Babysitting scam? The disappearance of Margaret Fox



Babysitting jobs can be a great income source for teenagers who love kids and don’t have the time or experience to do other work. But, as with many other opportunities, there are always people who will take advantage. This is the case of Margaret Fox, who hasn’t been seen in almost 50 years.

early life/disappearance


Margaret Ellen Fox was born on February 4, 1960. She was the only girl in a family of six children, and most of her brothers were older.


According to her mom, Margaret was a good child, not getting into trouble a lot. She played the piano and rode horses. But she also wrote in her diary about being bullied, and how she wanted to move to California or Florida from her home in New Jersey and start a new life.


Margaret and her cousin put this babysitting ad in their local newspaper.

On June 19, 1974, 14-year-old Margaret and her 11-year-old cousin, Lynne Park, put a babysitting ad in their local paper. It wasn’t long before they got an offer. A man who called himself John Marshall contacted Lynne first and offered her a job babysitting his five-year-old son. But Lynne’s mom wouldn’t let her take the job because it was in Mount Holly, too far away from their home in Burlington for her comfort. After this, Marshall contacted Margaret and offered her the job. According to him, she would get $40 a week to watch his son, four hours a day, five days a week. It was probably a lucrative offer to a teenager in the 1970’s, and Margaret’s dad said she could do it.


The job was delayed several times over the next few days but, finally, Margaret agreed to meet Marshall at a bus stop in Mount Holly. From there, his wife would drive her the rest of the way in a red Volkswagen.


On the morning of Monday, June 24, Margaret left a note for her parents to let them know where she was going. Her younger brother accompanied her to the bus stop around 8:40 am, where she soon boarded by herself. Two witnesses would later see her near the bus stop in Mount Holly, in the area where she was supposed to meet John Marshall. She hasn’t been seen since.


The street corner where Margaret was last seen

Marshall’s wife was supposed to bring Margaret home around 2:30 pm. When she still wasn’t home by 3:30, her mom called the phone number she’d left behind. But as it turned out, the number was for a phone booth at a supermarket in Lumberton, a couple of miles down the road from Mount Holly.


Margaret’s mom began calling anyone she could find with the last name Marshall. Margaret’s dad drove to Mount Holly to see if he could figure anything out, but presumably found nothing. He called the police.

investigation


The FBI got involved in the case pretty soon after this. Burlington investigators looked for her as well, and tried to find out who John Marshall was. A man named Jack Marshall was the assistant manager at the grocery store where the pay phone was; he was questioned, but no connection between him and Margaret’s disappearance was found.


Then, four days after Margaret was last seen, her parents got a strange phone call. The caller’s voice, just like John Marshall’s, sounded like it belonged to a man in his late 30’s or early 40’s. He also gave an odd statement to Margaret’s mom over the phone: “$10,000 is a lot of bread, but your daughter’s life is the buttered topping.” You can listen to the audio here.


The call was shortly followed up by two notes. The first one was a ransom note, but the second said the deal was off. There was early speculation that Margaret’s kidnapper was associated with the Symbionese Liberation Army, a terrorist organization who’d made the news earlier that year after kidnapping the daughter of a well known newspaper executive. This theory came about because one of the letters was signed “So Long Again” and the letters S and A were “set off.” It’s possible the S and A were made to look different on purpose, but this connection has never been proven, and it’s not clear if this ransom call was real or a hoax.


In August of that year, the FBI released a sketch of a man wanted for questioning in Margaret’s case. He was though to be driving a red-orange Volkswagen similar to the one Margaret was supposed to meet John Marshall and his wife in. The man was also close in age to what Marshall was thought to be, and had allegedly tried to kidnap a girl in Mount Holly a month before Margaret’s disappearance. But this lead doesn’t appear to have gone anywhere.

other early happenings


In November 1975, a man named Charles M. Clowbridge said he kidnapped Margaret, killed her and dumped her body from a cliff in the Catskill Mountains in New York. This set off a three month search in the area before Clowbridge admitted the “confession” was a hoax. In May 1976, he was sentenced to 2 to 3 years in prison for making the false confession. When asked by the judge who sentenced him why he’d done it, he said “Honestly, judge, I can’t answer that.”


