Laura, Sweet Laura
"When I was five years old I got up the courage to ask my mother if she believed in God," Laura Houghteling once wrote in a high school essay on life and death. "She said no and some things that I didn't understand. When I asked what would happen when somebody dies if there is no God, she told us she didn't know. That sounded pretty ridiculous and lonely to me and I was scared because I didn't want anyone to die anymore and I wished there was a God for my mommy to believe in."
Laura Houghteling's divorced mother, Penny, was a psychotherapist and Laura was considered brilliant, someone who was going places in life. Nobody was surprised when she was accepted into Harvard University. Her friends expected great things from the beautiful blonde who friends sometimes called Twiggy because she was six-feet tall.
"She was going to be president of this country one day," said her close friend, Susanna Monroney. The words were spoken after Hadden Clark killed and tortured her in the worst way possible.
Penny Houghteling's home in Bethesda, Maryland was about 10 miles from where Hadden had murdered and cannibalized Michele Dorr in 1986. Penny liked to help the unfortunate and thought she was doing a good deed when she hired what she thought was a homeless man from a local church organization in early 1992. She needed a gardener and Hadden proved to be a good worker that soon cleaved to her as if she was his mother. Hadden tended her zinnias and pruned her perennials so well that she began to give him the run of the kitchen. He was allowed to make himself coffee and use the bathroom while working without asking.
Penny was trusting and perhaps not very observing. When a graduated strand of pearls disappeared, she didn't confront her employee. She also failed to notice that her underwear and other clothing were being stolen, one piece at a time. Penny had once complained to Hadden about some missing gardening tools and her employee had blown up and yelled at her. Maybe she was being too hard on him, she thought at the time.
Laura returned home after her Harvard graduation in the summer of 1992. For Hadden, who had become mentally and emotionally affixed to Penny, it seemed that Penny now had another child. She also appeared to like this child more than him. Within days, Hadden Clark was plotting revenge.
In mid-October Penny Houghteling told Hadden she would be going away to a conference for a week. She gave him the exact dates—from the 17th to the 25th. That was all Hadden Clark needed. The next day he visited a local hardware chain and purchased two rolls of duct tape, some braided rope, and some nylon cord. In the left hand corner of the check he used for his purchases—where the word Memo was printed—he wrote "Laura."
That Saturday, the 17th of October, Laura went to a horse meet in nearby Middleburg, Virginia. A gala dinner party followed the event afterwards. The next day she slept in and then watched a Sunday NFL football game with her older brother Warren and his housemate. She had taken a temporary job in Washington until she decided whether to go on to law school or become a teacher. There was a big project at the firm due to start the next morning and so she went to bed early, just after ten o'clock.
Around midnight Hadden Clark parked his truck on the street next to the Houghteling house. He went to Penny's gardening shed and grabbed the spare house key he knew was kept inside.
Hadden didn't look or feel like himself. For starters, he was wearing a woman's wig. Next to his skin he was wearing Penny Houghteling's underwear. He carried a black purse, and over Penny's lingerie he wore a woman's blouse and slacks. He also wore a woman's trench coat and underneath the trench coat, he concealed a .22 caliber rifle. He turned the key in the lock, tip-toed silently to Laura's bedroom and once inside, used the gun to nudge her awake. His first words to her left the young woman speechless.
"Why are you in my bed?" he asked.
Laura didn't know how to respond.
"What are you doing in my bed?"
His questions made no sense.
"Why are you wearing my clothes?" Hadden asked.
Tears fell from Laura's eyes and onto her cheeks.
"Tell me I'm Laura." he instructed.
"You're Laura. Please don't hurt me."
A Botched Murder
Hadden asked Laura Houghteling to swear on the Bible that he was Laura. She did. Then, holding the gun on her, he forced Laura to get up, undress, and take a bath. After the cleansing ritual, he led her back into the bedroom and made her lie down on her stomach. His plan was to abduct her, take her to his campsite in the woods and "introduce her to Hadden." He bound her wrists with duct tape, then her ankles. He turned her over and began covering her mouth with the tape, but got so excited he couldn't stop and the tape soon covered her nose and eyes. She couldn't breathe. Laura struggled until the lack of air suffocated her and she lay motionless.
As Laura lay still, Hadden began removing the tape from her face with a pair of scissors. Excited, his hand slipped and the sharp shears pierced her neck and caused blood to flow onto the sheets and pillowcase. He became fascinated with the earrings she was wearing and decided to take them for a souvenir. When he had a hard time removing the second one, he simply snipped it off with the sharp scissors, amputating the lower part of her ear and causing more blood to flow.
Hadden Clark sat by her bed and watched her nude body for nearly an hour. At times he stroked her breasts but would later claim that he neither raped nor practiced cannibalism on any part of her remains. At three in the morning, he wrapped her body in a queen-sized sheet, slung her over his shoulder, and stashed her remains on a narrow bed underneath the cap of the rear of his truck. He went back inside and gathered up the bloody evidence—the sheet, mattress pad, and pillowcase and carried them out along with some trophies. Laura's high school ring, a crystal unicorn, and other personal effects went into his pockets. Then he lay down on her bed and slept.
Laura's killer left the house at around eight that morning. He was wearing the woman's wig and carrying the purse. A housekeeper standing with a child waiting for a school bus would later tell police she thought the person was Laura, headed out to her job. Hadden got in his truck and drove two blocks to the parking lot of a nearby church. He backed his truck into a corner of the lot and went to sleep again. Laura's dead body was beside him.
While Hadden slept, Laura's employer began calling the house, each time getting an answering machine. It wasn't like Laura to miss work and give no explanation. Concerned, she sent someone out to the house to look around. The young woman, a personal friend, got no answer when she rang the doorbell. Alarmed, she telephoned Laura's brother and began calling her friends. There was no reason to call the police. Yet.
After searching the house, Warren Houghteling decided to walk the route Laura took to the bus stop that she often used to take her to work. As he walked down the street, he saw Hadden Clark driving towards them in his pickup truck. Hadden was planning another visit to the house for more thievery. Innocently, Warren tried to wave him down to see if the family gardener knew anything about his sister's whereabouts. Indeed, Hadden did pull over, but when Warren walked towards him he had second thoughts and sped away as if the devil himself was chasing after him. Warren thought the behavior was a bit weird but then he knew Hadden was a little weird and didn't think much about it. Late that night he called the police and his mother. The cops told him not to worry. Laura would likely turn up soon, they said.
Hadden was frightened after his encounter with Warren. He decided to bury his prize that night. He drove to a spot on Interstate-270, just across the highway from his latest campsite. Laura was heavy. She weighed much more than Michele Dorr and he stumbled with the dead weight until he dropped her, just 20 feet from the road. He dug feverishly until there was a shallow grave. He rolled her into it and covered the body with dirt and leaves. In the months to come, animals would discover the body's scent, and they would dig and paw into it, trying to get to the remains. By spring, Laura's wrists and lower extremities would rise above ground; the heavy rains forcing the body upwards.