A cloth laundry bag, good police work and a tip from a source have led Bucks County and Northampton Township law enforcement officials to close the more than four-decades-old unsolved murder case of Candace Clothier.
“What we can say is that it is reasonable to believe that those who disposed of Candace Clothier’s body were involved in her death. They are dead, and it is appropriate to consider this investigation closed,” said Bucks County District Attorney David Heckler, during a press conference on Wednesday at the Northampton Township building.
Heckler joined Northampton Police Chief Barry Pilla and detectives who worked the case in announcing the end to what Pilla called “a very sad and tragic case.”
At the age of 16, the Northeast Philadelphia teenager had her whole life ahead of her. The quiet, attractive and respectable girl — a junior at Lincoln High School and the daughter of a Philadelphia firefighter — was like any other teenager, probably looking forward to summer and wondering about life after high school.
On March 9, 1968, everything changed. She left the safety of her home to visit friends in Mayfair. On her way there, something went terribly wrong for Candace.
On April 13 at about 5:30 p.m., two fishermen discovered a black cloth bag containing the decomposed body of an unidentified female floating in the Neshaminy Creek about 100 yards south of the Worthington Mill Road Bridge in what was then mostly rural Northampton Township.
For the next 42 years, Northampton Township Police worked tirelessly on the case, some devoting entire careers to the investigation, to find out what happened between the time Candace left her home and when her body was discovered in Northampton.
“The investigation continued for many years, but slowed down when leads dried up,” said Pilla. “Approximately 900 persons have been interviewed and 160 persons were given a polygraph examination during the investigation.”
Then in 2005, after a report aired about the case on local television, Northampton detectives received fresh information that re-stimulated the investigation. As a result of that information, the case was actively investigated for the next four years.
According to Heckler, the information came from a source who described an incident around the time of Clothier’s disappearance when a car arrived at the residence she shared with her then husband.
“Two males were present in the vehicle, and after her husband communicated with them, he requested her laundry bag which she provided,” said Heckler. “This source identified the bag in which Candace Clothier’s body was found as the laundry bag which she handed to her husband in 1968.”
Pilla said later if that bag had not been used, “there’s a good possibility that we would never be having this press conference.”
Heckler agrees. “There is no question that the identification of the laundry bag and its linkage with male individuals, whom we will not name today, would have resulted in a focused and relentless investigation aimed at acquiring evidence proving that one or more of those men caused Candace Clothier’s death.”
The men, according to police, died between 1975 and 2000.
Heckler said, “If any of those men had been alive when police received this information, even if they were clinging to life support in a nursing home, instead of standing before you today we would be working to gather evidence with which to achieve a murder conviction.
“However, these men are dead and beyond the reach of human justice,” Heckler said. “Since we cannot charge and prosecute them, they will never have the opportunity to defend themselves and it would accordingly be wrong to disclose their names.”
As a result of the tip and four years of investigation, detectives pieced together what they believed happened to Candace.
Although not her usual practice, Pilla said while walking to the bus Candace may have accepted a ride with several males. It is believed that she may have known one of the occupants of the car, he said.
Instead of taking Clothier to Mayfair, it is believed that she was instead taken to a popular hangout of the time located off of Decatur Road in Northeast Philadelphia. It is believed that she may been involuntarily injected or was given a controlled substance and she subsequently died.
Based on the findings of the investigation and a post mortem report, there is no evidence that she was sexually assaulted, said Pilla.
Detectives believe that after her death, an additional person was contacted and helped in the disposal of her remains in the Neshaminy Creek. It is believed that this individual provided the black, cloth bag in which her remains were placed before the body was thrown off the chain bridge on Route 232 into the Neshaminy Creek.
From there, the bag floated southward before coming to rest just south of the Worthington Mill Road Bridge.
“All three of the alleged persons believed to be involved in this matter are deceased,” said Pilla. “However, information from various family members, friends and acquaintances helped to substantiate the investigation’s findings.”
Pilla said Clothier’s one remaining family member, her sister, who wishes to remain anonymous, has been notified of the findings. “She has accepted it and thanked the investigators for helping to bring some closure to this sad and tragic event in her life.”
According to Pilla, many of the township’s detectives worked 12 to 14 hour days to bring the case to closure. “But today is not so much for us, but for the family, so they have some closure and some idea of what happened to their loved one.”