By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Book: Echo of Distant Water


On a balmy Sunday, Dec. 7, 1958, Ken Martin backed his 1954 cream and red Ford station wagon out of his driveway in Northeast Portland.

His wife, Barbara, and three daughters, Suzie, Gina and Barbie, were with him as he drove off. The family had told neighbors they were heading to Larch Mountain, just east of Portland, to gather Christmas greens.

The Martins never returned.

In the nonfiction “Echo of Distant Water,” Portland writer J.B. Fisher describes the disappearance, multiple searches and numerous theories surrounding the case, which has never been fully solved.

The case has links to Yamhill County. One involves a Sheridan woman who told police she knew a psychic who could tell them where and how the Martins disappeared. Another is the incident that inspired Fisher’s research: He says he found a stack of old newspaper articles about the case in the garage of a house in McMinnville.

But the strongest link, for me, is through the lead investigator, Multnomah County Sheriff’s Detective Walter Graven, who pursued leads both officially and unofficially for 30 years. Graven was the grandfather of Yamhill Police Chief Greg Graven. That connection makes reading the book even more interesting.

So do the various theories and Martin family secrets that the author brings to light. “Echoes of Distant Water” is inherently interesting, of course, because the mystery occurred in Oregon and, in may ways, it could have happened to any of us — any family could have skidded off the Columbia Gorge highway and drowned in the river, for instance; that’s an immediate, and likely, theory formulated just after the Martins went missing.

“Echoes” is a well-researched and well-documented book. It is rich in detail, not only about the family and the case, but also about the time period.

For instance, the author speculates that the little girls were reading “Beezus and Ramona,” one of Beverly Cleary’s first books, which would have been popular in 1958. And Cleary, of course, was born in McMinnville and raised in Yamhill, another local link.

The writing is solid, too, although the dialogue is painfully stilted. Yes, I understand that the author again is speculating about the conversations that took place between the Martins before they left home that fateful day; that’s fine, but he should let them speak more naturally.

Fisher will discuss his book at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 26, at Third Street Books in McMinnville.

“Echo of Distant Water, the 1958 Disappearance of Portland’s Martin Family,” by J.B. Fisher, 2019, Trine Day LLC


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