By Rose Quinn
Published in the Delaware County Daily Times on May 16, 2022
Kevin Carroll made a big and exciting decision about his life, one that took the outgoing, well-read and versatile 17-year-old from his home in Oregon to Italy – and ultimately to his tragic demise in Delaware County.
Kevin enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. Following a few odd jobs he held after leaving high school in the ninth grade, including the summer he spent bucking hay on farms in the eastern part of the Beaver State, Kevin was on a course to expand his world.
As much as he was a charmer, Kevin was also “very smart and capable of doing whatever he set his mind to,” said his sister, 74-year-old Marilyn Buchanan of Warrenton, Oregon.
Whatever plans Kevin had for his future came to a violent and mysterious end in a Pennsylvania town 3,000 miles away from home, where his body was discovered in a creek by children on an afternoon walk in their Ridley Township neighborhood.
It was less than two weeks before Christmas 1978, and only six days after Kevin had been released on a medical discharge from McGuire Air Force base in Trenton, New Jersey.
Back in Oregon, Marilyn was expecting her brother’s arrival some time in December 1978, and definitely in time for the holidays.
But he never showed up.
After 43 years and four months, Kevin Carroll’s family finally found out why.
“We were in agony trying to figure out what happened to Kevin,” said his brother, 71-year-old John Buchanan of Salem, Oregon.
Kevin Alvin Jude Carroll
April 28, 1960 – December 1978
- Kevin Carroll, 18, of Salem, Oregon, was fatally shot. His body was discovered in Crum Creek in Ridley Township on Dec. 13, 1978 – six days after he was discharged from the U.S. Air Force at McGuire Air Force Base in Trenton, New Jersey.
- The remains of Kevin Carroll were positively identified on March 22, 2022. In Oregon, he was long considered missing, and declared legally dead in 2003.
- A homicide investigation remains open by the Ridley Township Police Department. A Missing Persons case has been closed by the Marion County Sheriff’s Department in Oregon.
- Anyone with information is asked to call the Ridley Township Police Department at 610-532-4000 and follow the prompt for detectives; the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division at 610-891-4700; or 911.
A nameless victim
It was on Dec. 13, 1978, that Kevin was found dead, shot six times, and presumably then dumped in Crum Creek in Ridley Township. With no identification on his body, the victim was listed as John Doe – until March 22 of this year when his partial remains were positively identified through his long-stored fingerprints, and a crime scene photograph, as Kevin Alvin Jude Carroll.
That breakthrough was the direct result of relentless efforts by Amelia Pearn, a military mom on a mission to remember the nameless through her Veteran Doe organization, with assistance by the Ridley Township Police Department, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Delaware County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“I don’t think I cried right away. I was numb for several days. I still am in a way,” Marilyn said of the stunning news, which unravels only part of the mystery that befell her brother, and crushed her family, nearly 44 years ago.
“Kevin was dearly loved,” Marilyn said.
For much of Kevin’s 20 months in the military – he was discharged Dec. 7, 1978, due to a medical condition – Kevin was based in Aviano, Italy, where he was in security. While he was there, he was possibly dating a woman who had become very important to him, Marilyn said.
“I think he had mixed emotions about his discharge,” said Marilyn. “I think he was happy about coming home, but if he had a girlfriend, I think he was trying to figure out what was going to happen to her.”
The Carroll case remains open as an unsolved homicide, said Ridley Township Police Capt. James Dougherty who along with Lt. John Hamill and lead Detective Timothy Kearney continue to appeal to the public for any information.
“Right now, we have nothing new to go on,” Dougherty said.
In addition to albums of photographs of her brother, Marilyn has a special picture that she keeps in her phone and throughout the day presses to her heart.
“It makes me feel close to Kevin,” she said. “It’s how I say good night to him, and how I say good morning.”
Kevin Carroll would have been 62 on April 28, 2022.
Marilyn awoke on Kevin’s birthday this year and said some prayers, grateful that some of her previous prayers had been answered.
“It’s a different feeling than all the other missed birthdays over the years. I know where he is. I know what happened … It feels surreal,” she said.
