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Houghteling's Body Found in Bethesda

By Charles Babington and Veronica T. Jennings
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, June 16, 1993

Police searching a wooded site in Bethesda last night found the body of Laura Houghteling, the 23-year-old woman whose disappearance last October led to the arrest of a homeless man who pleaded guilty Monday to murdering her.

Montgomery County State's Attorney Andrew L. Sonner said at a news conference that police found the body in a three-foot-deep grave off Old Georgetown Road.

The burial site was not far from the Houghteling home and near a campsite once used by Hadden I. Clark, the 40-year-old man who entered the guilty plea Monday on the first day of his trial.

Clark provided the information that led police to the grave. Although Clark's guilty plea to second-degree murder was a result of an agreement with prosecutors, that agreement -- at the request of the Houghteling family -- did not require him to identify the spot where he had disposed of the young woman's body.

John Monahan, one of Clark's lawyers, who was at the news conference last night, said, "If Mr. Clark didn't want to disclose this, he could have taken this to his grave."

Sonner said the body appeared to be unclothed and essentially intact. He emphasized that there was no indication that any other bodies were buried in the area.

Clark has been investigated in the disappearance of a 6-year-old Silver Spring girl, Michele Dorr, who vanished Memorial Day weekend in 1986. At the time, Clark lived with an older brother next door to the Dorr home.

Sonner said last night that only "raw speculation" could link Clark to the disappearance of Michele Dorr, although "he will always remain a suspect."

Sonner said there was no evidence of sexual assault on Houghteling from the initial examination of the body, but an autopsy will be conducted by the Maryland medical examiner's office in Baltimore.

Sonner said yesterday's exhumation was conducted without notice to the media because the Houghteling family did not want cameras present when Laura Houghteling's body was found. "The family did not wish to have the dignity of their daughter's remains interfered with," Sonner said.

The area where the body was found was previously searched with bloodhounds without result, according to police Lt. William Thieman.

Houghteling, a Harvard graduate who returned last fall to live with her mother, Penny, in the family's house on a quiet street near Old Georgetown Road, disappeared Oct. 19.

Clark, who lived out of his pickup truck and at a makeshift campsite, had been hired for part-time gardening work by the Houghteling family.

On Monday, assistant county prosecutor Kathleen Toolan said Clark knew the daily routine of the Houghtelings and Penny Houghteling had told him she would be out of town the weekend of Oct. 17.

Toolan said police believe Houghteling was killed in the early morning of Oct. 19 in her bedroom and that Clark then set up an elaborate scheme to hide the crime, wiping the bedroom clean of blood and then leaving the house dressed as a woman.

Police used sophisticated means to detect traces of what investigators said was a large amount of blood in Laura Houghteling's bedroom. A bloody pillow and pillowcase that belonged to Houghteling, discovered in a wooded area and found to contain one of Clark's fingerprints, provided the initial breakthrough that led to Clark's arrest.

The search for Houghteling's body was pressed following the arrest, with scrutiny of sites in Massachusetts and New Jersey by officers using specially trained dogs.

When he pleaded guilty Monday, Clark said he "found Laura alone, in her bedroom. . . . I killed her by means of suffocation while she lay in her bed. I removed her from the home and buried her."

Clark told the court, "I suffered no delusions at the time of this crime and committed the crime of my own free will." He said he "profoundly" regrets his actions.

Clark was discharged from the Navy in 1985 after he was found to be suffering from paranoid schizophrenia.

The offense to which he pleaded guilty is defined as killing without malice or premeditation. He faces a maximum 30-year sentence, and Toolan said she will recommend that he be sent to Maryland's Patuxent Institution in Jessup, where psychiatric treatment is stressed.

Prosecutor Sonner made a point at last night's news conference of defending Montgomery County police officers who were widely criticized for denying Clark access to a lawyer during a long interrogation last fall. Before Clark pleaded guilty, prosecutors acknowledged that the interrogation could not be used in court because the defendant's constitutional rights had been violated.

Police officers had said their main goal was to recover Houghteling's body, and Sonner said last night, "I commend their efforts."

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