It was 1938 in Kingston, Pennsylvania, and Margaret Martin was 19 years old. She had just graduated Wilkes-Barre Business College with honors and was eager to secure a secretarial job. In fact, it was the promise of an interview that led to her meeting with a strange man on the morning of December 17. While his identity remains unknown, it is believed that this “sandy haired, slightly overweight” figure was Margaret Martin’s killer.
Leaving her home on Saturday morning, Margaret—or at least a woman who matched her description—was seen climbing into a brown Plymouth or black sedan. Aside from the details mentioned above, no concrete description ever surfaced of the man behind the wheel, and no one noted the car’s license plate number. If the woman entering the car was indeed Margaret, it would be the last time anyone saw her alive.
Later that evening, Margaret failed to return home from her appointment. Her parents called the police and reported her missing. Sadly, the local press was on strike that winter, meaning many in the community remained unaware of Margaret’s disappearance.
Four days later, 19-year-old Anthony Rezykoski was out hunting muskrat in the woods of Wyoming County, Pennsylvania some 25 miles northwest of Kingston. His friend, Stanley Shalkoski, 19, accompanied him. Crossing a creek, the pair noticed a lumpy, burlap sack floating in the water below the bridge. Using a stick, they prodded the parcel, until they uncovered what it held: The naked and brutalized body of a young woman.
An autopsy confirmed that the body was Margaret Martin. She had been dead for at least 24 hours before the hunters found her, and her body showed signs of torture and sexual assault before death. Authorities believed that the murder took place at a nearby mill; likely, the murderer planned to dismember the body and destroy it in the mill’s firebox, but was spooked by the mill’s owner, who had recently scared off a trespasser.
On Christmas Eve, Margaret’s family held an evening funeral service for their deceased daughter. Hundreds of community members gathered for the service, along with plainclothes police officers who hoped to spot the peculiar actions of Margaret’s killer among the crowd. Nothing came from their surveillance. In fact, no major leads in the Margaret Martin case ever surfaced.
Locals exchanged theories as to the identity of the murderer. Their suspects included Wyoming County’s mortician, a teacher at the technical college where Margaret had studied, a local assistant pastor, and a teenager who had had a crush on the young woman. Without evidence, however, such theories remained hearsay.
Pennsylvania authorities never close the cold cases in their archives. Unsolved homicides are reopened and reviewed annually. Nevertheless, Margaret’s is a case that has cooled significantly since the murder first shocked the community nearly 80 years ago. Police are skeptical that her killer will ever be caught, if he is even still alive.
All photos: Wikimedia Commons