RENO, Nev. — At 3 pm on Sunday, June 28, 1987, 11-year-old Jennifer Lee Martin purchased candy and a six-pack of Coca Cola at a 7-Eleven Convenience Store on Lemmon Drive in Reno, Nevada. She walked out of the store, headed toward her nearby home, and vanished into thin air.
Jennifer resided at 145 Surge Street in Reno, just around the corner from the 7-Eleven. The walk home should have taken her less than five minutes.
Neighborhood children reported seeing Jennifer at the entrance to the park.
Jennifer’s older brother, Charles Martin, then aged 19, gave her the money to buy the Coca Cola plus a little extra to get herself something.
Twenty minutes went by, and Jennifer had not returned home. Charles went to the convenience store but could not find her.
Store clerk Dee Fuemmeler said she recognized Jennifer because the girl frequently visited the store. Jennifer made her purchases and then walked out of the store. Dee saw her walk left toward home and did not see anyone else outside.
At the time, a customer in the store had asked for directions, but the police ruled him out in Jennifer’s disappearance.
Witnesses saw a light-colored Toyota Corolla that police could not identify.
Jennifer’s older sister, Colleen Martin, 35 years old at the time of her disappearance, said in 2012 that Jennifer was not intimidated by adults and would not have willingly left with a stranger. She had no history of running away.
There are a couple of other cases similar to Jennifer Lee Martin’s disappearance.
Four years before the disappearance of Jennifer Lee Martin, 10-year-old Anthony “Tony” Franko vanished from the same area of Reno.
On Monday, May 9, 1983, Tony’s mother, Liza Yendell (now Ackerman), helped him get ready for school and asked if she could take his 4-H ribbon to work to show her coworkers.
During the weekend, Tony had shown his rabbits, Buck Rogers and Samantha, and his pony, Pepper. He did an excellent job answering questions and won a big blue ribbon.
Liza left for work in downtown Reno. Her husband, Tom Yendell, had just returned home from working the graveyard shift at his job. He heard Tony shut the door on his way to Lemmon Valley Elementary School, half-mile away.
Tony never arrived at school. Witnesses saw him leaning over and talking to an unknown subject in either a Ford Pinto or Chevy Camaro at the southern end of a cul-de-sac on Fremont Street. Tony should have walked north on Fremont to get to school.
Police said it wasn’t uncommon for kids to visit the 7-Eleven before school – the same 7-Eleven Jennifer Lee Martin visited before her disappearance.
Tony Franko ran away from home a month before his disappearance but had left a note for his mother. Tony took some food and dishes with him. He returned within a few hours, telling Liza that he was sorry and would never run away again.
Authorities did not search for Tony until a week after his disappearance because they assumed he had run away again, even though he left no note and did not take any personal belongings with him.
Tom Yendell took and passed a lie detector test, and police ruled him out as a suspect.
While authorities have not linked the two disappearances together, they both vanished within a short distance from one another.
Jennifer Lee Martin’s disappearance is eerily similar to the Cortney Clayton case I previously wrote.
Cortney, 7, disappeared in September 1988 after leaving a convenience store in Stamford, Texas. Her older brother, Ryan, arrived at the store shortly after, but Cortney was gone.
Cortney’s remains were found in March 1989, but her killer was never caught.
While Jennifer was 11 years old, she appeared much younger due to her small frame. It is possible her abductor mistook her for a younger child.
Could these two cases be connected, even though they are a long distance from one another? The answer is yes.
A man who passed away in 2012 was linked to a 1974 abduction and murder in Montana and one attempted kidnapping in New York in 1973. Authorities believe that Richard William Davis, who died in 2012, might have other victims across the U.S.
Between 1971 and 1990, several children and young women were murdered in Reno. All of the cases listed below are unsolved except for the Lisa Bonham case and possibly the Julie Woodward case.
Gloria Crummett, 16, was found dead on July 26, 1971, near Lemmon Valley. She had been reported missing on July 16.
Lisa Bonham, 6, was raped and murdered in Reno in 1977. Police arrested her killer in 2000 after DNA linked him to the crime.
Julia Woodward, 20, was found dead on March 25, 1979, in the hills near Lemmon Valley. She had been en route from the San Francisco airport to seek employment in the South Lake Tahoe area. In 2019, a man was charged with Julie’s murder, but her case is still listed with Reno’s unsolved crimes.
Sherry Harbeke, 20, was last seen in April 1979. Her badly decomposed remains were found on June 5, 1979, under a mattress behind the Black Springs Bar along North Virginia Street in North Reno.
Jeannie Smith, 17, was last seen at the Circus-Circus Hotel in Reno on October 28, 1979. Her remains were found in Lemmon Valley a few days later. She died from blunt force trauma.
Karin Santons-Coy, 19, was found dead along Red Rock Road, north of Reno, on July 10, 1980. She was last seen talking to two white males at the Reno Rodeo on June 28, 1980.
Cindy Cook, 16, was found dead on January 25, 1981, north of Reno. She was last seen hitchhiking from her Lemmon Valley home to an arcade at the Lemmond Valley shopping center.
Charles Chia, 8, and his sister, Jennifer Chia, 6, disappeared from southwest Reno after exiting their school bus to walk the short distance to their home in the Timber Hills apartment complex on October 18, 1989. Their remains were found a few months later next to Highway 70 in Plumas County, California.
Monica DaSilva, 7, was abducted from her bedroom on September 3, 1990. Her remains were found three weeks later.
True Crime Diva’s Thoughts
Jennifer Lee Martin was last seen outside the entrance of the mobile home park where she resided. Whoever took her might have lived there. Maybe she knew him.
There is also the possibility of a family member harming Jennifer, but I don’t think that is the case here.
I think Jennifer’s case is probably related to some of the other Reno cases mentioned above. Even though her case is not likely connected to Cortney Clayton’s, I felt it was worth mentioning, nonetheless. They are so similar, it makes me wonder.
Jennifer and Tony Franko vanished in close proximity to one another and they were the same ages.
Some of the victims listed above were last seen in Lemmon Valley where Jennifer and Tony were abducted.
In Lisa Bonham’s murder, Stephen Robert Smith was arrested and convicted in 2000. He lived in the Reno-Sparks area. I do not believe Lisa was his only victim and neither do the authorities.
Smith was a registered sex offender who was paroled 10 months before he abducted and killed Lisa. He basically got away with her murder for 23 years, so there must be other victims.
Sources: The Charley Project, Reno Gazette-Journal, and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Department.