Updated: 11:51 p.m. Friday, July 8, 2011 | Posted: 11:50 p.m. Friday, July 8, 2011

Memorial dedicated to murder victims

Murder scene of two girls beautified after 19 years.

Memorial dedicated to murder victims
This statue is part of the memorial for Martha Leach and Phree Morrow.

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Memorial dedicated to murder victims photo
Family and friends gathered Friday for the dedication of a sanctuary at the site where Martha Leach, 11, and Phree Morrow, 12, were murdered in an alley behind Schuler's Bakery on East Main Street in August 1992. STAFF PHOTOS BY BARBARA J. PERENIC

By Andrea Chaffin

Staff Writer

Springfield —

A gloomy area where the bodies of two young girls were found in 1992 has been transformed into a memorial, and was dedicated to the girls during a ceremony with their friends and family members Friday afternoon.

It will be 19 years next month since 11-year-old Martha Leach and 12-year-old Phree Morrow were killed near Schuler’s Bakery on East Main Street. William Sapp was convicted of the murders and is incarcerated in Mansfield Correctional Institution.

The memorial site, once overrun by trees, algae, dirt, cinder blocks and trash, is now manicured and peaceful. Centered in the pond is an island with a statue of two girls playing. The water is surrounded by brightly colored flowers, a water fall, stone walls, a table and a plaque honoring the girls.

Vern Donnelly purchased the property in June 2010, and had no knowledge of its history with the murders. Three days later, he and his girlfriend, Angela Ward, discovered that the girls were found on their newly purchased property.

“We were sick,” Ward said. “At first we wanted nothing to do with it, and then we thought, what would we do if we were the parents? We knew we had to dedicate it.”

The site will be open to the public for use during daylight hours. Donnelly and Ward, who funded the project, welcome community members to stop for lunch, enjoy a couple quiet minutes or watch the ornamental fish.

Springfield Police Division Chief Steve Moody was involved with the case, and said hardly a day goes by without thinking about it. Memorializing the space was the right thing to do, he said.

“It’s important for the community,” Moody explained. “The transformation is healing because there has been so much evil done here.”

Jettie Vlaskovich, the mother of Martha Leach, attended the ceremony and said her daughter would have been 31 this year.

“It’s good to know they’re not forgotten,” she said while gazing over the area.

Vlaskovich said the space is very different now, and that she would come out and sit.

“It was a dreary, drafty, horrible space,” she said. “They turned it into something beautiful.”

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