Martha Jean Lambert

Left and Center: Martha circa, 1985

Right: Age Progressed to age 29


Vital Statistics at Time of Disappearance

Missing Since: November 27, 1985

Missing From: St. Augustine, St. John’s County, Florida

Classification: Non-Family Abduction

Date Of Birth: March 26, 1973

Age: 12 years old

Height and Weight: 4’5″ and 70 pounds

Distinguishing Characteristics: Caucasian Female, Blonde hair, Blue eyes, Martha has birthmarks on her upper left chest and on the front of her right thigh, she has a mole on her left collar bone, her upper front teeth slightly protrude

Clothing/Jewelry Description: A matching two-piece bathing suite and possibly a short sleeved summer dress; one or both of these things may have been pink

NCMEC Number: 601793


Details of Disappearance

Martha was last seen in St. Augustine, Florida on November 27th 1985. She was last seen near her mobile home on Kerri-Lynn Road, located off South Holmes Boulevard. She was apparently last seen walking west on her street during the night hours. The exact circumstances of her disappearance are unclear and investigators are unsure of how exactly her disappearance took place. Her family members all gave different statements regarding the day she went missing.

According to multiple accounts, Martha was out of school that day for Thanksgiving break and she went to a neighbors house with her mother, Margaret Ann Lambert. Martha stayed there until approximately 7:30 pm and told her mother “Mom, I’m going over, I’ll be back in 5 minutes.” She left and proceeded to walk to her own mobile home, alone. When she got home, she split a baked potato with her older brother, David Allen Lambert and had dinner.

Martha then stated she was going out again and when David asked where she was going, she replied “it’s none of your concern” and she left. She never returned back home or to the neighbors home and was never seen or heard from again. Margaret said she became concerned when her daughter never returned and went out to look for her but was unable to locate her. She was reported as missing later that night and deputies arrived at her residence at 3:00 am to take the report.

During the initial first two days of Martha being missing, a dozen officers from the sheriffs office searched the area without results. They questioned her family and neighbors about events from the night she disappeared. Her mother gave them the story about Martha being at the neighbors house until 7:30 pm. Her father, Howard Lambert, claimed that he last saw her when she left their home to return to the neighbors house. Despite the stories, investigators couldn’t exactly determined how she went missing.

Martha was initially considered a runaway by police in 1985. Her home life was troubled and her family life was dysfunctional at the time of her disappearance. Howard was an alcoholic with a violent temper. Neighbors recall hearing him yelling and fighting with Margaret in their mobile home. Due to child abuse, Martha and her two brothers, Raymond and David, spent much of their childhoods in foster homes. Her brothers also previously ran away from home.

Some of those who knew Martha said she didn’t like being at home that much and was known to be at her friends residences quite often prior to her disappearance. One of Martha’s neighbors, Alan Godby, lived two houses away from her at the time. He said she was friendly but often appeared to be dirty and malnourished.

However, Martha’s family maintains she never would’ve left on her own accord and Margaret stated she wouldn’t even get into a friends car without her permission. Once, investigators got a lead that Martha might’ve been in the Midwest as a runaway matching her description was found. However, the girl found ended up not being Martha and investigators now think it’s less likely she ran away from home. Investigators now believe other factors might’ve been involved in the case.

Most authorities now believe that Martha is deceased and that she was the victim of a still-unresolved homicide. Through the course of the investigation, investigators came up with several possible suspects in the case. Howard was looked at for possible involvement in his daughters disappearance due to his abusive behavior. He was 74 years old in 1985. However, investigators said he would’ve been “too frail” to carry Martha’s body into the woods and bury it. There was also insufficient evidence to say that he was the one involved. 

Investigators also considered the possibility that a neighborhood man, Clifford Morgan, might’ve been involved in Martha’s disappearance. He was in his 60s at the time of her disappearance. Morgan knew the Lambert family and Martha was known to visit his trailer home on a number of occasions. He had a reputation for liking and having children around his home and was described as strange by some.

Unfortunately, detectives may never know if Morgan was actually involved in the case because he was murdered in a robbery not long after Martha vanished. He was beaten to death by two people, Gary Ward and Brenda Dunlop. They were charged with his murder and were both sentenced to 22 years in prison with 5 additional years. They are currently out of prison. The original detective on the case doesn’t believe Morgan was involved in Martha’s case but he hasn’t been officially ruled out.

Investigators also believe it’s possible Martha was abducted by a non family member after leaving her residence that evening. Neighbors reported seeing suspicious vehicles in the area while Martha was outside during that time. One vehicle was described as a Van and it appeared to be green in color. The two occupants of the vehicle were said to be male. The vehicle appeared to be near Martha and possibly following her. Nothing came of this lead, however.

Nonetheless, investigators believe Martha was the victim of a homicide and was probably killed on the same day she went missing. Although a stranger abduction has been considered, it’s believed that Martha was taken by someone she trusted. Various agencies continue to classify Martha as a non-family abduction.

Investigators have received more than 50 tips regarding her disappearance but none of them have panned out. In 2002, the sheriffs office received a tip that Martha was killed and her body might’ve been buried in an area near State Road 207, located very close to her residence at the time. Authorities used radar equipment to search the area but were unable to locate anything. It’s possible construction covered the grave if she was indeed buried there. The lead ultimately proved fruitless.

