Martha Lambert’s brothers had previously run away from their St. Augustine, Florida, home, and when she was reported missing on November 27, 1985, many thought the twelve-year-old had done the same.
The home was often more like hell for the Lambert children. They had a great relationship with their mother, but their father was an abusive alcoholic. Neighbors recall frequent and loud fighting between Margaret and Howard Lambert. Howard was over 40 years older than his wife, and his ire often extended to his children, who had been placed in foster care on several occasions because of abuse. Each time they were returned home, and each time the brothers ran away. With Martha, it was a different story.
Police initially concurred that Martha had voluntarily left home but soon came to a different conclusion. Margaret believes her daughter was the victim of random killing by an unknown person. Investigators think she was killed by someone from her own troubled home.
Neighbors recall Martha as a friendly and polite child. But, she was more often than not dirty, frequently appearing to go several days without bathing.
Friends recall Martha being excited after school let out on Wednesday, November 27, the beginning of the extended Thanksgiving weekend. She went to a friend’s home, where she stayed until approximately 7:30 p.m. then returned home for supper. What happened afterward is still not known.
When Martha failed to return home by bedtime, Margaret grew concerned. After searching all night without success, she reported her daughter missing at 3:00 a.m. the morning of November 28. Police, however, also had no luck as they found few clues in their search for Martha.
When police questioned the Lambert family, Martha’s brother David, one year older than she, gave conflicting accounts regarding the last time he had seen his sister. He initially claimed Martha had left home after dinner without saying where she was going and that he saw her walking toward State Road 207. Later, however, he claimed to have seen her get into a black vehicle. Police could not find such a car.
Martha’s disappearance remained cold for 15 years before David Lambert was once again on center stage.
David grew from a troubled youth into a troubled adult. After being arrested for writing a bad check-in 2000, the 29-year-old dropped a bombshell. Saying he needed to get it off his conscience, David said he had accidentally killed Martha and buried her not far from the Lambert home in a Coquina Mine known as “The Pitts.” Authorities searched the mine but did not find Martha’s body. David was not charged with any crime.
Nine years later, in September 2009, David again said he accidentally killed his sister, this time claiming Martha’s death occurred as they were playing on the grounds of the abandoned Florida Memorial College near their home. David said Martha attacked him after he refused to give her money and that, in response, he punched and pushed her. According to David, Martha fell backward during the scuffle, hitting her head on a piece of metal, and died. He said he panicked after no one answered his cries and buried his sister’s body on the former college grounds. He said he did not tell anyone what occurred because he feared his father would have killed him.
Cadaver dogs searched the site where David said he buried Martha. Authorities say the dogs showed a “change in behavior” when sniffing the grounds where Florida Memorial College once stood. However, in the 24 years since Martha’s disappearance, the original buildings had been razed and replaced with several new structures. No trace of Martha’s remains were found, and if David’s claims of burying her there are true, they likely never will.
Police believe David’s accounts of accidentally killing his sister. Still, prosecutors declined to charge him because Martha’s body had not been recovered, and the statute of limitations for manslaughter crimes had expired.
David later recanted both of his confessions, saying he was led into them by police interrogators and that he only told authorities what they wanted to hear.
Margaret Lambert does not believe David killed Martha, saying her son is mentally incompetent, has suffered from lifelong emotional problems, and often makes up or sensationalizes stories to get attention. She still believes a stranger abducted Martha.
Martha Jean Lambert has been missing for 35 years. At the time of her disappearance, she was 12-years-old, stood 4’0 feet tall, and weighed approximately 70 pounds. She had blonde hair, blue eyes, and her upper front teeth protruded slightly. She has birthmarks on the front of her right thigh and on her upper left chest. Martha would today be 46-years-old.
If you have any information on the disappearance of Martha Lambert, please contact St. Johns, Florida, County Sheriff’s Office at 904-824-8304.
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