A fellow prison inmate who had won the confidence of convicted murderer Hadden Clark raised a simple issue with him last fall: Where was the dead child buried?
Clark's response took police to a wooded ravine in Silver Spring where on Thursday night they unearthed the remains of Michele Dorr, more than 13 years after the 6-year-old disappeared from her father's back yard, and 10 weeks after Clark was convicted of killing her.
Why, after years of publicly denying that he knew anything about the little girl's disappearance, did he suddenly choose to point police to her grave?
"He's sane enough that he knows the difference between right and wrong," said a source familiar with the investigation. "I think somehow in the quandary of his own mind, he was looking for confession or forgiveness. He'd already been convicted. He had to tell someone. It was just too heavy a burden, even for Hadden Clark."
The Maryland medical examiner's office yesterday officially confirmed what police had suspected since unearthing the small skeletal remains still clad in a pink-and-white, polka-dot bathing suit Thursday night. Using an X-ray taken when she was 4 and had a sinus condition, they confirmed that it was Michele. No cause of death was given, however, and Montgomery County police Lt. Michael Garvey said he could not explain why.
The events that led to the recovery of the remains began in mid-autumn, police said, when Clark began talking with other inmates at the state prison in Hagerstown about Michele's slaying. It was not unusual for him to talk about killing the girl; in fact, at his murder trial last year, inmates testified that he told them that he had slashed the child's throat so powerfully that he almost decapitated her, then put her body in a duffel bag and carried it to his truck.
After his conviction, Clark seemed to confide most readily in a bearded, longhaired inmate who several officials noted strongly resembles Jesus--a fact that some believe appealed to Clark's religious beliefs or his conscience, said a source familiar with the investigation.
"One of the things our parents did in raising us was giving us a sense of right and wrong," said Geoffrey Clark, Hadden Clark's brother. "I think that finally caught up with him. There was no benefit for him in keeping it to himself because they already had him locked up."
Asked whether his brother had become more religious in prison, Geoffrey Clark said: "He has always fallen back on religious stuff at times of stress. I don't think that's anything new for him."
The events that led to the discovery of Michele's remains started Nov. 4, when Maryland State Police Sgt. Joe Gamble, a homicide detective on the Eastern Shore, received a call from someone outside of prison saying that an inmate at Hagerstown had information about Michele's whereabouts, police said.
Based on the information, Montgomery police began searching the 20-acre wooded area in the White Oak neighborhood of Silver Spring on Wednesday, but did not find anything until Clark accompanied them to the area Thursday, a police source said. That afternoon, search dogs reacted to an 8-by-8-foot area in a ravine, police said.
Geoffrey Clark said he didn't believe the woods along the northbound lanes of busy Route 29 south of Tech Road had any personal significance to his brother beyond the fact that it was a "close, quick, very accessible but very unnoticeable" location to bury a body.
This week was not the first time police had searched for Michele's body. During Clark's trial in October, prosecutors told jurors that Rhode Island State Police dogs trained to locate bodies had reacted to an area of disturbed soil at the base of the Clark family's burial plot in Wellfleet, Mass.
Prosecutors said Clark buried Michele there but dug up her body and moved it on Halloween night 1992, after Clark realized he was the key suspect in the disappearance of Laura Houghteling, 23, of Bethesda, but before he was arrested and charged with the Harvard graduate's slaying.
But authorities now believe Michele's remains had lain beneath the soil along Route 29 since shortly after her disappearance in 1986, a source said yesterday.
Massachusetts investigators' interest in Clark was renewed recently by information from the same inmate who got him to reveal where Michele was buried. That led to a Massachusetts excavation in search of the bodies of two young girls whose disappearances police believe may be connected to Clark, a source said. The source said neither bodies nor body parts were found, but they did find unspecified material which led them to conclude that the information they had received was accurate.
Clark has long been "of interest" to police in two towns about 25 miles west of Boston, not far from where Clark's father lived when two girls disappeared from the two towns in August and October 1985, Massachusetts police and Clark's family members have said.
Two months after Clark's June 1985 discharge from the Navy for psychiatric problems, a 16-year-old girl vanished while riding her bike to her supermarket job in Hudson, Mass. Two months after that, in October 1985, a 9-year-old girl in a nearby town left her home to take a walk and hasn't been seen since.
Parts of a body identified as the 9-year-old were discovered buried in the area in 1998, and police have continued to be "interested" in Clark's whereabouts during her disappearance, said Sandra O'Brien, a detective with the Wayland, Mass., police department.
Questions lingered over what legal effect, if any, the discovery of Michele's remains would have if Clark, who is appealing his October conviction in her slaying, were to win a new trial.
"Unequivocally, there were no offers made to anyone who was interviewed in this case," said Maryland State Police Maj. Thomas Bowers.
Assistant Montgomery State's Attorney Debbie Dwyer, who helped prosecute Clark, said yesterday that prosecutors "would probably be precluded" from using the child's remains as evidence against Clark in court if his case were to be retried. But, she said, prosecutors are not certain of that.
Clark, 47, was sentenced to 30 years in prison after being convicted in October of Michele's murder. He is to begin serving that sentence after he completes the 30-year sentence he has been serving since 1993 for the death of Houghteling.
Houghteling was discovered missing from her Bethesda home in 1992. Clark, who worked as a handyman for Houghteling's family, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in her killing and then led police to her shallow grave near Old Georgetown Road and Interstate 270.
Staff writer Fern Shen contributed to this report.
The Search for Michele Dorr
Police found Michele Dorr's remains Thursday at a site off Columbia Pike. Michele was 6 years old when she was last seen in her father's Silver Spring yard in 1986.
May 1986: Michele Dorr, 6, disappears. At the time, Hadden Clark, a restaurant kitchen worker, is living a few houses away.
June 1986: Michele's father, Carl, becomes the prime suspect. He is never charged. Police also question Clark. The investigation slows.
October 1992: Laura Houghteling, 23, a Harvard graduate, is reported missing from her Bethesda home. Clark did occasional gardening for her family.
November 1992: Police charge Clark with Houghteling's murder after finding his bloody fingerprint on one of her pillowcases. Police search for her body in central New Jersey after Clark suggested he buried `them` in a state where he had lived as a child. Nothing is recovered. Police begin to look intensely at Clark as a suspect in the Dorr case.
January 1993: Looking for Houghteling's and Michele's bodies, police twice search the woods in Wellfleet, Mass., at a property once owned by Clark's grandfather.
June 1993: Clark pleads guilty to second-degree murder in the death of Houghteling and leads police to a shallow grave not far from her home, where her body is recovered. Clark is given a 30-year prison sentence.
October 1994: Police in Warwick, R.I., search a storage locker rented to Clark and seize several items, but none is definitely tied to Michele.
May 1995: Police again search the storage locker in Rhode Island.
September 1995: Police return to the Wellfleet property with radar and specially trained dogs, unsuccessfully looking for traces of Michele. Investigators discover traces of blood in the bedroom of the house where Clark was living at the time of Michele's disappearance.
September 1998: Police arrest and charge Clark with the killing of Michele Dorr based on new DNA evidence.
October 1999: Clark is convicted of murdering Michele; her body is not found.
Jan. 6, 2000: Police find Michele Dorr's remains at a site along Route 29 in Silver Spring. Hadden Clark directed authorities to the grave.