A bright future, Brutal End
By Walton Golightly
In 1938, Margaret Martin was 19 years old. Friends described her as ‘a shy, studious, friendly girl who had many friends’. She had just graduated with honours from a business college in Kingston, Pennsylvania, and was eager to secure a job. Therefore, she was happy when, on December 17, a man contacted her, saying he was setting up an insurance company and needed a secretary. He had, he added, heard of her through the business college. The two agreed to meet in Kingston Corners, not far from Martin’s home. Later that Saturday morning, Margaret – or at least a woman who matched her description – was seen climbing into a brown Plymouth or black sedan after a brief conversation with a ‘sandy haired, slightly overweight’ man.
If the woman was indeed Margaret, it was the last time anyone saw her alive. When she hadn’t arrived home by that evening, her parents called the police. The subsequent search was hampered by the fact that the local press was on strike at the time, meaning her disappearance couldn’t be widely publicised. Four days later, Anthony Rezykoski and Stanley Shalkoski (both 19) were out hunting muskrat in the woods of Wyoming County, Pennsylvania, some 40km north-west of Kingston. 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, brutalised 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. She had been beaten – probably with a rock – and strangled. She had bruises on her throat and body, as well as knife wounds on her stomach and thigh. Authorities believed she was tortured and murdered at a disused sawmill about 24km from the creek. They reckoned the murderer planned to dismember the body and destroy it in the mill’s firebox, but was spooked by the mill’s owner, who visited the place regularly to scare off trespassers.
On Christmas Eve, Margaret’s family held an evening funeral service for their daughter. Hundreds of community members gathered for the service, along with plainclothes police officers who hoped to spot someone acting suspiciously in the crowd. Nothing came from their surveillance. In fact, apart from the eyewitness accounts of her (possibly) getting into the car, the police had little to go on. 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,” notes crime writer Elisabeth Tilstra.
In September 1942, Orban Taylor of New York City confessed to Martin’s murder, among other crimes. However, his confession was proven to be false after 10 hours of questioning. More recently, it’s been suggested Margaret was the victim of a serial killer just ‘passing through’ the area – but how would he have known to contact her and mention the business college? In 1999, Luzerne County District Attorney Peter Paul Olszewski told the local press that, even with modern criminal investigation methods and forensic techniques, it was unlikely that the identity of Martin’s killer would ever be discovered.