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Mystery of man's 1926 disappearance may be close to solved

Investigators say remains found in 1986 may belong to missing Tigard man


by: COURTESY NAMUS DATABASE - Marvin Clark, 75, took a stagecoach into Portland in 1926 and disappeared. Investigators say his remains may have been those found near Scappoose in 1986.Remains found in a secluded area of Portland in the 1980s may be those of a missing Tigard man who disappeared nearly 90 years ago.

Investigators from the Univeristy of North Texas said last week that they are searching for family members related to Marvin Alvin Clark, a 75-year-old Tigard man who left his home in 1926 and vanished after stepping off a Portland stagecoach.

The mystery of Clark’s disappearance has lingered for the better part of a century, and is one of the oldest active missing persons cases in U.S. history, according to the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, or NamUs, an online database of missing and unidentified people from across the country.

The database is part of the U.S. Department of Justice and is frequently used by law enforcement agencies to find missing people and identify John Does.

Fractured storyline

According to news reports at the time of his disappearance, Clark left his home at about 1 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 30, 1926, but additional information is fractured, at best.

The NamUs entry on Clark states he went into Portland to visit his physician, but news articles released at the time said Clark was believed to have gone to visit his daughter, Sidney McDougall, who lived on Northwest Hoyt Street.

Clark’s disappearance wasn’t noted for two days, until his wife called her daughter and learned that not only had her husband never arrived, McDougall never knew he planned to visit her, according to news stories printed at the time.

Authorities searched for Clark for several days, and McDougall offered a $1,000 reward for information about his whereabouts. But no trace of her father was ever found.

That is, until 1986, when loggers in a ravine about five miles outside of Scappoose discovered nearly intact skeletal remains.

The remains were those of a man, likely between 35 and 55 years old who had shot himself in the head with a .32 caliber revolver, a medical examiner at the time said.

Along with his body, authorities found the gun, an expended .32 caliber bullet, as well as several personal items, including coins dating back to the 1880s, a pocket watch and pocket knife.

Clark’s granddaughter told authorities at the time she believed the remains might be those of her grandfather.

The time period of the man’s death matched the time Clark disappeared, the granddaughter said. In addition, the remains were found a few miles from the former city of Linnton, where Clark had served as town marshall.

Many of the items found with the body match a description the family gave at the time, including the type of leather boots and wire rimmed glasses he wore.

Clark walked with a pronounced limp and halted gait and was paralyzed on his right side. Clark’s granddaughter said he was depressed from the health problems, which may have led him to suicide.

But the body wasn’t an exact match. The medical examiner at the time said the body appeared younger than Clark’s age when he disappeared.

A piece of the puzzle?

Nici Vance, a forensic antrhpologist with the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office said that Clark’s name was one of several possible missing people that the remains could have been.

“We definitely do not know if this is Marvin Clark or not,” Vance told The Times on Wednesday.

Vance was cataloguing unidentified skeletal remains that were kept in the Oregon Medical Examiner’s office back in 2004 and came across the remains from 1986 and thought it would be the perfect candidate for a new type of DNA analysis being done at the University of North Texas.

“I found this set of remains and a file from 1986 and read through it, this was a perfect candidate for analysis because it had never been positively identified,” Vance said.

A bone sample from the remains was sent to the school’s health science center for DNA analysis.

“We now have a complete DNA profile, which is fantastic considering that this was found in 1986 and it was probably 60 years old when it was found,” she said.

Clark’s fascinating story found an audience with true-crime aficionados who helped investigators track down Clark’s family tree and identify possible descendants.

B.J. Spamer, director of training and analysis for NamUs, told the Houston Chronicle newspaper last week that investigators have located two great-great-grandchildren on Clark’s paternal side. Test results from those family members were encouraging, but not definitive given the unusually long length of time since the man’s death.

“Now we’re trying to get someone along the maternal line,” Spamer told the newspaper.

Maternal relatives are important to find, Vance said, because they carry a stronger genetic association.

“The closer biological relative, the more robust DNA association,” Vance said. “As time goes by and relatives die and people marry others with their genetic contribution, you can imagine how the genetic tie gets weaker and weaker, but it is still there, especially along maternal lines.”

The investigation has taken years, Vance said, and will likely take several more before it’s concluded.

“All of these cases are terribly challenging,” Vance said. “We start out at a deficit. We don’t have facial features or hair color or eye color. Skeletal remains are challenging to identify, especially when they are unidentified for as long as this was.”

Vance said that if the remains don’t turn out to be Clark’s, the DNA analysis would help investigators continue their search.

“Wherever Marvin Clark is, whether it is here with me or somewhere else, finding his biological relatives is the next step to do a positive identification, and the DNA gives us that,” Vance said.



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