Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Cadaver Dogs Help Solve Cold Case

Michelle Dorr was six years old on May 31, 1986 when she disappeared from her father’s house in Silver Spring, Maryland. Carl Dorr, Michelle’s father, reported her missing at 4 o’clock that afternoon. He told the police that he was not exactly sure when he had last seen his daughter, but thought it was shortly after lunch, about 1 o’clock. He seems to have left her unsupervised in the backyard for several hours before noticing that she was no longer there. Carl Dorr was immediately the prime suspect. The police interviewed him aggressively, which did not allay their suspicions. They kept him under surveillance, tapped his phone, reviewed bank and video rental records, questioned his employers, co-workers, friends, neighbors, and family. Dorr had a series of nervous breakdowns. He announced that he was Jesus Christ and said he could bring Michelle back to life. He was hospitalized, but suffered another breakdown on release. He made incriminating statements, saying once that he had suffocated Michelle and put her body in a sewer. He also said he had buried her near his father’s grave. Michelle’s mother appeared on America’s Most Wanted and said her ex-husband had killed their daughter. Carl saw the television program and went to his ex-wife’s house. He demanded to be let in and said he knew where Michelle was and that the truth would burn a hole in his wife’s soul.

Lost in the police files accumulated after Michelle’s disappearance were some other pieces of evidence that did not point to Carl Dorr. Neighbors of Carl Dorr named the Binders had seem something that did not seem so significant at the time. Their neighbor on the other side, Geoffrey Clark, had been allowing a ne’er do well brother named Hadden to stay with him. Hadden was moving out of his brother’s house the day of Michelle’s disappearance, and the Binders, when asked if they had seen anything unusual, said they had seen Hadden loading a duffle bag and a trunk into his white pickup. But this was no later than 12:20, a time fixed by the Binders, because they had left then or before to attend a baptism. Loading a duffle bag was not, however, very suspicious. First, Hadden was moving. Second, this had occurred at least forty minutes before Carl Dorr said he had last seen his daughter.

Hadden was intereviewed twice by the police. The first time was nine days from Michelle’s disappearance and was not informative. The second was three days later. In the second interview, Hadden asked to be excused and went into a bathroom where he cried and vomited. When he returned an officer asked him what he had done to Michelle. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I may have blacked out. I may have done something.” Hadden asked to speak to his psychiatrist. He was permitted to leave the police station. Carl Dorr remained the prime suspect.

In October 1992, over six years later, a 23-year-old woman named Laura Houghteling disappeared. Hadden had worked as a handyman at her family’s residence and Hadden became a suspect in this crime, which revived the memory that he had been interviewed in Michelle Dorr’s disappearance. On October 31, 1992, Hadden arrived at his sister’s home in Rhode Island, where he complained to her that the police were trying to pin a crime on him because he was homeless. That night he went to his family’s plot and camped there for the night. When he returned to Maryland, Hadden Clark was interviewed concerning the disappearance of both Laura and Michelle. Officers went to the cemetery where Hadden had spent the night and found the soil near the family plot had been disturbed. Similar soil was found in Hadden’s truck.

A cadaver dog named Dan came with his handler, Massachusetts State Trooper Kathleen Barrett, to the cemetery. Dan alerted to an area near the headstone. A second cadaver dog named Panzer also alerted to the same spot. Hadden Clark pled guilty to second degree murder in Laura’s death and was sentenced to thirty years in prison. While in prison, Hadden gave two cellmates a description of how he had killed Michelle six years before Laura. He said he had found her playing in his niece’s room (the niece and her parents were not home at the time) and cut her up with a butcher knife. He told his cellmates that he had put her in a trash bag and then in a duffle bag which he had loaded in the back of his truck. This was the event noticed by neighbors, but initially ignored because it was inconsistent with the time frame of Michelle’s disappearance as given by her father.

Because of the description of Michelle’s death that Hadden gave to his cellmates, the room where he had described killing her was sprayed with luminol, which causes blood to become luminescent. There was a lot of blood, consistent with Hadden’s story. Curiously, DNA testing eliminated Michelle as the source of the blood.

The police theorized that Hadden had removed the body of Michelle the night he spent at the cemetery after he became a suspect in Laura’s death. Although this was not established on the record, Hadden was finally convicted of second degree murder in Michelle’s death. Michelle’s body was later found, alerted to by Panzer. Clark v. State, 140 Md.App. 540, 781 A.2d 913 (Md.Ct.Spec.App. 2001). See Alec Wilkinson, “A Hole in the Ground,” The New Yorker, p. 64 (September 4, 2000).

1 comment:

  1. Hi Mr. Ensminger,

    Interesting blogspot. I came upon this remembering cold cases in MD.

    I am familiar w/the Laura Houghteling case, though I didn't know her personally, (I lived right by her in Bethesda, MD & am her same age, & also the now infamous Michele Dorr case.

    It's because of those girls & my late friend, Taylor Behl (Vienna, VA) that I now work in Search & Rescue. I am training w/my dog for both SAR & HRD/Cadaver work. I am hoping that these wonderful & skilled dogs' work WILL, one day, aid in the conviction of these people who do these sick crimes! Thanks. ~B