Looking back on her beloved brother’s life, Marilyn couldn’t help but also share glimpses of all the worry, wondering and waiting his family endured during the years Kevin’s whereabouts were unknown.
“You definitely go through stages. At first, he was missing and there was that sadness. Then you get a call after nearly 44 years later saying he was murdered, and that changes the whole thing,” said Marilyn, a retired special education teacher who in some ways was like a second mother to Kevin. “I’m so angry that he did not get to have the full life that he should. And I’m sad. But now we know where he is.”
Marilyn was 13 when Kevin Alvin Jude Carroll came along.
She recalls his arrival at Queen of Angels Hospital in Los Angeles, weighing 8 pounds and 12 ounces, as “a grand occasion,” making theirs a family of five. The name Alvin was after their maternal grandfather; and Jude, which was his Confirmation name, was after Judy, a sister of Kevin’s who died young, and after St. Jude, she said.
Leaora Carroll, Kevin’s mother, was a divorced mother of two when she met Kevin’s father, Wilson Eugene Carroll, a Navy veteran who had a passion for reading, like Kevin. Though Kevin was around 6 when they divorced, his disappearance was a heartbreak his parents shared until their deaths.
“I’m just sorry both of his parents passed without knowing what happened to him,” said Marilyn. “But I have a spiritual side in me that says they know exactly where he is.”
Growing up, Kevin lived mostly in California, except for the years from ages 13 to 17 when he lived with Marilyn in Salem, Oregon. He also spent time with relatives in Florida and Georgia.
“He was such a happy baby, always giggling and smiling,” said Marilyn, who had the added role of being Kevin’s godmother. “My mother used to call him Happy Jack.”
Kevin was walking by the time he was six months old.
As a toddler, Kevin seemingly skipped over the “terrible twos into the terrible threes,” Marilyn said, laughing as she recalled an image of finding young Kevin delighted as can be, on the kitchen counter, covered in sugar and flour.
Theirs was a religious and spiritual family, according to Marilyn.
Kevin attended mostly Catholic schools, including first and second grade at St. Catherine’s Academy, an all-boys military school in Anaheim, California.
For a time, her brother had a dog he adored, a German shepherd mix named Dingo. Kevin gave the best hugs and was envied by many for his long eyelashes.
His first car was a green 1956 Chevy, which Marilyn inherited from a family friend and passed on to Kevin.
Kevin loved the big meals for Christmas and Thanksgiving, but his go-to favorites were hamburgers, French fries, tacos and spaghetti.
Family was always important to Kevin, according to his sister. Friends, too. He was never one to put anyone down.
“He was very popular,” Marilyn said. “All the girls liked him.”
Kevin was proud of his Irish, English, Scottish and Native American roots.
Growing up, he was especially interested in hearing stories about their great-grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Broom, who was a member of the Cree tribe.
When Kevin Carroll decided to join the U.S. Air Force, he shared the news with Marilyn and John over lunch at a favorite restaurant. His treat.
“He seemed a little bit anxious, but not terribly so. He just kind of said that he had plans for his life, and this is what he was going to do,” Marilyn recalled.
Kevin was living with Marilyn in Salem, Oregon. A couple of years had passed since he dropped out of school.
“He thought school was boring. He said he already knew what the teachers were teaching, and he didn’t want to stay there and listen to it again,” Marilyn said of the boy who read 50 children’s books on his own as a first grader, and before the age of 6 once complimented her as looking “ravishing” when she debuted a fancy skirt.
Without a high school diploma, Kevin knew to enlist he needed a GED, which he informed his siblings he had plans under way to earn at a nearby community college.
“He got it in two weeks,” said his sister, who more than four decades later still marvels at Kevin’s determination and commitment. Not to mention his intelligence.
“Some people struggle to do that, taking them months, sometimes years. And he did it in two weeks,” Marilyn continued. “They said his reading was above college level, and he needed just a little brushing up in math.”
When it was time for Kevin to leave for boot camp, Marilyn drove him to the local bus stop, the first leg of his trip to Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
And when boot camp was over, he returned to Oregon where he was met at the Portland International Airport by Marilyn, their mother, John, and John’s daughter, Joy.