In June 1977, 15-year-old Patricia Kuhlthau was killed on her way to a job interview after putting a babysitting ad in the paper. Patricia was killed in East Brunswick, about 50 miles northeast of Burlington, and her murder bore at least some resemblance to Margaret’s disappearance. But no connection was ever found. Later that year, 31-year-old Jack Houseman pled no contest to killing Patricia. He was sentenced to life in prison.


An artist rendering of the Jane Doe found in Monmouth County in 1988

In 1988, female remains were found in Monmouth County, about 60 miles east of Burlington. A DNA sample obtained from Margaret’s hairbrush was compared to this Jane Doe, but it wasn’t a match. (This woman appears to still have an entry on the Doe Network, meaning she remains unidentified to this day.)

new investigation


In 2017, retired New Jersey police officer Michael D’Alesio renewed the investigation into Margaret’s case, working on it for free. Soon after this new investigation was made public, he started receiving tips of alleged sightings of Margaret and has been sighted somewhere. There were also early reported sightings of her as far away as Chicago, though none of them were ever confirmed. D’Alesio also wanted to take fingerprints obtained from the original ransom note and put them in a national database to see if there was a match.


On June 45, 2019, the 45th anniversary of Margaret’s disappearance, the FBI announced a $25,000 reward for information in the case. They also released a very brief portion of the ransom call. (This is the audio you heard earlier.) They said they didn’t release it earlier because it wasn’t clear, but has now been cleaned up with the help of modern technology. Again, you can listen to the audio here.

theories/speculation


So what happened to Margaret Fox? D’Alesio wonders if she ran off somewhere and may still be alive. This theory is likely based on the tips he’s received about alleged sightings, as well as her diary entries about wanting to move away and start a new life.


But most people speculating about this case believe Margaret is dead, kidnapped and killed by the man who called himself John Marshall. Most people also agree that John Marshall is probably an alias, but why did he use that specific one? Some people believe he knew someone with this name who he had a vendetta against and wanted to pin Margaret’s disappearance on him. Did “John Marshall” attempt to frame a rival for abduction and possibly murder? Or did he pick the name because it was very common and he thought it could help him blend in and not get caught?


Some people have also speculated that “John Marshall” didn’t actually meet Margaret in a red Volkswagen. Instead, he might have shown up in another, more ordinary looking car that wouldn’t have stood out to witnesses. The people who suggested this wondered if he made up a story to tell Margaret about the red Volkswagen being in the shop (or something similar).


Other speculation centers on why “John Marshall” rescheduled the meeting with Margaret so many times. Some people thought he may have been a family man or someone else who didn’t live alone and he wanted to make sure he was alone when he kidnapped her. Others suggested he kept wanting to call things off because he was nervous about whatever it was he planned to do.


But the most talked about point of speculation centers on that snippet of the alleged ransom call. Several people thought the man on the phone sounded like he had a New York or northern New Jersey accent. Some thought he didn’t have an American accent at all and wondered if he wasn’t a native English speaker and/or grew up outside the United States. And several more believe his line sounded rehearsed, with others noting how methodical and planned out this presumed kidnapping seemed to be. Whatever happened, we still don’t know who John Marshall is or what happened to Margaret Fox.

final details

Margaret as a child along with an age progression of what she may look like as an older woman

Margaret Ellen Fox was 14 years old when she was last seen in Mount Holly, New Jersey on the morning of June 24, 1974. Margaret is a white female who was 5 feet 2 inches tall and 105 pounds at the time of her disappearance, with brown hair, blue eyes and freckles. She was last seen wearing jeans with a yellow patch on the knee, a blue blouse, a black and white checkered jacket, brown sandals, a gold necklace, a gold charm bracelet and gold wire frame glasses with a broken off nose. She was also carrying an eyeglass case with a design of the cartoon character Huckleberry Hound. If she were alive today, she would be 62 years old.

If you have any information about this case, you can contact the Burlington City Police Department at 1-609-386-3300. There is a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of the person responsible.

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