Martha Jean Lambert Vanished Without a Trace in 1985

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Martha Jean Lambert was born to Howard and Margaret Lambert on March 26, 1973. In the fall of 1985, Martha, 12, was a seventh-grade student at Ketterlinus Junior High School in St. Augustine, Florida. She was considered a trusting and happy girl with a small circle of friends but a not-so-great home life.

Martha lived in a trailer on Kerri Lynn Road in St. Augustine with her parents and two brothers, David Lambert and Raymond Lambert. Her father had alcoholism, and she and her siblings had been previously placed in foster care because of child abuse.

On Thanksgiving Eve, November 27, 1985, Martha and her mother attended a social event at a neighbor’s house. Martha left around 7:30 p.m. to run home but told her mother she would return in about five minutes.

After she left the neighbor’s house, Martha’s whereabouts were unclear. Some reports say that her father was cooking dinner when she got home, and she asked when it would be ready. Martha then left to return to the neighbor’s home. However, she never arrived at the social gathering, and no one has seen her since.

At first, police believed Martha ran away, but investigators found no trace of her during extensive searches. They later concluded she left involuntarily. Her mother never thought Martha had run away; She was sure someone had kidnapped the young girl.

Police interviewed people in Martha’s neighborhood. Some said they saw her walking west along Kerri Lynn Road towards Holmes Avenue the night she disappeared. Others said they saw a suspicious green van driving in the area. They never saw the van again after Martha vanished.

Closer to Home?

Martha Jean Lambert's brother, David Lambert speaking to reporters
David Lambert/Jacksonville.com

Police long suspected her older brother, David, knew more than he was telling. He was 14 when his sister went missing and gave conflicting accounts of the last time he saw his sister.

One time, he said he saw her get into a black vehicle. Another, he said he last saw his sister walking towards Lil’ Champ Convenience Store on State Road 207. She refused to tell him where she was going.

Martha’s mother, now Margaret Pichon, said in 1985 that while searching for her daughter, she saw David laughing for no apparent reason, which always bothered her.

In 2000, authorities arrested David for writing a bad check. At that time, he told police he killed his sister and buried her body at The Pits, a coquina mine on Holmes Boulevard. Police did not charge him because they could not locate Martha’s body or any evidence to support his confession.

In September 2009, he conceded to investigators that he accidentally killed her.

David told sheriff’s detectives Sean Tice and Howard Cole III that it happened while he and his sister played on the then-abandoned Florida Memorial College grounds at S. Holmes Boulevard and W. King Street. The college closed in 1968 and relocated to Miami, but the building was still there, albeit just a shell of one in 1985.

According to David, their parents argued over a burnt Thanksgiving turkey, and the two decided to explore the abandoned college, something they had done on occasion before. Along the way, they stopped at a convenience store to purchase candy.

Once they arrived at the old college, the brother and sister argued over $20, which David refused to give his sister. He said Martha punched him in the face, and he retaliated by pushing her. Martha lost her balance and fell, hitting her head on a piece of metal sticking out of the ground, instantly killing her.

In the police report, Detective Tice wrote (from ABC News):

“D. Lambert stated when he lifted Martha up there was a large hole in the back of her head and blood was pouring out. D. Lambert stated he initially called out for help, hoping that someone would be walking by and hear his cries.” 

David said he panicked and dug a 3-foot hole on the college’s grounds and buried his sister.

The Charley Project reports that “investigators made considerable efforts to find Martha’s body on the land where Florida Memorial College once was, but couldn’t locate any remains.” Investigators have said they do not expect to locate Martha’s remains because the college was demolished and the area completely revamped. 

Police did not make David’s confession public until the following December. Shortly afterward, his mother told the media she did not believe he killed Martha and that David liked to make up stories.

Following Margaret’s statement, David retracted his confession, saying he was mentally incompetent and had a long history of emotional problems. Police believe he killed Martha.

Detective Tice told The St. Augustine Record in 2009, “He was terrified. He was terrified of his Mama. Still is.”

Tice said David was highly emotional during his confession, which is part of why detectives believed him.

Tice also said in January 2010, “We have 23 hours of (interview) video,” he said. “If someone wants to sit down for two or three days and watch it, then have at it. And if you can draw another conclusion, God bless you.”

No charges were filed against David 10 years ago because he was a minor at the time of his sister’s disappearance, and the statute of limitations on manslaughter had expired.

After David’s 2009 confession, local media called it a solved case. However, Martha is still listed as a non-family abduction or runaway with several missing person agencies.

The disappearance ruined the marriage of Martha’s parents. Howard Lambert has since died. Her mother remarried and moved to Danville, Illinois, but later returned to St. Johns County.

In 2010, Margaret said she still spoke with her son regularly and that he lived in Florida, but she would not say where. Raymond Lambert still lives in Florida, too.

True Crime Diva’s Thoughts

Dear Detective Tice, please send me the video of David’s 2009 confession so I can judge for myself. 😁

The fact that David gave two different confessions nine years apart is odd. If he did do it, there should be only one version of what happened and where he buried the body. I’m not sure a 14-year-old boy who just killed his sister would be of sound mind enough to dig a grave and bury the body. I would think he would have just left her there and run away in a panic.

Why did they argue over $20? What did Martha want it for? They had stopped by a convenience store on the way to the abandoned college, so why did she need the $20? He’s never said, so I’m not sure I believe this part. According to him, she slapped him when he refused to give it to her, and then he pushed her. Over $20?

David also gave different accounts of when he last saw her. This is suspicious behavior, no doubt. And then there’s the laughing for no apparent reason after Martha vanished. But none of this is proof he killed Martha. He may have just been one very odd duck.

What’s strange is that Margaret said she last saw Martha at 7:30 p.m. at a social gathering at a neighbor’s house on November 27. She mentioned nothing of a burnt turkey or an argument with Howard. In 2009, David never mentioned his mom and sister being gone at the neighbor’s house. Thanksgiving that year was the day after Martha’s disappearance. David said his parents argued over a burnt turkey the day she disappeared. Well, wouldn’t they have had the turkey ON Thanksgiving Day? It makes sense that the social gathering occurred the night before Thanksgiving, so I believe Margaret’s version of events.

If Margaret is telling the truth, it is possible a stranger abducted Martha or someone known to her as she was walking back home from the social gathering. Kerri Lynn Road is lined with only single- and double-wide trailers, so the income level of the people living there was probably low. In low-income housing, a variety of people reside there, including criminals.

I do think it’s possible David does know more about what happened to his sister, but I’m not sure he killed her. Maybe he’s protecting the person who did. Another family member?

I checked to see if there were other missing girls Martha’s age who disappeared from her area around the same time but didn’t find any.

Sources

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True Crime Diva

I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

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