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Murder Suspect's 'Lifestyle is Getting Even'

By Veronica T. Jennings
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 15, 1992; Page B01

Until Hadden I. Clark was charged with killing Laura Houghteling, his brushes with the law had been mostly minor and sometimes peculiar. He once was accused of hiding decaying fish heads in a former landlord's house; another time he was charged with stealing nine purses from a church choir while dressed as a woman.

None of Clark's prior encounters with the law, however, was as horrific as his brother's.

In a small town south of San Francisco in June 1984, Bradfield Clark -- two years older than Hadden -- strangled a co-worker he had invited to his apartment for dinner, then dismembered her body with a kitchen knife, wrapped the pieces in garbage bags and stored the bags in his Datsun 200 SX, according to California prison records.

Bradfield Clark, a computer software specialist, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and mutilating human remains and was sentenced to 18 years to life in June 1985, said Lt. Steve Jackson, a California prison spokesman.

Fifteen months later, Hadden Clark Sr. -- the father of both Bradfield and Hadden -- killed himself at his daughter's house in Rhode Island, according to Montgomery County police.

In the months before the suicide, Montgomery County police questioned Hadden Clark about the disappearance of Michele Dorr, a 6-year-old girl who had vanished while playing in the back yard of her father's house in Silver Spring. Clark lived two houses away from the Dorrs with his oldest brother, Geoffrey Clark. The child has not been found, and no charges have been filed in the case.

On Saturday, Montgomery police charged Hadden Clark with killing Laura Houghteling, 23, who disappeared from her Bethesda home Oct. 19. Her body has not been found, despite extensive police searches in two states.

Clark, who is being held without bond in the Montgomery County Detention Center, has a serious mental illness and an unusually troubled family history, according to court records and people who knew him.

"It is very odd to have brothers involved in capital murders on two coasts of the country," Jackson said. "That doesn't happen too often."

Hadden Clark, 40, was a familiar face in the homeless community around Bethesda. Those who knew Clark described him as an eccentric and generous man with periods of depression and a compulsive desire to be accepted. He lived out of a rusty 1983 Datsun pickup truck and a makeshift campsite in the woods. When he was unable to find steady jobs, he worked as a gardener or handyman. For nearly two years, he had worked as a part-time gardener at the house Houghteling shared with her mother.

A lean, muscular man who enjoyed the outdoors and physical activities, Clark defied stereotypes of the homeless, acquaintances said. "He was very industrious for someone who had so many problems," said Brian Shefferman, a Montgomery County assistant public defender who represented Clark in a 1989 theft case. "He tried hard to feed himself."

Police said Clark had accumulated about $40,000 in cash and assets, much of it from temporary jobs he held while living in the Washington area for almost eight years. Most recently, he had worked at Whatsa Bagel in Northwest Washington and as the "Rockville Rocket," a roller-blade courier service in which he used an answering machine to take orders.

Though Clark was standoffish sometimes, friends said he wanted social acceptance. He played chess and crafted homemade gifts, such as owl Christmas ornaments from pine cones, for volunteers with the homeless, friends said. Three years ago, he joined First Baptist Church of Bethesda and regularly attended a weekly Bible study class.

"He came for the social aspect," said the Rev. John Burns, a former pastor at the church. "He was a little loud sometimes and would make remarks that were immature. He was aware that he did not have social skills."

"He was a man to whom friends were invaluable," said Susan Snyder, president of Bethesda Cares Inc., a volunteer group that provides meals and services to the homeless. Clark frequently ate lunches offered by the group at various churches in Bethesda.

In 1985, a Navy psychiatrist diagnosed Clark as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia "manifested by persecutory and grandiose delusions." He was discharged from the military based on that finding, according to court records.

Montgomery police said Clark acted like three different people when detectives questioned him for seven hours last weekend. In addition to himself, he talked like a woman and an infant, police said. The female personality said he had buried "them" in New Jersey, without saying whom or where, prompting police to search in vain around his boyhood home of Warren, N.J.

Volunteers with the homeless said Clark acted strangely, but exhibited no violent or aggressive behavior. "He would tell you he had days when he got depressed," said Norm Gunderson, a volunteer with Bethesda Cares at Christ Lutheran Church.

Still, some were wary of Clark. "I tried to avoid talking to him," said Francisco Lopez, a custodian at First Baptist Church of Bethesda. "He talked nonsense. I stayed away from him."

