Potter's Field & the Identification of two Missing Girls - Reading, PA
Updated: Oct 11, 2022
The only thing left of the Berks County Cemetery for the Unemployed is the decorative arch with the words Potter’s Field. This is a place where the homeless, unknown, poor and unclaimed were buried. This field is the former location of the Berks County Home or Almshouse Farm. None of the graves are marked.
Located at: Cedar Top Road, Reading, PA
Digging for clues in Potter’s Field.
In 2013, Dr. Frederick Snow, a forensic anthropologist from Tennessee, was working to uncover what could be the remains of 2 unidentified teen girls buried in Berks County's potter's field more than 40 years ago.
It took just minutes for the backhoe to remove a 3-foot-deep layer of ground. For the next hour or so, Snow and volunteers used a shovels to dig.
Snow discovered a broken down wooden coffin containing human remains. A metal plate was attached to the coffin engraved with the words, "Unknown female found April 17, 1969 buried August 1969."
When the victims were found & buried in the 60’s, there was no DNA analysis available. The victims were buried alongside of each other in the field off Cedar Top Road in Cumru Township, so the graves were listed as "unknown" in county records.
Investigators said the graves contained the remains of two girls from Philadelphia who went missing in 1968. To confirm their identities, investigators needed to retrieve the bones to get their DNA.
Philadelphia girls were 17 and 15 when they ran away from home in 1968 and that is consistent with the information state police have gathered about the unidentified females found in southeastern Berks County.
The first body was found Aug. 22, 1968, in a patch of poison ivy off Route 82 in Caernarvon Township. The victim had been shot several times with a .22-caliber gun.
Skeletal remains of the 2nd victim was found in April of 1969 on a large rock in French Creek State Park a few miles from where the other victim was found. No cause of death could be determined with the second body because only bones were found.
A former employee at a local department store told state police he recalled working with two young women who arrived to take jobs at the Reading Fair and then began working with him in the store. Identical Italian sandals that were sold in the store were found with both bodies.
County records indicate the last burial in the potter's field took place in the early 1990s.
State law now requires DNA to be taken from unidentified remains before burial.
Forensic investigators extracted DNA, and it was sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, which contains DNA samples of family members of the missing Philadelphia girls.
A year later, DNA confirmed that the remains were those of Sandy (14) and Martha Stiver(17). The girls were sisters-in-laws; Martha had married a brother of Sandy's. The girls were from an area of Kensington and Frankford avenues. Martha was a young mother, her daughter just a year old at the time.
When the discovery was made their family had since relocated to Ohio. Once a year, Sandy’s father returned to Philadelphia to learn the status of the investigation. Sadly, Sandy’s father died in the 1974, and never learned what happened to his daughter. Sandy’s remains were returned to her mother and Martha’s to Tom, her widower.
The investigation into their deaths is still unsolved.
Photos from Reading Eagle 2013