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A Manson like murder in Davis

A true crime story that haunts me still since it was the only case I never solved when I was District Attorney:

Early in my first term as Chief Prosecutor of a 5-County district, I received a phone call from the Davis Police Department. “D.A. We have a possible crime here & need your assistance. Please hurry; you’ll see several units just south of town.”

I drove 90 miles an hour to get there and found a crowd of people in the yard of a small, very neat white frame house. I engaged the first officer: “What do you have here?” He hesitated, then said, “An elderly lady lives here. I think something bad has happened to her.”

“Surround the front porch with crime tape and don’t let anyone in. I’m going inside.”

Inside, I found a very neat, well kept house with nothing out of place. As I walked forward, I looked to my left toward the master bedroom and was shocked at what I saw: The top mattress had been turned over and a large, bloody hand print told the tale, someone, likely the killer, had flipped the mattress, looking for valuables, I’d guess.

I continued on & thought I saw some blood coming under the bathroom door. Gently opening it, I gasped in horror. An elderly white lady, dressed in her nightclothes, was lying on the floor, a heavy, bloody 3-leg stool with matted hair and brain tissue all over it by her side. She was obviously dead.

Blood was everywhere, on the walls, the stool, the floor, the window & even the ceiling. I thought: Overkill! The woman’s face was even obliterated.

Suddenly I heard from outside, “Sir, you can’t go in there! Sir!”
I walked toward the living room & a 50-year old man strode right by me. “I’ll have some coffee ready in 10 minutes,” he said as he walked to the kitchen where he filled a pot with coffee and water, and lighted the gas stove.

“Who in hell are you?” I demanded. He ignored me. I repeated my demand: “Answer me! Who in hell are you? If you don’t answer, I’m arresting you now!”

He looked at me with contempt: “Easy, counselor. Have some respect! That’s my mother in there; I’m a medical doctor and I’m used to blood.”

I looked at his hands & noted they were quite small, much smaller than the bloody hand print on the mattress.

I took him outside & asked an officer to take him to my Ardmore office. Kay Evers of the Daily Ardmoreite drove up, got out of her car, said: “What do you have?” I said without thinking, “a murder right out of the Manson murders, Kay. Blood everywhere and an elderly victim, bludgeoned to death. She has no face!” I saw her smile as she wrote & I thought: “I’m gonna pay for that stupid statement.”

Sure enough, next day’s Ardmoreite had a huge headline: MANSON LIKE MURDER IN DAVIS, PER D.A. JAMES CLARK.

We took the doctor to Ardmore and put him on a polygraph machine, operated by a retired FBI Agent. He passed with no evasion whatsoever. “Wrong suspect, D.A.,” he said. “He didn’t kill anybody.” Plus, there were those small hands, which was more than reasonable doubt.

So, we released him and he returned to wherever he lived, Norman as I recall.

This was before DNA existed and the brutal crime was never solved. The Oklahoman offered a $5,000 reward that brought a lot of goofy comments and clues, including from 2 psychics in Florida.

We never solved the brutal murder of an elderly lady in the late autumn of her life.
It haunts me to this very day.
-From James Clark, my 3rd book, The Scales of Justice


Another unsolved true crime – this one when I was a DA in Ardmore:

In the late 60’s, almost 1970, there was a large 2-story white frame house on the west side of South Commerce across from where Cunningham Carpets is now located. The house in question was unoccupied and the nearest neighbors were 2-3 city blocks to the west.

It was the middle of August and Ardmore hadn’t had any rain in 2-3 months. Daytime temperatures routinely exceeded 100 degrees.

The Ardmore Police Department’s dispatcher began getting phone calls from area citizens complaining of foul odors coming from the direction of the old house, so 2 uniformed officers and a detective picked me up at the D.A. office to go check on the source of the noxious odors. (Looking back, we needed gas masks and hazmat suits). I recall the temperature was over 105 degrees, it was 3 in the afternoon.

The house was locked, front and rear, with every window all around sealed with duct tape. I noticed someone had recently mowed the front lawn.

We forcibly entered the house and not 2’ inside, were met with an indescribable foul odor. The 2 uniformed officers immediately fled outside, one vomiting forcefully, the other fell, lying on his back on the front yard.

The detective and I ventured inside, both breathing through our noses. The odor was so revolting words fail me to describe it.

In the bedroom, we found the source of the odor: The remains of a man, lying under several layers of blankets. I noticed the red light on an electric blanket covering him, turned to maximum heat. The man’s legs & arms were pointed vertically with the blanket and several quilts and blankets covering him, likewise pointed upward. I could see that his body fluids had leaked through 2 mattresses and was puddling on the floor beneath the bed. It was sickening.

I’d had enough – I rushed outside and joined the 2 officers in a vomit contest on the lawn which I think I won handily.

Two days later, we had a properly dressed sanitation crew wearing gas masks and hazmat suits remove the body. A pathologist who did an autopsy on the deceased called me and said:

“D.A. this guy was murdered. He had no wounds or trauma evidence, no bullet holes or stabbing wounds whatsoever. No evidence of a natural death – the guy was young, well developed; whoever did this knew what they were doing.”

“Then, what killed him?”

“He was boosted with copious amounts of Phenobarbital until he died; then heat was applied to dispose of the body and quicken a homemade cremation.”

“Could he have done it to himself?”

“Absolutely not! If he had, he’d have passed out after a time; someone just kept pumping more and more phenobarbital in him, then set up the heat.”

The homicide was never solved. I asked the City of Ardmore to demolish the house and the out of state owners didn’t object. It was demolished and the lot cleared.

I think about that case every time I drive down on S. Commerce.
-submitted by James Clark