For the Martin family, Christmas had always been a joyful, festive celebration.
“At Christmas, my family is like wow, crazy fun," recalled Angela Martin, daughter of Viola Martin. “We joke a lot. We sing a lot. My mom was the one who started to sing. She always started singing…she put church music on.”
Back in 2009, Christmas fell on a Friday and a surprise snowstorm added to the holiday spirit. At the time, Angela Martin was an American Idol contestant, but was at home celebrating her favorite day of the year at her mother’s home in south suburban Glenwood.
Viola Martin, 56, has three daughters—Latrina, Annette, and Angela. That Christmas, Viola’s oldest child Latrina, was at home in Crete recovering from surgery as daughters Annette and Angela celebrated at their mother’s Christmas party. They ended up leaving early because the snowstorm was dumping lots of snow and they didn't want to get stuck.
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Latrina said she remembered her mom called later that night to say she’d drop off a plate from the family’s holiday feast.
“I love you. See you soon,” Viola told her daughter.
Crete was a 15-minute drive away, but she never made it.
Five days later, Police found Viola’s car, a 1999 tan Chrysler Cirrus parked at a forest preserve in Dixmoor, a town in the opposite direction of Latrina’s home. The keys were gone and her cellphone was on the seat. There were no signs of foul play, but her family said they haven’t seen her since.
“I don’t want to celebrate Christmas," Angela said. “I cut my phone off. I don’t want to talk…so those celebrations are a thing of the past, at least for me.”
Viola's case is one of 170 unsolved missing persons cases—77 women and 93 men -- reopened by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart. The Missing Persons Project is staffed three full time detectives working to solve long-term missing persons cases in Chicago and the suburbs.
“Underlying it all was this notion that victims’ family members of missing people need closure," Dart said. “Over the years, I’ve found even if the news is bad, they prefer that to the big question mark.”
Dart said he is hopeful that some of these missing people are alive.
“This is not some naïve notion on my part. But when we were going through the (John Wayne) Gacy cases again, what people overlook is we found five live people who had been missing for 35 years,” Dart noted.
Police Commander Dion Trotter at the Cook County Sheriff’s Department leads the team of detectives searching for Viola.
“The Sheriff asked me to go out and try to bring some resolve to these cases and help these families,” Trotter said. “Even if we have to deliver bad news to them, the fact that someone’s taken the time to revisit the case of their loves one, that makes all the difference.”
Trotter’s team is looking closely at the area where Viola's car was found.
“There was a lot of blight and a lot of drugs, “ Trotter said.
“And, that’s when it clicked for me,” Angela added. “She had relapsed because she had episodes when she was not sober with her drug addiction in the past.”
The daughters said their mother had been sober for seven years after treatment for cocaine. They said Viola held a steady job at a medical records facility, but never picked up her paycheck the week she disappeared.
If Viola had gone back to drugs, her family asked why didn’t she pick up her paycheck in order to buy drugs?
“That’s what the confusion is," Angela said. “Guess what, we don’t know.”
Even more puzzling, years later they said a relative told them he was sure he saw their mother walking on a Chicago street. But by the time he had turned his truck around, she was gone.
Angela said she believes that a few years ago, her mother was alive. She made pleas on American Idol and Ellen DeGeneres. The family has held vigils and handed out flyers.
Latrina said that Dart’s Missing Persons Project “is everything…they gave us a whole lot of hope…it will be 12 years in December.”
This year, the family of Viola is hoping for a Christmas miracle.
Anyone with any information should please contact the Cook County Sheriff’s Department at 773-674-9490 or email at email@example.com