May 24, 2007


Twenty years ago I wrote about a convicted serial killer named Douglas Clark. He hated to be called Douglas, because classmates nicknamed him Dougl-ass in school. He would only be called Doug. I met him after writing a piece about a woman who killed her boarders in a Sacramento boarding house. All old pensioners. Her name was Dorothea Puente. This was in 1988. She has since become known as the Boarding House Murderer.

Doug sent me a note saying he was on death row and was interested to read my story about Dorothea because I seemed open to the idea that a woman could be a serial killer. I had simply written the facts of the case to that point; he was shooting blind. But he asked that I visit him. I did, and over the next year became caught up in his convoluted story.

In the end, I came to believe he might be innocent of his crimes, he was a villain in all other respects, but his trial had not established his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, since virtually all the evidence came from his former lover and roommate, Carol Bundy.

I came to believe she had done the crimes, either with Doug or her lover, an Australian lady's man named Jack, whom she later murdered. This is how she did it. She had sex with him in his van, then got him to turn around and shot him in the head, cut that off, and then stabbed him in the back and buttocks. She would tell police she killed him because he knew too much and Doug had threatened to kill her if she ever told anyone what he had done. She had told Jack some things and then realizing her mistake had to kill him. She would tell police she wanted to disguise crime by making it look like a "Manson" murder.

A week after he was last seen at a neighborhood bar with carol the smell of his body rotting in his van, standing in a quiet van, disturbed neighbors who called police, who eventually came looking for Carol. She was questioned but there was no evidence to hold her.

She finally called police before they could arrest her to say she knew the man who had shot those prostitutes and left their bodies along Los Angeles freeways. He'd been tormenting her for months, she said, telling her these stories until finally she couldn't stand it and had to go to the police. Y

You may wonder why this serial killer with absolutely no regard for human life and women's lives in particular, never killed Carol who had become his arch enemy. Such are the many questions in this ridiculously convoluted story.

So, on the verge of arrest, Carol goes to police, confesses to killing Jack, says she had been suffering from Post traumatic Living-With-a-Serial Killer Syndrome and would be glad to testify against Clark.

At court she presented herself as a poor widow living on nurse's wages in the San Fernando Valley, with her two sons. Whom she had sent to live with relatives some months earlier. Doug's attorney floundered, he was an alcoholic who often fell asleep in trial and never presented much evidence. So finally Clark represented himself, and was quickly dispatched to death row where he's been since 1982. Or so. Longer than some others whose crimes were more recent. Bonin, one of his bridge partners on the row, is one example. He was executed a few years ago.

I wrote one piece for Vanity Fair, which centered on the bridge game on death row, four serial killers playing each other every day, and another piece for Los Angeles Magazine, which focused on Carol Bundy and how it was most certainly her who had done the murders.

Time passed. I've not seen Doug for years. However once in Morocco, a missionary in West Africa wrote me to say she had met Doug, was convinced of his innocence and perhaps we could talk. I replied that I wasn't interested in talking about it anymore and the correspondence died.

Then a couple of days ago I got an email from someone who would identify themselves only as 'family'. This person said their two sisters had been victims of Doug Clark and wanted to know whatever I could tell her about the crimes. Here's part of the first email...

I am doing research for the last two years and am mustering up the courage to find out before it's too late. Do you think he did it? Did my sisters suffer a long time? Which one died first? What makes you think he's guilty? They were Gina and Cindy

I replied,

Dear Family,

Did your sisters suffer?

I seem to remember that all the victims were shot and perhaps there is something to be taken from that. But of course there is no way I could answer such a question.

Which one died first?

I don't remember, and I'm not sure that was ever established although it has been 20 years since I first wrote about this case. It might be transcripts, which I no longer have.

Do you think (Clark) did it? What makes you think he's guilty?

This is the heart of the matter and still again I cannot answer definitively. After spending a good deal of time with this case I came to believe that Clark probably had not committed the murders, but that the woman he lived with, Carol Bundy, and her lover, Jack Murray, had done them together....


