This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Peggy and Patty McDaniel grey up in New Jersey in the 1970s. They were inseparable – as twins often are – and loved each other dearly. They were fraternal twins but shared clear blue eyes, brown hair, and a sweet, gentle nature. The twins enjoyed hanging out with friends and learning to play the piano.
The girls were incredibly dependent on each other, according to their mother, Joyce Rivituso. Sometimes too dependent. She wanted them to learn how to live without leaning completely on each other. Peggy was sent to Florida to live with her father while Patty remained in New Jersey.
Despite the distance, the twins remained in contact. They hated the separation. “They would tie up the phone lines,” Joyce said. “They had never been apart before.”
Patty would follow her sister to Florida in the following months. The move had a rocky start, according to Rivituso, who could sense that something wasn’t quite right. Rivituso claims that the twins had issues of their father’s new wife and were not as closely supervised in Florida as they had been in New Jersey. She pinpoints one incident when the girls were visiting their father a few years prior. The girls went out one night and Patty was the victim of an accidental shooting, leaving her blind in her right eye.
Rivituso doesn’t know much about the lives her daughters lived in Florida with their father. “He never talked about it,” she said. “He wouldn’t talk to me about them.” He has since distanced himself from Rivituso.
In September 1979, Patty and Peggy McDaniel were reported missing from Pompano Beach, Florida. They had reportedly met some new friends and decided to move and start fresh. Pompano Beach, near Fort Lauderdale, was their new home, about 365 miles from their father’s home in Live Oak.
For forty years, the stories of the McDaniel twins have been told and become more convoluted the further you search. It’s difficult to understand and separate fact from theory. Stories range from potentially witnessing a homicide, to being spotted at a truck stop on the Florida Turnpike, to the father’s house being broken into with only their winter clothing stolen.
According to pages on the Charley Project website, police believe Patty and Peggy made friends with 19-year-old Marvin Warren. Eventually they moved to Pompano Beach with Warren and his 36-year-old friend, Eddie Gross. Police found no evidence of them having lived in the apartment but discovered their bicycles at Warren’s mother’s house.
It didn’t take long for trouble to find the twins in their new home. They sent a letter to their mother asking for help moving back to New Jersey just a few weeks after moving. They didn’t provide a phone number, just their mailing address. Rivituso responded by mail, instructing them to go to an airport and call her. When that didn’t happen, she sent another letter. After still no response, she contacted the local police department, who were unable to locate the twins, so Rivituso headed to Florida herself.
Once there, Rivituso was told Peggy had filed a missing persons report for Patty, claiming she had been missing for two days. A short time later, Patty herself canceled the report. That was the last day anyone reported seeing the twins.
The twins also befriended Nelson George Johnson, a 25-year-old man, who accused Gross of hiding Patty during the two days she was missing, and told his family he would be taking the twins to a disco club. Johnson was found shot dead in the trunk of his vehicle behind a tire store four days later.
Police believed then, according to a 1981 edition of The Miami Herald, that the girls had been the only witnesses to Johnson’s murder, another case that remains unsolved.
“I’m sure they saw what happened,” Lauderhill Police Department Sergeant Edward Madge said in 1981. “I’m sure they’re alive, somewhere, scared to death.” But after 39 years with no word from the McDaniel sisters it hard to believe they are still hiding.
Joyce Rivituso remarried and is currently supporting her husband through cancer treatment. She still wants to know what happened to her daughters and hopes to see those responsible for their disappearance face justice.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Peggy and Patty McDaniel, please call the Lauderhill Police Department at (954) 497-4700 or the Broward County Sheriff’s Office at (954) 321-4735.
You can visit NamUs for more information on these cases as well.
Project: Cold Case often receives case submissions from families dealing with a missing loved one. While our mission is to advocate awareness from cold case homicides, there is often crossover when it comes to death classification, specifically that of “missing” cases.
A missing person is an individual that has disappeared with no confirmation of whereabouts or fate. On average, 600,000 U.S. families will be impacted by a missing loved one annually. Although most will be quickly recovered, the grief of having a loved one go missing can be compounded if the investigating agency reveals potential for suspected criminal activity.
When addressing missing case submissions, we handle each one on a case-by-case basis. Each case must fit three important requirements:
The missing loved one would have to have been submitted by a family member.
The case would have to be classified with “suspected foul play” to be accepted.
The family would have to agree with the investigating agency’s classification.
Our criteria for advocating for a missing loved one has been carefully chosen to allow family inclusion in advocating awareness. Acknowledgment from the family that their loved one is likely deceased and verification through the investigating agency ensures consistently accurate information is promoted.
For families that submit their case with a cause of death listed as “unknown due to missing,” we work diligently to ensure that we delicately handle the case. For the families that we are unable to help, we do recommend researching NameUs, the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, and other organizations that work directly with missing persons cases.
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If you have a loved one that is the victim of an unsolved homicide, please submit their case here for consideration in a future Cold Case Spotlight post.