- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 8, 2000

It is hard to imagine the abrupt disappearance of a loved one, followed by years of uncertainty about the person's fate and then, finally, learning the murderous truth. It is especially difficult when the loved one is a youngster. But that's what appears to have happened in the case of 6-year-old Michele Lee Dorr.

Her remains, police said, were discovered Thursday in a shallow grave in Silver Spring, about 5 miles from home. News of the discovery has brought a semblance of closure to the nearly 14-year-old case, and for that small measure Michele's parents are grateful.

The case of Michele Dorr began one sunny Saturday afternoon in May 1986 at the Takoma Park home of her father, Carl. With a wading pool beckoning in the backyard amid the heat, Michele donned her pink swimsuit to delight in the water while her dad read the newspaper. His and her actions seemed like a very normal thing to do. Catch up on the news while your child is at play. Then the worst happened. One minute Michele was there, and the next she was not. And it turned out she was not headed for the pool at all but to the home of a neighbor. Nonetheless, just like that she had disappeared, and it would take a tenacious and committed law-enforcement community to solve the mystery.

Initially, Montgomery investigators suspected Michele's father based on suspicions of her mother. But after further developments including a confession, a recant and a lie-detector test police dropped him as a suspect and instead turned toward Dorr neighbor Hadden Clark, a gardener who had been seen in the company of a small child. Investigators, who never really gave up, targeted Clark again in 1992, six years after Michele's disappearance, when a young woman named Laura Houghteling disappeared. After countless grillings about both cases, Clark finally pleaded guilty to murdering Miss Houghteling. Regarding Michele's whereabouts, though, he was maddeningly silent. Police and prosecutors remained suspicious and pressed on.

In September 1998, Clark, who by then had been convicted and imprisoned in the Houghteling case, was charged with killing Michele. The case against him was largely circumstantial, but law-enforcement authorities were able to win that conviction with the help of Clark's fellow inmates, who testified that Clark had told them he had slashed little Michele's throat and chest, almost decapitating her.

Michele's parents, the police and practically every other reasonable person interested in the case, presumed Michele was dead. The biggest obstacle to determining the truth was Clark's unremorseful and tight-lipped response to repeated questioning about the location of her remains. Police searched a dozen spots over the years, from the Washington metropolitan area here clear up to Massachusetts, to no avail until Thursday, when a "source" pointed police in the right direction of a wooded ravine just off Columbia Pike in Silver Spring. That is where they found not only skeletal remains, but remnants of a pink swimsuit as well.

It would be nice, at this juncture, to report that those discoveries mean the Dorr case is closed and that, after burial services, the family and police can rest a little easier knowing that Michele herself is at rest. But that might be premature. Hadden Clark, who was sentenced to spend the remainder of his natural life in prison for the two murders, is appealing his conviction in the Dorr case.

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