Oakland Junior Commerce Mother of the Year awards ceremony; May 12th, 1963.
The woman of the hour is 43-year-old Mary Elizabeth Martin, Betty to her friends, chairwoman of the Oakland Council of Church Women and a tireless fundraiser for First Presbyterian Church.
Mrs. Martin is the loving wife of Dr. Francis Martin, a prominent osteopath,
and mother of two beautiful daughters, Carolyn, age 18, and Susan, age 16.
The Martins are a model family—well-known and -loved within the community—but then as now an absence of enemies confers no immunity from murder.
1963’s Mother of the Year will not survive her reign;
within nine months both Mrs. Martin and her daughter Carolyn will be dead.
The Martin residence, June 20th, 1963.
Located at 1140 Ashmount Avenue in Oakland’s tony Crocker Heights,
the twelve-room mansion is as polished and tasteful as the Martin family themselves.
Although the décor is mid-century traditional—the home’s sunken living room features marble accents and a full-size grand piano—a decidedly unconventional crime is in progress.
A burglar has entered the residence by unknown means;
bypassing the family’s valuables, in a few moments he will slip away with a most unusual booty—three nightgowns, two dresses, a quantity of lingerie and a ladies’ watch.
The theft of a timepiece is à propos, because for Carolyn and Mrs. Martin, the clock is ticking.
The Martin residence, January 22nd, 1964.
The telephone operator logs the frantic call at 5:50pm: “I think my mother and sister are dead!”
Susan Martin has returned home from pep squad practice and stumbled upon the unimaginable.
Side by side on the living room carpet lay the battered, strangled bodies of her mother and sister.
Both have been bizarrely trussed,
Carolyn with her silk stockings tied end-to-end,
Mrs. Martin with a seven-foot extension cord torn from a nearby lamp.
both corpses have one leg hoisted in the air via a ligature wrapped around a big toe (Carolyn’s left, Mrs. Martin’s right, according to most sources).
Fastened with simple overhand knots, the bindings appear to be a foot fetish-friendly attempt at hogtying:
both women’s wrists have been lashed behind their backs,
their arm and leg bindings connected to a slipknot neck garrote designed to tighten at the first sign of struggle.
Although similarly bound, the victims’ states of dress diverge:
Carolyn is nude and barefoot, her stretch pants, blouse and undergarments ripped from her body—the medical examiner will later conclude she has been raped.
Mrs. Martin is fully attired in a dress and light coat; only her footwear—some sources say only a single shoe—has been removed.
Although both victims have been beaten Mrs. Martin sports a particularly large gash on her forehead;
a broken, blood-spattered marble ashtray, 6” by 6” square, is resting on the floor near her head.
The Martins’ dog, a black and white Pekinese-mix named Touchdown, waits near his mistresses’ bodies, unharmed.
Violent crime was an anathema in Crocker Heights,
and the law enforcement response to the Martin murders was torrential;
crime scene technicians descended upon the home strewing fingerprint powder like pixie dust,
doggedly searching for clues.
Prints found on the bloody marble ashtray were too smeared to be of use,
but numerous quality prints—specific locus unknown—were found inside the residence.
The scene bore no signs of forced entry or indications of theft—the purses of both mother and daughter were left,
cash intact, on a kitchen counter.
Fingerprints aside, the only forensic finding of note was a small piece of metal, possibly a pen or tie clip,
mashed into the living room carpet.
The last known hours of mother and daughter were routine.
Carolyn, a sophomore at Chico State, had arrived home for winter break the evening before the murders—her suitcase, only half unpacked, still sits on a dresser in her bedroom.
On the morning of the crime Dr. Martin departed early as always, dropping his younger daughter Susan at Oakland High en route to his downtown office.
The final sighting of Carolyn and Mrs. Martin occurred at 9:45am at a local veterinarian’s office—Touchdown (referred to as “TD” in some sources) received a distemper vaccination.
After departing the pet clinic the activities of mother and daughter slip into the realm of conjecture.
If they had driven home directly—a reasonable assumption given the lack of subsequent sightings—the victims would have arrived home at approximately 10:20am.
Mrs. Martin’s gloves were found near her body,
indicating she lacked time to tuck them into her pockets or purse—investigators therefore believe the women were attacked immediately upon entering the residence.
Since the medical examiner would later affix their time of death as sometime between noon and 4pm,
a substantial time gap between the slayings and the initial attack is probable;
as Captain Alvin King told a Eureka Humboldt Standard reporter, “It’s possible the killer merely stunned his victims [initially] and then toyed with them like a cat with a mouse before strangling them.”
Detectives launched a classic two-pronged homicide investigation,
some officers rousting local sex offenders while others fanned out among the Martins’ friends and acquaintances.
Dr. Martin was quickly cleared from suspicion—his patients and staff vouched for his presence in his office all day.
Hundreds of potential suspects, pillars of the community and vagrants both,
were grilled to no avail.
Investigators teletyped other jurisdictions in search of similar slayings—the unidentified fingerprints from the Martin home were compared against those of the (still-at-large) Boston Strangler and the (never apprehended) killer of Karyn Kupcinet.
There was no match.
Detectives were unable to find any crimes with the specific signature of the Martins’ slayer—his toe-looped ligatures were unique—but Oakland did have one other bondage murder in 1964:
Oral Kenneth Lundell, age 46, strangled on December 28th, eleven months after the Martins.
Mr. Lundell, an electrical design engineer at Nuclear Research Instruments, was found by his male roommate on the bedroom floor of their duplex apartment—he’d been traditionally hogtied with a long leather belt,
his fuzzy slippers placed neatly at his side.
Due to the differences in victimology investigators were ultimately disinclined to consider the crimes linked;
like the Martin murders, the slaying of Mr. Lundell remains unsolved.
In the five decades since the Martin murders there has been only a single (minor) person of interest in the crime:
a Berkeley University student known to Carolyn.
Although investigators had no physical evidence tying the student to the murders he piqued the interest of Oakland Detective Jack Richardson.
“It was his own mouth; he said some things,” the retired investigator told the East Bay Times.
Detective Richardson went undercover as a Berkeley student for a week,
sitting near the person of interest hoping to overhear an admission, but the sting was a bust.
Authorities have never revealed precisely what the Berkeley student said or why it was deemed incriminating,
and he is reportedly now deceased.
Despite the passage of time the Oakland Police Department is still intent on solving the Martin murders—the physical evidence is periodically resubmitted for crime lab testing,
although authorities have never revealed whether a DNA profile of the assailant has been developed
and entered into CODIS.
The “Mother of the Year Murders” were sensational in their day;
more than fifty years later the media ardor has cooled but still Oakland investigators persevere,
struggling to provide Carolyn and Mrs. Martin the justice that has so long eluded them.
If the Martins’ killer is still alive—ensconced amid stacks of lingerie and back issues of Foot Fancy magazine, I’m sure—I hope his next shoe-related experience is the clomping sound of police footsteps as detectives arrive at his door to arrest him.
Failing that a swift kick in the ass with a stiletto heel wouldn’t do him any harm either.