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'We'll remember her for her': Families impacted by Candy Rogers' murder hope to name Spokane playground in her honor

Cathie Baird, the daughter of the man believed to have killed Candy Rogers in 1959, is speaking out in hopes of naming a West Spokane playground

SPOKANE, Wash. — Police say John Reigh Hoff killed a young girl more than 60 years ago, and now Hoff's daughter is working with that girl's family to make sure she is never forgotten.

The disappearance and death of Candy Rogers was the oldest cold case in the state of Washington. It remained unsolved for more than six decades before Spokane Police announced they'd found her killer in 2021.

Candy went missing on March 6, 1959, while selling Campfire mints in her west Spokane neighborhood. After 16 days of searching, two airmen from Fairchild were hunting off Old Trails Road, northwest of Spokane, and found Rogers' shoes on March 21, 1959. 

That same day, her body was found. 

Spokane police said they never stopped investigating her death. Ultimately, cutting-edge DNA technology led them to John Reigh Hoff. He was 20 years old at the time of Candy's death and lived less than a mile away from her.

Hoff committed suicide 11 years after Candy's murder, but at the time, no one knew of his involvement in her death.

His daughter, Cathie Baird, was just nine years old at the time.

"I was actually the age of Candy when my dad died," she said. "So I didn't have, you know, like when you grow up, you have your relationship like I have with my mom. I never had that with him."

Baird is the one who helped solve Candy's murder after police approached her asking for a DNA sample and permission to exhume Hoff's body. She was with her own daughter, Nicole Akers, when detectives confirmed the results: her father murdered Candy Rogers.

"I was shocked," Akers said. "I think we hugged each other and cried."

"It's horror and disbelief," Baird added. " That that could be someone you knew, and that you actually even love."

Baird said the last year has been a great reckoning of who her father was, and who he wasn't.

"You still carry a sense of responsibility for all the pain and the hurt that it caused. And you know you have to get to that point where you can heal and you can realize it wasn't me," she said. "I carry great feeling about what he did to that family. That will not change, but I can only offer them and let them know how I feel."

That feeling is why Baird says she is why she is now speaking out with support from Candy's family, including Candy's cousin, Joanne Poss.

Poss was just 13 when Candy was killed.

The two families have become unlikely friends, but their connection goes beyond healing. They're now working together to remember Candy at A.M. Cannon Park in West Central Spokane.

The families are asking the city Parks Board to have the park's playground named in Candy's honor, including Poss’s son Joe.

"At that moment in time when she disappeared, an entire community mobilized to try to find her," Joe Poss said. "And when they weren't successful, groups of people came forward and mobilized to establish a crime lab in Spokane that we didn't have. And then for decades, civil servants, people took it upon their own time to pursue justice and to find and try to solve the case."

Although Poss said it's easy to get stuck in the tragedy of Candy's death, the family believes it’s an opportunity to tell the complete story of how Candy’s case inspired the Spokane community. 

They chose A.M. Cannon Park because it’s right across the street from where Candy grew up.

"She could have been a member of this community, and done great things," Joanne added. "So let's use her name and remember the good things."

Sara Ferris of Spokane's influential Ferris family is also joining in the families' effort to name the park after Candy. She said it's important for the community to remember Candy's legacy because it changed the city forever.

Ferris was also a Campfire girl at the time Candy was killed.

"Everything changed the night she went missing," Ferris said. "She made us more aware of safety, which is something we never considered. It really started with Candy."

Ferris has also written a letter to the Spokane Parks Board urging them to approve the Candy Rogers Memorial Playground.

"We won't remember her for a tragic event. We'll remember her for her," she said. "Even in the darkest of circumstances, there's always a light and Candy was a light."

Together, they’re all hoping city leaders will choose to remember Candy's legacy, and that Spokane families will be reminded to talk with their children about staying safe.

The decision to officially name the playground is currently in the hands of the Spokane Parks Lands Committee. Once they make a recommendation, it will go to the Parks Board for a final decision.

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