Others saw more troubling behavior.

"His lifestyle is getting even," said a former landlord who filed charges against Clark in 1988 for malicious destruction of property after Clark moved out of a rented room in a Bethesda house. Clark was convicted of defacing the property by setting a booby trap over a door, spraying black dye on the carpet and hiding fish heads in the piano, chimney and stove, according to District Court records.

"We feel scared," said the landlord, who asked that her name not be used. "He told us about getting even with other people."

Clark was born in Troy, N.Y., but he spent most of his early boyhood in Warren, an upper-middle class hamlet about two hours from New York City. The family of six lived in a large, two-story colonial house surrounded by several acres of woods.

Hadden Clark Sr., a Korean War veteran, was an engineer with a gasoline company, and his wife, Flavia, was a homemaker. According to neighbors, the parents were active in Boy Scout troops, PTA meetings and church and civic organizations.

One of four children and the youngest of three boys, Hadden had learning difficulties and was sent to a special school in nearby Somerville, according to several neighbors.

A childhood friend of Clark's, Toni Munzipapo, 40, said Clark had a speech impediment and a quick temper. When he became angry, Munzipapo said, "sometimes, he couldn't control himself. If something didn't go his way, he'd get very upset. All the kids would walk away and wait for him to calm down."

Cris DeFillipio, a next-door neighbor until the Clark family moved to Rhode Island in 1962, said Hadden was a "meek" child, "mischievous at times, but I don't remember him as a problem child."

Little is known about the Clark family after they moved to Rhode Island. Flavia Clark and her daughter, Alison Huggins, still live there, but declined to comment. Cpl. Clifton Reynolds, of the Block Island police department, said Flavia Clark has had minimal contact with her youngest son in recent years.

In 1988, Block Island police arrested Hadden Clark and charged him with assaulting his mother, Reynolds said. Clark pleaded no contest and was placed on one year's supervised probation and ordered to receive counseling, Reynolds said.

At the age of 30, Hadden Clark enlisted in the Navy. He was given an honorable discharge in June 1985 and was treated as an outpatient at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Northwest Washington until September of this year, according to hospital records.

Hadden Clark's first brush with the law in Montgomery County came in September 1985, when he was charged with petty theft. Court records show the charge was placed on the inactive docket.

Clark's next involvement with the police occurred after Michele Dorr disappeared in May 1986. Clark was questioned about the girl's disappearance, but was never charged.

On Sept. 7, 1986, Clark's father, Hadden Clark Sr., committed suicide. He was 57 years old, according to an obituary in the Providence (R.I.) Journal. The obituary said that because of an illness, Clark recently had retired as president of a now-defunct Boston electronics firm. Hadden Clark did not attend the funeral, but friends said he returned to his father's grave site two years ago to read some Scripture.

After his father's death, Hadden Clark sued his brother Geoffrey Clark, in Montgomery County District Court, to collect a debt of $10,000. The case was transferred to Circuit Court after Clark asked for a jury trial.

In June 1988, Hadden Clark was charged with malicious destruction of his former landlord's house. While he was awaiting sentencing, police charged him with carrying a loaded .380 Astra pistol in his pickup truck. The gun charge later was dimissed.

Clark was convicted of the malicious destruction charge, and in January 1989, he was placed on one year's supervised probation and ordered to continue psychiatric treatment at the VA hospital.

One month later, Clark was arrested on nine counts of theft and one count of being a rogue and vagabond after police stopped him and found purses that had been stolen from a church choir and a woman's wig in his truck. When police questioned him about the items, Clark blurted out, "I'm a woman."

Noting that Clark had been on probation for only one month, the probation officer assigned to the 1988 case involving destruction of property asked the court to arrest Clark and hospitalize him.

Clark "is mentally unstable and is a threat to the safety of the community," the officer wrote.

Clark served 45 days at the Montgomery County Detention Center while he was awaiting trial on the theft charges. He was released after Montgomery Circuit Court Judge Irma Raker suspended an 18-month jail sentence and placed him on three years of supervised probation.

The probation was scheduled to end Sept. 26, three weeks before Laura Houghteling disappeared.

Staff writer Stephen Buckley and staff researcher Bridget Roeber contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1992 The Washington Post Company

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