By M.P. Pellicer | Stranger Than Fiction Stories
It was Saturday, the day before Halloween, 1926, when Marvin Aaron Clark, one-time marshal from Linnton, Oregon, took a motor stage to Portland. He's never been seen since.
Clark was born in Iowa in 1852. Along with his wife Mary Ann Leach née Lewis, a young widow with two young children they ended up in Linnton, Oregon, where he worked as the marshal of the small lumber town.
Mary Ann had her own tragic history.
Prior to meeting Marvin, she was married to John P. Leach and by 1879, she had two small children, William and Sidney. John Leach was described by the newspapers of the days as a "well-to-do farmer speaking from a financial standpoint, but a hell of a to-do-husband whose brutal instincts seemed to have such control of him that his wife lived in constant fear of her life."
It was said she was literally covered with bruises and scars, and her life was constantly threatened by her husband. The couple was living in the Dakota Territories when Mary's brother William Lewis, who lived in Wisconsin came for a visit in November, 1882. Since his arrival Leach had threatened to kill him as well.
Young Lewis who was 20 years old was confronted by Leach in the railway station waiting room at Alexandria. They had an altercation about Leach abusing his sister. Leach hit him and they grappled. Leach who was 32 years old, threw the young man on the floor. Lewis got out his revolver and fired three shots. The last one hit his brother-in-law in the heart. A week later a coroner's jury exonerated Lewis finding a verdict that it was in self defense.
Leach, a member of Wisconsin's Voluntary Infantry was no stranger to violence. In 1876, he damaged a window, table and pail at jailhouse in Iowa County, Wisconsin while he was in custody. In 1880, he had been arrested for a knife fight at the Custer House on Capital Street.
Leach had just sold a farm and left his widow with a small fortune of $5,000.
Mary Ann married Marvin on February 21, 1885. Perhaps it was these experiences that propelled the couple to move to the West Coast, which they did by 1888. They went on to have five more children.
It was said that Clark knew the area above St. Helens Highway very well, and he was well recognized by the townspeople of Tigard where the family had moved to. Because of a partial paralysis to one side of his body, the 73-year-old walked with a limp. He wore wire-rimmed eyeglasses and leather high top boots.
The trip from Tigurd to Portland was only 10 miles, and it was two days before his wife realized he had not made it to his step-daughter's home at 735 Hoyt Street. This was the Hereford Hotel that she lived at and managed as well. She notified the police, and they got a lead that he was seen at the terminal at Salmon Street.
According to Sidney McDougall, she said the visit by her stepfather was unplanned since he had been at her home a few days before.
It was not until November 6 that his disappearance was published by the newspapers.
On November, 19, 1926, Mary Clark received a postcard from Bellingham, Washington, apparently from Marvin. Several witnesses said they saw him there between November 2 and 3. It was unknown if this was a joke, or actually written by Clark who might have become disoriented.
Due to paralysis on his right side he walked with a halting gate. He had gray eyes, white hair and mustache, was about 5'8" tall and weighed about 170 pounds.
The family feared he was taken ill, and he could not be identified at any place he would have been taken to for medical attention. They made calls to the hospitals and undertakers in the area, but they had no one that fit his description. The family offered a $100 reward. Notices were sent to police departments across the Northwest, with a full description including that he walked with a "hanging gait." The reward was never claimed.
The years marched forward, and Marvin's wife, Mary died in 1930.
It wasn't until 60 years later that authorities thought they had found Marvin Clark.
On May 10, 1986, loggers found a full skeleton of a man with a Harrington & Richards .32-caliber revolver next to him, along with one expended bullet. With the remains were an 1888 nickel, an 1881 silver dollar, and a 1896 quarter. These were tavern tokens commonly used from 1890 to about 1920 that were awarded in card games, and could be used to buy food or alcohol. He also had a Sears Roebuck & Co. pocket watch, a mechanical lead pencil, wire-rimmed eyeglasses and a Fraternal Order of Eagle's pocket knife. The man wore clothing used during the years Clark disappeared. He had on high-topped shoes with laces called "police loafers".
The medical examiner ruled it a suicide since a single shot was fired at the skull, and exited at the temples. There appeared to be a contact wound. The man was estimated to be 5'9", and could have been from 35 to 55 years old. It appeared he had been there since sometimes during the early 1920s. Due to the isolated area of northwest Multnomah County where he chose to take his life, the remains had lain hidden for many years. The secluded ravine was in Linnton, which was annexed by Portland almost a hundred years before.
Upon the discovery of the remains in 1986, Dorothy Willoughby contacted detectives to say it might be her grandfather Marvin Clark who disappeared in 1926. She said he was depressed over medical problems, and occasionally used a cane. Perhaps there was also heartbreak since Marvin and Mary had lost a daughter, Myra in 1921, after she was badly burned with grease she was cooking with. She was 27 years old.
Dorothy Willoughby died in 1991, before any conclusive evidence could be found to confirm the identity of the skeleton.
In 2011, DNA was taken from the remains. It wasn't until 2014, that three great-great-grandchildren were found from the paternal family that showed encouraging results, but no definitive links. The M.E.'s office was hoping to find family from the maternal side to confirm the findings.
In 2018, Pam Knowles, a great-great-granddaughter of Clark, provided DNA samples along with her son. This comparison proved the DNA did not to belong to Clark, and he is still considered a missing (deceased) person.
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