Marilyn has the photograph she took of Kevin in uniform, their mother hugging him close, with a banner reading “Welcome Home Kevin!!!” as the backdrop.
Kevin spent about a week at home with family, and visiting friends, before flying off to his military station in Italy. Using the heavy coat their mother was wearing in the reunion photograph as a gauge, Marilyn estimates it was late fall or early winter of 1977 when Kevin and his family parted ways at the airport.
“That was the last time we saw Kevin,” said Marilyn.
“I often wondered how he looked through the years,” said Marilyn, whose family turned sleuth to find Kevin. At one point, Marilyn hired a private detective who contacted authorities in 50 states, as well as Canada and Mexico and Italy, inquiring about death, marriage or driver’s licenses, anything that might help them learn of Kevin’s whereabouts.
“That’s when I thought he was still alive … and maybe experienced a case of amnesia or something like that,” Marilyn said.
Before their mother’s death on May 5, 1980, at age 53, Marilyn said she would spend hours calling police departments and hospitals in New Jersey, because as far as they know Kevin was last seen in Trenton, and in Pennsylvania, because he had mentioned to her about possibly visiting a friend in Philadelphia.
“He never said anything to me about Philadelphia, but my mother had it in her notes,” said Marilyn.
‘Like another world’
Marilyn Buchanan was sleeping when her phone rang on Nov. 6, 1978. It was 3 a.m. Kevin was calling from Italy announcing to his sister’s surprise that he would be coming home to stay in about a month.
At the time, Marilyn told Kevin to call when he had exact details and she would pick him up at the airport. He agreed.
“But he never did come,” she said. “I didn’t even have a phone number to call him.”
What did arrive in Oregon about a week later was a box of Kevin’s belongings, which he had shipped home. The box contained letters from his mother and sister, military paperwork, and a military braid, among a few other personal items, Marilyn said.
“I’m thinking what in the world is going on, is he coming later?” Marilyn said.
As weeks wore on, additional military paperwork arrived at the house in the mail, including Kevin’s discharge papers.
“But nothing else about his whereabouts,” she said
Marilyn Buchanan remembers filing a missing person’s report on Dec. 19, 1978.
“I called friends, family, anyone I could think of … I even talked to the man who signed him out (of the military),” Marilyn said, noting that her mother was making some of the same calls from her residence in Los Angeles, California.
According to records on file at the Sheriff’s Department in Marion County, Oregon, Kevin Carroll was officially reported missing on Dec. 21, 1978, said Detective Administrative Specialist Melissa Ferron, who had been working the case since 2016. Ferron noted some original department records had been destroyed in a flood.
“We got random tips over the years,” Ferron said, adding that previous detectives conducted an exhaustive investigation, contacting the military, as well as police departments in the New Jersey area, since he was last seen in Trenton.
“It’s a two-page list,” she said of the contacts.
Contacted by authorities in Ridley Township, Ferron was the person who eventually made formal notification to Marilyn and John when Kevin’s identity was confirmed.
“It was bittersweet,” Ferron said.
“I didn’t believe what she was telling me,” Marilyn said. “Nearly 44 four years pass and that happens. It is still like another world.”
After hearing Kevin was murdered, John said his mind flooded with “new questions,” beginning with these two: Who did it? Why did they do it?
Exactly how Kevin wound up in Ridley Township remains a piece of the puzzle, for his family as well as authorities.
According to Marilyn, Kevin was legally declared dead in 2003, which released a modest insurance claim taken out by their mother that his sister continued to pay for after Kevin’s disappearance. The money was eventually used by two family members. John’s daughter used her half to pay for household repairs and start a fund to pay for her special needs son’s care later in life. Marilyn’s son used his half to make a down payment on a house for his growing family.
“It was used for good, and that is what I wanted,” Marilyn said. “I think Kevin would have liked that.”
The mystery unfolds
What’s now labeled at the Ridley Township Police Department as the Carroll file is thick with documents compiled by investigators from both the township and the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division over the years.
“There were a lot of false leads,” Capt. Dougherty said. “This was a very active investigation for a number of years.”