1. Clark had a long relationship with prostitutes; the victims in this case were, to my knowledge, all prostitutes. He had no history of harming them. He was also a sensualist, even a satyr. He went to swinger's clubs, he had endless relationships with women, he imagined himself a Casanova. He told me once he preferred prostitutes because he found them open about sexuality. Remember he was also sleeping with a 13-year-old girl during this period. He had absolutely no boundaries in that sense. Moreover, he was a coward, a liar, a braggart, who would have you believe he was brilliant and a sexual prince, but in fact, he was a devout coward, vain beyond belief and suffered endless delusions of grandiosity about himself. Which, incidentally, is one of the traits sometimes associated with psychopaths, which in turn are often the personality types of serial killers. But this raises that question of basic inference, most serial killers may be one form or another of psychopath, but are all psychopaths serial killers? No, they're not.

2. Carol Bundy implicated herself in several of the murders. I spoke to her on two occasions, for 7 hours at a stretch at one point, and she as much as admitted to committing one of the murders, herself. Not one of your sisters. In another of the murders the victim's head was severed. Who did that? Bundy said Clark did it. He says he didn't. He claimed, if memory serves me, that Bundy brought it to him. We know Bundy did cut off the head of Jack Murray. That's clear; she admits it. But the two bodies were never examined to see if there was some forensic comparison. And you might well wonder, 'why not?' In a word, because this was a horrendous case and Bundy passed herself off as a poor desperate housewife, a nurse, with two kids living in the Valley, who was overcome by Doug Clark. The case seemed clear, Clark represented himself at trial, and was his own worst witness. Bundy was the real evidence against him, there was no reliable forensic evidence, it was all the crimes according to her. But you read the transcripts of her initial interrogation with police and it's filled with inconsistancies and contradictions. In one of the most famous of these she is asked about one of the murder scenes and replies that she doesn't know anything about it, 'only what Doug told me', but then she goes into this description of what happened which is so detailed that it suggested she must have been at the scene.

In the end, I think Bundy clearly killed some if not all the victims, but she did it with someone. And that's also clear. But was the other person Clark, her roommate, or Murray, her lover? I can't be absolutely sure but after looking at all the evidence and thinking about it off and on for years, I think she did it with Murray. It may have been Clark, it could have been a folie a deux, that's the only possibility with him, but the stronger probability is Murray. One piece of evidence that might have proved the point was a piece of bloody scalp found in the ventilator of Murray's van, when his body was found. The scalp was never tied to any of the victims, but how well it was examined, I don't know. it was never offered up in court as evidence.

And there are other incidental reasons that tie Murray and Bundy to the crime. You can find out about some of these in a piece I once wrote for Los Angeles Magazine. I'd have to find it in a mountain of things but If you want it I could get it.... Also, if you haven't already, read this article that appeared on line....

The problem, the very damning problem about this case, is that it is so muddied, the trial handled so badly, that much of it still remains a mystery.... I have a similar mystery in my own family, an unsolved murder, and it is the cruelest legacy.

The correspondence was on. A second note then arrived from "Family"...

Sorry you were haunted. Some friends of mine say the same thing after they hear about it. I don't talk much about it and most people I know don't know what happened. I guess I'm haunted too. It's strange because I can see where we used to live on google map. What was so strange to me was reading from people that my sisters were prostitutes. That seems impossible because they were in high school, at least my sister Gina was. She finished the 9th grade and school was only out for a few days. I saw them around the block two days before when they were at a high school friend's party, and my dad tried to get her but she hopped the fence before he could catch her. They wanted to stay out late. I know she was trying to do modeling and acting. She did an ad for some footwear. It is just awful luck. Do you think people hate the family members and victims murdered by capital crimes, as if its our fault the death penalty exists? What did Clark's brother say to you? Your euphemism of placing people in the desert sounds very civil. But, if we put him in a desert somewhere, people would be outraged at that, as that is surely a cruel and unusual death. I guess it sounds nice, but really I think being stranded in a desert would be harder than what his fate is now. But then again I've never been to San Quentin. I guess I shouldn't go.

I tried to explain once again why I thought there are questions about his guilt and the way it was determined, and that certainly no question that Carol Bundy took part in the murders. She died a few years ago in prison....

That brought another note.

I just wanted to know what is it that makes you believe he is not guilty, when you visited, was it in the conviction of his voice? Do you think it would be wise for me to visit him? Did he frighten you?

I replied that I didn't think she should go, that he's not frightening, or he wasn't when I knew him, but that visiting people in this situation ultimately comes to nothing, and that she would still be left with ambiguities. I didn't press the matter, I didn't say what I really thought which was that you should under no circumstances visit him. It will bring you nothing good. I did not say, 'you know we take evil for granted in this society, but we shouldn't, and while this man is not 'evil' in an Biblical sense, the events and people around him are as close to evil as you can get and beyond the novelty of it, and beyond trying to save him from the executioner's song, there's nothing to do with him. Nothing to say, nothing to clarify.

