Details of Disappearance
Kenneth disappeared with his family: his wife Barbara, and three daughters, Barbie, Susan, 13, and Virginia, 11. The Martins disappeared from their hometown of Portland, Oregon on December 7, 1958. They lived in the 1700 block of northeast 57th Avenue.
They set off that day in their cream and red nine-passenger 1954 Ford station wagon with the license plate number 1G-7156, en route for Columbia Gorge, where they planned to collect greenery to decorate their home for Christmas. They bought gasoline at Cascade Locks late that afternoon. They were seen leaving a restaurant in Hood River, Oregon late in the afternoon, on the way back to Portland. Kenneth was carrying two cameras.
The Martins never arrived home. Everything was left undisturbed at their residence; the previous meal's dishes were draining in the sink, there was a load of wash in the washing machine, and Kenneth's Santa Claus suit was still laid out from a Christmas party he'd been to the night before. They also left a substantial amount of money behind in the family bank accounts.
In February 1959, a searcher discovered tire tracks matching the Martins' vehicle heading off a cliff into the Columbia River, near The Dalles, Oregon. In May of that year, a river drilling rig near the site of the tire tracks hooked something heavy and metal on its anchor. Before the object could be pulled to the surface, it came loose. It may have been the missing Ford.
A couple of days later, Susan and Virginia's bodies were found downstream, near Bonneville Dam. They had both drowned. Photos of the two girls are posted with this case summary. The cause of death could not be determined due to decomposition, but Virginia's body had a hole in the head. Kenneth, Barbara and Barbie's remains have never been recovered.
Police believe all the Martins either perished after they accidentally drove their car into the river, or possibly they were were abducted and were inside their car as it was pushed off the cliff. The only surviving member of the family was the oldest son, Donald, who was in the Navy and stationed in New York at the time of the disappearances. A photo of Donald is posted with this case summary.
Walter Graven, the Multnomah County detective in charge of investigating the Martin case, believed the family met with foul play. It would have been uncharacteristic of Kenneth to leave home at that time of day, as he didn't like driving after dark.
Someone found a bloodstained gun in the Cascade Locks near an abandoned stolen car and turned the gun over to the sheriff's office. The gun was later linked to Donald; he had allegedly stolen it from a sporting goods store several years prior to his family's disappearance. It was never processed for evidence, however.
Graven suspected Donald was involved in his family's disappearance, as he couldn't find anyone else who had motive. Donald had a poor relationship with his family and he didn't come back to Oregon during the search for them, although he did speak Graven over the phone. He didn't attend the memorial service for his family, although he did return to Oregon in June 1959 to settle the estate. He told Graven he couldn't think of anyone who had any reason to hurt his family, but that he also couldn't see how it could have been an accident.
An attempt was made to search the water for additional evidence, but the search was called off when a diver nearly died. No further searches were made and the case was closed. Graven died in 1988 and Donald died in 2003. Kenneth, Barbara and Barbie remain missing.