Investigators have always suspected that Martha’s brother, David, knew more about his sisters disappearance then he let on. He was questioned on the night Martha disappeared and gave different accounts about the last time he saw his little sister. He initially claimed he saw Martha getting into a black vehicle that drove away. The story didn’t pan out. He then went on to claim he saw her walking down the street towards the Lil’Champ convenience store on 207.

David was 14 years old at the time of his sisters disappearance. The detectives felt David was hiding or covering something. Margaret said her son might’ve known something but didn’t want to tell. She theorized that Martha was abducted and that the person(s) who took her threatened David into silence. She also stated that on the night she found her daughter missing, she walked up to their trailer home and saw David come out laughing. She said he would never tell her why he was laughing and that it always bothered her.

In 2000, David was arrested for passing a bad check. He had an extensive criminal record, not for any violent crimes, but rather petty crimes. While being interviewed, he told investigators that he was responsible for Martha’s death 15 years earlier. David told the police that he buried her body in a coquina mine shaft located off Holmes Boulevard. Investigators searched the area but didn’t recover Martha’s remains. Due to the lack of evidence, no charges were filed at that time.

In June of 2009, investigators reopened the investigation into Martha’s disappearance and classified her disappearance as an unresolved homicide. They interviewed those close to her at the time and many of them said they should talk to David about his sisters disappearance. When interviewing him, they had a picture of Martha present and it took 20 hours, but they got something out of him. The interview took place in August of 2009.

David confessed in detail to causing Martha’s death years earlier in a freak accident. He claimed that on the day of his sisters disappearance, their parents got into a fight because Margaret accidentally burned the thanksgiving turkey and this sent Howard into a rage. To avoid the commotion, David took Martha and left the house with her. They both went to the nearby Lil’Champ store where Martha spent a little over $4 and kept the remaining change.

They then went to the abandoned Florida Memorial College near their home. This was a common place where neighborhood children and other people went to hang out and play. It’s been dubbed as the “poor kids Disney world.” David said that he and his sister got into a fight over the change because Martha refused to give it up. She punched David across the face and in return he pushed her. Martha fell backwards and got her head on a piece of metal protruding from the ground. This penetrated her skull, killing her.

David said when he realized what happened, he picked his sister up and said she was bleeding from a large hole in the back of her head. He cried out for help, hoping someone would come help his sister. No one apparently heard him and Martha had died from her injuries. David stated he was scared of what his parents would do to him if they found out what he had done to his sister. He also did not want to face legal trouble over her death so he used a broken piece of a road sign to dig a 3-foot makeshift grave.

David said he placed Martha’s body in the hole and buried it before returning home. Investigators stated they believed David was telling the truth about his sisters death because he appeared emotional and full of grief when admitting. They used the confession and closed the missing persons investigation into Martha’s disappearance. Investigators and forensics searched the Florida Memorial College for any trace of Martha’s remains but ultimately found nothing.

In the mid-1990’s, the area of the college campus was razed and completely rebuilt. It’s possible the construction disturbed or scattered any remains that were left behind, that is if she was buried there to begin with. While cadaver dogs did show a “change in behavior” in the area that David claimed Martha’s body was buried in, excavations showed nothing was buried there.

After David’s confession became a public matter, Margaret denied that he was the one involved. She stated that David always liked to be the center of attention and that he likely used his sisters disappearance as a way of doing it. She believes that others were responsible for Martha’s disappearance and that she was probably kidnapped while walking outside that evening. Despite this, the detectives still believe the confession to be true.

The case was presented to the Attorney Generals Office who decided that of David were to face charges for his sisters death, manslaughter would be the most appropriate charge. However, due to statute of limitations that existed for manslaughter at the time of Martha’s alleged murder, he will not face charges in her death. After his mother came into the spotlight, David himself denied that he killed his sister. He stated that he only told detectives what they wanted to hear because they wanted to close Martha’s case.

Margaret believes David was coerced into confessing. He claims that he had nothing to do with Martha’s disappearance and that he has no idea what happened to her or where she is currently located. Following his confession, Martha’s disappearance was labeled as solved and her case was closed. However, investigators have stated that they can reopen the case in the future if new witnesses were to come forward with more information about the case.

At the time of her disappearance, Martha was a seventh grade student at Ketterlinus Junior High School. Her grades in school were poor and there was no tradition of books or learning in her family. Martha was said to be friendly, sweet, and shy at the time of her disappearance. She wanted to be liked but had few friends at the time. Those who knew her described her as “feisty beyond her size” and was a force to be reckoned with. She enjoyed soccer, fried potatoes, spaghetti, singing, and country music in 1985.

Martha’s mother and father have both passed away in the decades since her disappearance. Howard passed away in 1995, he still lived on Kerri-Lynn Road prior to his death. He and Margaret had divorced after Martha’s disappearance and she remarried and moved to Daneville, Illinois, her hometown. Margaret passed away in 2020. Her two brothers are still alive and live in the area still. Her disappearance remains unsolved and foul play is suspected. Some agencies might classify her as a runaway.


Investigating Agency

If you have any information concerning this case, please contact:

St. John’s County Sheriffs Office 904-824-8304


Source Information

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

St. John’s County Sheriffs Office

For The Lost

The Charley Project

The Doe Network

NamUs

International Missing Persons Wiki

The Florida Times Union

The St. Augustine Record

ABC News

The St. Augustine Record

The St. Augustine Record

The St. Augustine Record 06/04/1999