The Federal Bureau of Investigation is asking for the public’s help in solving the 45-year-old disappearance of 14-year-old Margaret Ellen Fox. The young girl disappeared after leaving her home in Burlington, New Jersey on June 24, 1974. The suspected kidnapper’s voice was recorded when he called her family and demanded a ransom. “$10,000 is a lot of bread, but your daughter’s life is the buttered topping,” he said. The recording can be heard here.
On June 24, 2019, the 45th anniversary of Margaret’s disappearance, the FBI’s forensic lab in Quantico, Virginia released the enhanced version of the kidnapper’s taped telephone call along with age-progressed images of what Margaret would look like now at ages 49 and 56. A $25,000 reward is being offered. Anyone with information about the case is asked to contact the FBI at (973) 792-3000 or the Burlington City Police Department at (609) 386-0262, extension 211.
At the time of her disappearance, Margaret has brown hair and blue eyes. At the time of her disappearance, she was 5’ 2” and weighed 105 pounds. Two of Margaret’s top front right teeth were missing.
Margaret was last seen dressed in a light blue floral blouse that was squared at the top and flared at the waist, and maroon jeans with a yellow patch on the knee and flared at the bottom. She was also wearing a white and black or blue checkered jacket and brown sandals with heel straps. Margaret wore glasses with hexagonal lenses, a gold necklace with flowers and a blue stone and a gold charm bracelet that also had a blue stone.
Here’s what you need to know about Margaret Ellen Fox’s disappearance.
1. Margaret Disappeared after Accepting a Babysitting Job
On June 19, Margaret and her cousin put an ad in the local paper advertising for summer babysitting jobs. A man claiming his name was John Marshall responded to the ad and told her that he and his wife lived in the nearby community of Mount Holly and needed someone to care for their five-year-old son each day from 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. He offered to pay Margaret $40 a week plus morning bus fare and said that either he or his wife would bring her back home between 2 p.m.-2:30 p.m. Margaret’s father, David Fox, also spoke to Marshall on the phone to make sure his daughter would be in good hands.
Margaret and Marshall initially agreed that she would start working on June 21 but then he canceled telling her there had been a death in the family. They eventually re-scheduled for June 24. Marshall said he would pick Margaret up in his red Volkswagen at the corner of Mill and High streets in Mount Holly.
2. Margaret Was Last Seen Getting off the Bus in Mount Holly
On the morning of June 24, Margaret’s younger brother, Joe, walked his sister to the bus stop at the corner of High and West Broad Streets in Burlington and saw her get on the bus around 8:40 a.m. for the 20-minute ride to Mount Holly. Prior to leaving, Margaret’s parents asked that she call them once she arrived at the Marshall’s residence. She left home with her purse, a bathing suit for swimming in the Marshall’s pool, and her Huckleberry Hound eyeglass case.
One passenger remembered sitting behind Margaret on the bus and briefly chatting with the teen after her son pulled on the teen’s long hair. The woman described Margaret as happy with “smiley face eyes.” Another passenger told police she saw a girl matching Margaret’s description get off at the proper intersection and recalled she was talking with a young man driving a red sports car. That was the last time anyone reported seeing Margaret.
Mary and David Fox grew increasingly concerned when their daughter failed to phone home as promised. The Fox family attempted to call what they believed was the Marshall residence only to have their calls go unanswered. Margaret had left notes by her family’s phone with information about the babysitting job, including a comment about how John Marshall or his wife would drive her back home by 2:30 p.m. The family waited patiently hoping she’d return home that afternoon.
3. Margaret’s Babysitting Phone Number Traced Back to a Phone Booth
Later that afternoon, the Fox family enlisted friends to help search for Margaret and her father filed a missing person’s report just around midnight on June 25. After speaking with family and reviewing the initial evidence, investigators dismissed the idea that Margaret was a runaway. Police soon discovered that the number given by Marshall traced back to a phone booth outside a local A & P grocery store on Route 38 in nearby Lumberton, New Jersey.
Retired detective Leonard Burr told the Burlington County Times that he boarded the bus Margaret had taken the day before, searching for any clue that might help the investigation. During the ride, Burr spoke with the woman who sat behind Margaret and the female passenger who recalled seeing Margaret with the man in the red car.
Burr canvassed Mount Holly’s downtown area, showing Margaret’s photo to approximately 200 people. Fellow officers also attempted to work every angle of the case and found their first suspect, an employee at the A & P named John Marshall. Marshall was eventually cleared after his alibi checked out and he passed a polygraph exam. Some investigators remained suspicious since polygraph testing isn’t always conclusive, however, others believe the true criminal wouldn’t have given his real name.
4. Margaret’s Suspected Kidnapper Demanded $10,000
The FBI stepped in to assist on June 28 and began recording phone calls coming into the home. A man with a ransom demand called the day after Margaret’s information was distributed to the local media. The caller demanded $10,000 for Margaret’s safe return. “$10,000 is a lot of bread, but your daughter’s life is the buttered topping,” he said. A few days later, the Fox family received a letter reiterating what the kidnapper had said on the phone: that the money was “a lot of bread” but that Margaret’s safe return was the “buttered topping.” Mary and David Fox waited but never received further instructions from the kidnapper.
A second letter was received soon after the first. It was written to appear as though it had come from the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a small-scale terrorist organization that had kidnapped newspaper publishing heiress Patty Hearst in California on February 4, 1974. Investigators doubted the SLA’s involvement in Margaret’s disappearance. Police believe either the kidnapper or a prankster mentioned the SLA because the group was frequently in the news. After the second letter arrived there was no further communication.
5. Family, Friends and Law Enforcement Continue to Search for Margaret
It’s been forty-five years since Margaret stepped off the bus in Mount Holly. She’s never used her social security number, applied for a job which requires identification, opened a bank account or attempted to reach out to her family.
After decades of investigating her disappearance, none of law enforcement’s leads panned out. Latent fingerprints found on the letters sent to the Fox family were run through databases with the hope of a match that never happened. Burr stayed on the case until he retired in 1988. “I was very disappointed during that time that we were never able to bring closure to the family,” he said when interviewed by the Burlington County Times.
In April 2019, retired Willingboro, New Jersey detective Michael Dalesio volunteered to work the case by helping local authorities review the evidence. “You just reanalyze the data and see if something jumps out at you,” he told the Burlington County Times.
“Margaret Fox was loved dearly by her family and friends,” Burlington County Prosecutor Scott Coffina said in the FBI’s June 24, 2019 press release. “To this day, her disappearance continues to cause great sorrow. If someone out there possesses information that could assist the investigators working to solve this mystery, I urge you to come forward.”
“I have a feeling that in my search she will break out and I will be there at the right time and place,” David Fox said in an August 1974 interview. David and wife Mary passed away but Margaret’s siblings continue to search for their sister.
“The FBI has a long memory,” Assistant Special Agent in Charge Joseph Denahan said in an FBI press release. “The community we serve has our solemn promise that we will pursue all viable options in the interest of delivering justice. We realize that in missing persons cases, especially those involving children, there is a loved one or family at the other end enduring heartache every day because there is no conclusion. We hope this renewed effort will produce results that might give Margaret Fox’s family some sense of closure.”