about it anymore."
Oakland investigators still welcome calls from anyone who might have information on the case. Call 510-238-3821.
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