The last time Walter Mack Clark’s ex-wife saw him was Feb. 12, a Sunday, when he cooked salmon and rice at her place, then danced with her to The Temptations’ “Some Enchanted Evening.” Their daughter recorded the moment, and the grandchildren joined in, gliding across the living room floor.
Though divorced, the couple and their children kept in close contact. After dinner, Clark, 63, returned to his apartment at Knox Hill, a complex for seniors in Southeast Washington. He disappeared two days later, on Valentine’s Day. His home health aide told relatives that she last saw him with an older woman who visited the apartment complex regularly for lunch and seemed to have taken a particular liking to Clark.
D.C. police said Clark was found unconscious Friday in the woman’s home in Northeast Washington, naked and curled up in a closet barricaded shut with a wooden two-by-four. Police said the 67-year-old woman beat Clark with a baseball bat over two days.
An arrest affidavit says that Clark was alive when officers found him Friday at 12:53 p.m. and that he was pronounced dead about an hour later at Howard University Hospital. The woman, Thomasine Bennett, has been charged with first-degree murder and ordered detained until a preliminary hearing Tuesday.
Little could be learned about Bennett, who lives in the 700 block of 21st Street NE in Carver Langston. A pretrial report says she has lived in the District her entire life and is widowed, with no children. Her attorney with the Public Defender Service did not return inquiries seeking comment, and no family could immediately be found.
Bennett described Clark to police as her boyfriend and said he had forced her to smoke a drug with the street name “Love Boat” as the two argued and she accused him of seeing other women.
Police say Bennett told detectives: “I beat him with a baseball bat various times over the last day and a half,” according to the arrest affidavit. A detective asked, “You did?” She answered, “Yeah, I did.”
Clark’s family is trying to understand not just the sudden death but also the gruesome nature of it and the motive behind it.
Clark’s ex-wife and daughter said they do not believe that he had a romantic relationship with Bennett. They think she may have been after money: Clark had recently cashed a $5,200 insurance check for an injury from a car accident, his family said.
“I’m in disbelief,” said Clark’s daughter, Timeka Murphy, 32, who has four children and lives in Maryland. “It’s hard to take in. I just want justice to be served. I just want to know why. I want to know the truth behind everything.”
Cornelia V. Feenster-Clark, 53, who works for the federal government in telecommunications, met Clark 24 years ago when he worked as a cook at a Checkers fast-food restaurant on New York Avenue NE. The two married and had a son together; he also became a father to Murphy, who was 6 when they met.
Clark was a percussionist in a jazz band, playing gigs around the District. Though he cooked at a burger joint, he was a chef at home. He taught his daughter how to fish.
“I was good with the rod,” Murphy said, saying they often took trips in and around the District, fishing for bass, catfish and croaker. He made his own barbecue sauce to put on crab meat, recalling his North Carolina roots. She remembered her father serving venison and telling the youngsters it was chicken.
“He would watch us eat it and laugh,” Murphy said.
Murphy and Feenster-Clark said they never met the woman Clark befriended at the senior apartments, run by the D.C. Housing Authority, but heard about her from Clark’s health aide, his son and his sister. Clark’s ex-wife said Bennett delivered or served lunch items in a cafeteria. Feenster-Clark said Clark’s sister had warned Bennett three weeks ago to stay away from her brother.
Bennett told police that Clark had asked her to marry him on Valentine’s Day but that she was tired of the other women “and was tired of loving him.” But Murphy and her mother said that Clark’s home health aide had called them early last week and said Bennett had demanded Clark’s insurance money. The aide told Feenster-Clark that Bennett had ordered her out of Clark’s apartment. Police said that apartment building staff last saw Clark on Feb. 14.
It is unclear what drew police to Bennett’s home. The report says they were called to “investigate the trouble.”
Police said Bennett led officers to the closet where they found Clark. A person who was there to clean, who was not named, told them about witnessing several attacks, though that person did not call police. The witness reported being beaten by Bennett when attempting to leave and then drinking vodka with her. The witness also reported being able to hear beatings, some of which police said occurred in Bennett’s bedroom, where the walls and floor were stained with blood. The witness told police that Bennett called Clark “a demon.”
Authorities said they recovered a baseball bat and a shower rod, both smeared with blood, and cleaning supplies and bloodied items discarded outside the home, which police called an indication of an attempt to clean the scene.
“We’re just trying to put it all together,” Feenster-Clark said. “It’s unbelievable and so horrific to know that he passed like that — that he had to go through something like that.”
This article has been updated to correct the age of the suspect, Thomasine Bennett, who is 67. D.C. police had said her age was 76.