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Cook County sheriff restarts search for longtime missing persons

Sheriff Thomas Dart announces detectives will start working a list of 170 people who have gone missing, some as long ago as the 1930s.

The family of Viola Martin asks the public for any information on her disappearance, she has been missing since 2009. Wednesday, September 1, 2021.
Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart on Wednesday announced the launch of a new team of detectives charged with clearing missing-person cases that date back to the 1930s.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

The last time her family saw her, Viola Martin was making a plate for one of her daughters to take to a relative who had missed out on Christmas dinner 2009. A devoted mother and grandmother, Martin also struggled with addiction, and it wasn’t unusual for her to disappear for days at a time only to show up at her job as a nursing home administrator.

Martin’s daughters were used to their mother’s daily phone calls, punctuated by occasional disappearances, but weeks passed with no word from her. She never returned to work, nor to her home in south suburban Glenwood. Her car was found abandoned in Dixmoor.

Months passed, and tips trickled in but went nowhere. Police seemed to stop looking, leaving her family to carry on the search alone, said her daughter, Angela Martin-Fields.

Martin’s case is now at the top of investigators’ list as Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart on Wednesday announced the launch of a new team of detectives charged with clearing missing-person cases that date back to the 1930s.

“We still go out and drive around the places she used to go, but there’s really been no one else looking after all these years,” Martin-Fields said.

“The way the sheriff and the detectives have been working with us, it’s giving us a kind of peace,” she said. “They told us we might find her, or we might find she’s gone in the worst case. Of course, we want her back, but we also want closure.”

Martin is among 170 names on a list sheriffs detectives have created of missing persons. Detectives will use techniques the department has developed working missing children cases and seeking out lost victims of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Dart said. In many of the oldest cases, new technology might provide new leads.

The family of Viola Martin on Wednesday, Sept. 1, 2021, asked the public for any information on her disappearance, she has been missing since 2009.
The family of Viola Martin on Wednesday asked the public for any information on her disappearance, she has been missing since 2009.
Brian Rich/Sun-Times

“We have this expertise that we’ve developed over the years,” Dart said. “Nothing against the other agencies of law enforcement … but we have this whole set of tools they didn’t have before.”

A team of three detectives will be dedicated to working the cases, and the list compiled by investigators using the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System database, has been posted to a website, www.cookcountysheriff.org/person/. People with information about any of the missing persons can contact the sheriff’s office at (773) 674-9490 or email CCSO.MissingPersons@CCSheriff.org.

Detectives will focus on any cases more than three years old, with a focus on individuals who have disappeared in the past 10 to 15 years, Dart said.

Over the past 12 years, Martin’s family has reached out over social media, offered reward money and Martin-Fields even asked the public for help as a competitor on “American Idol.”

“This has been hell for my family,” she said. “But we have never stopped hoping.”