BERN TWP., Pa. - It's been nearly a half-century since two missing teenage girls from Philadelphia were found murdered in Berks County.
Their identities remained a mystery until last month when modern science allowed authorities to identify the girls as 14-year-old Sandra Stiver and her 17-year-old sister-in-law, Martha.
"Years go by and you just think they're going to come through the door, and they never come," said Tom Stiver, Sandra's brother and Martha's husband, who joined his sister, Hazel Demoss, and their mother, Elizabeth Stiver, for a news conference at the Berks County coroner's office in Bern Township on Monday.
The Stiver family members, who now live in Ohio, never stopped searching for their loved ones, sisters-in-law who vanished together from Philadelphia. Now, they're being reunited after 46 years, accepting Sandra's cremated remains.
"My mom has never stopped wondering," said Demoss, who broke down in tears.
Sandra's body was found on Route 82 in Caernarvon Township in 1968. Officials said she was shot multiple times. Her death was ruled a homicide.
"We were looking in Philly, and they were looking in Kansas. We weren't even in this area," Demos said. "We all lost our children in the mall for a minute or two, and that's how my mother has felt her whole life."
Martha's skeletal remains were found about eight months later in nearby French Creek State Park. The coroner believes she was also murdered.
"You're always looking at somebody on a street corner and you think it's them. You just never forget," said Tom Stiver.
Family members said the girls were last seen talking to someone in a pickup truck in Philadelphia and disappeared together. They filed a missing person's report, but authorities in Berks County said it fell through the cracks. Demoss said they constantly searched through databases for information.
The two girls, then unidentified, were buried in the old potter's field in Cumru Township. Demoss said they came across the Jane Doe's and wondered if it could be their loved ones. Last fall, the coroner exhumed their bodies with the hope of giving some closure to their families.
The girls were positively identified and their families were notified after all these years.
"It's sad news, but it's good news because I'm sure the family always expected them to walk through the door and unfortunately that was never going to happen," said Dennis Hess, the Berks County coroner.
The family plans to give the girls a proper memorial service, but they said this is not closure. They know someone out there knows something about who is responsible, and they're pleading for that someone to come forward.
"It's tough. Someone out there has to come forward," said Tom Stiver.
Anonymous tips can be made to Crime Alert Berks County by calling 877-373-9913. A cash reward is being offered for information that leads to an arrest.
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