The original call came into the Ridley Township Police Department on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 1978, at 4:30 p.m. Three children saw a man lying in Crum Creek in the area of Bullens Lane and Valley Road and returned home to alert a parent.
Jerry DeMartini thought the children, including his then-5-year-old daughter Lisa – today a veteran detective with the Delaware County Criminal Investigation Division – had to have been mistaken. When he and another neighbor realized they weren’t, they called the police.
Township police Officer Richard Hall, now deceased, was the first to respond to the scene.
The body in the creek was described as a man in his late teens or early 20s. The victim was dressed in a brown sweater, brown pants and brown shoes, and was also wearing a Seiko watch, an Italian horn necklace and an earring in his left ear. There was no identifying information.
Investigators believe the shooting occurred elsewhere, and that the area in and around the creek where Carroll was dumped, is a secondary crime scene, according to Dougherty.
According to the Delaware County Medical Examiner’s report, the victim was shot six times in the neck and trunk, all at close range. He had been dead 24 to 72 hours prior to discovery. The individual was not under the influence of any drugs or alcohol when he died.
With no known relatives to contact or claim him, the victim’s body was eventually buried in a pauper’s grave in Delaware County, though partial remains of Kevin Carroll and his fingerprints were stored at the M.E.’s office.
It angers John Buchanan to know that his brother’s body was buried without any recording of its location.
Amelia Pearn, founder of the New Jersey-based Veteran Doe volunteer organization that uses social media to bring attention to missing veterans and unidentified person cases where there is a possible military connection, had been tracking Carroll’s disappearance for five years.
Among her tools: the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs). It turns out that details about Kevin Carroll were registered twice, both by name as a missing person, and as an unidentified victim.
“The blood type is matching, the scar is matching, the age is matching, the height is matching, the hair color, the eyebrows,” said Pearn, who spoke with Ridley Detective Kearney in December 2021 when she thought she found a possible match.
Kevin Carroll’s positive ID was made, through fingerprints and a photograph, three months later.
“On March 22, 2022, through a multi-agency investigation, we were able to positively identify Kevin Alvin Jude Carroll as our unidentified homicide victim from 1978 after an FBI specialist reviewed fingerprints,” reads the release issued by the Ridley Township Police Department.
”I’m just a stubborn girl,” said Pearn, who hopes families like Kevin Carroll’s have a sense of peace knowing there are people who care for their loved ones, even when no one knows who they are.
“Kevin Carroll serves as a reminder that we in the law enforcement community are constantly striving not to fail those that fall victims of crime,” said Delaware County Criminal Investigation Chief James E. Nolan IV. “From a selfish standpoint as an investigator, things like this are fascinating and bring a great feeling of accomplishment when they are concluded. I’m happy that a long-affected family was finally brought some closure.”
Jerry DeMartini had followed the case early on, and was pleased to learn the unidentified victim from so long ago finally had a name. When he mentioned it to his daughter, Detective Lisa DeMartini said she had no memory of the experience.
“You were the one who found him,” he reminded her.
Acknowledging the role of the young children, Marilyn Buchanan said, “That they found him in such an isolated area, was like wow.”
Final resting place
Marilyn can’t help but wonder if her brother was the victim of a robbery, especially if he was in possession of his last military pay when he left the base.
She also wonders about his winter coat. The one their mother gave him before he left for Italy.
It was neither at the scene nor in his box of belongings.
“Maybe the person who did this has it,” she said.
“Whether we will ever find out who did this, I don’t know. I hope so. But that person may not even be alive,” said Marilyn. “I believe in the afterlife. Someday, it will all be explained.”
For now, Marilyn and John wait for Kevin’s last remains to be released, both grateful for everyone whose combined efforts helped to bring their brother home.
“Thank you to all who helped find our brother, Kevin, and tell at least part of his story,” said Marilyn, a woman with a kind voice who says “God Bless” and sends “a hug” at the end of every phone call.
Marilyn and John plan to scatter what they have left of Kevin over their mother’s grave in Newport Beach, California.
“That is where we want his final resting place,” Marilyn said. “When you think about 18 years, it’s just such a short life for him. And a whole life we missed being with him.”