She, I assume it's a she, sent another email, in which there were no questions I could answer or felt like answering and so didn't respond. But when I didn't reply after two days she sent this,

Why haven't you written back? Did I say something to upset you? What did his brother Clark's brother say? Did you ever interview his parents? Why did they not defend him? Where is the logic in that? This is ancient history to you, but I assure you this is all new to me. I appreciate your candidness.
Family member.

I sent this reply.

You might identify yourself, a first name might be nice.... As for not writing back, please take no offense, I've been very busy.... I shall answer all your questions, if I can....

What did Clark's brother say? I spoke to him on the phone, if I remember, and I couldn't use much of it, except that I asked him about Doug's childhood, because often you find the roots of psychopathology, in other words the elements that might make a serial killer in one's childhood. According to the brother, if I remember, the sense was that Doug was not abused, as opposed to Carol who was absolutely abuse: her entire history explained everything she did, which is why, to suggest that she was this innocent widow was nonsense. But the point is that Clark's brother didn't tell that kind of story. Those years were largely inconsequential, although either from the brother or Clark himself I remember that he did have an early sexual awakening and sex was always an enormous part of his life. He also got in small trouble, in schools and so forth, not so much physical, but mouthing off and lying. He also tended to brag, if I remember. Altogether not anything to build on, from my point of view. That was part of the problem, I couldn't find much in his biography that lent itself to his behavior.

Although there are those who would 'wait, there is a portrait that lends itself to murder' and they might point out that he was misogynistic, which I think is true, part of a love-hate relationship perhaps. He used his wife mercilously, I know that, and in prison has made endless attempts to strike up relationships with women. And he worked in upholstery, which is the handiwork, for reasons I've never understood, of many serial killers.... But you see how thin that is.....

I didn't interview his parents, although I read a couple of letters from his mother. I may have spoken to her once. I just don't remember. They were 'normal' as much as I know, although I think his father was in t he military, the Navy?

His parents DID defend him, although they didn't have much money, I seem to remember. But I think to the extent they didn't support him was out of extreme embarassment. Did they believe his claim to innocence? I don't know. I know he got letters from his mother from to time, which were sympathetic.

And you know he was married, Clark was married, while on death row They have since divorced. I think that's right. At least separated. She lives in the Mid West. They saw each other only in the visiting room at San Quentin.... For a while she was interested in his case and then after time she felt used and became bored with his endless derision, his endless errands on his behalf...

But what about Murray? What was his background? He was Australian, every bit the womanizer and had a long sexual relationship with Carol, who, interestingly, when she first called police to say she wanted to turn in a serial killer, described Murray..... And even used a derivative of his name. But then when she sat down with poilce everything changed....

I must go now...

She replied the next day and identified herself.

HI Mark,

I get so incensed about the girl because I am her friend. She was only 11 when it happened! She was 13 at the trial, she's the same age as me. No 11 year old is sexually active without the coercion they gave her. That's the B.S. Clark likes to portray her as, that poor girl. I'm really glad she made it through. It sounds so much more innocent on Clark's behalf, but you have to realize he would say anything to prove his innocence.

I do know Clark rented the storage space and called my sisters' friend, a number he got from Gina's wallet. Mindy. She identified him. They found her blood in his storage and also in his car, the one he sold to someone that went all the way to Ohio. The best thing about my sister dying is that her blood is what linked him to the murder. That much I have learned.

I don't care about his family's financial status, just their feelings. Like I always say: I really want to know what happened. My guess is some guy saw them at the beach and told them they could be in the movies, or in some ad and they head for LA, or that they were going to a 'casting call'...I know cause that happened to me many times when I got older. California is full of creeps. I was picked up by grown men since I was 13. But I knew better, through their mistakes. Nonetheless, I'm tired of speculating. You don't think that if I was to visit Clark I could get a semblance of the truth?

I hope you keep me confidential! Please don't reveal my identity...I'm rather terrified!

Did you read the case? Here is the link:

I have not replied.

1 comment:

desertstar said...

I would like to clarify something- I am the missionary who wrote you - but I have never MET Douglas Clark- I've only corresponded with him via letters. (snail mail)