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DNA sought to close 1926 missing-person case

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Marvin A. Clark vanished during a short trip to Portland on Halloween weekend 1926, but the search to find out what happened to him may finally be drawing to a close nearly 90 years later.

Clark's disappearance is one of the oldest active missing-person cases in the nation, according to a federally funded database of missing persons. Investigators know Clark is not alive - he'd be more than 160 years old - but they believe they have his remains.

Now, they need DNA samples from Clark's hard-to-find descendants to close the case.

Despite the age of the remains, investigators were able to get a good DNA profile, said Dr. Nici Vance of the Oregon state medical examiner's office. Volunteer genealogists then found three great-great-grandchildren on the paternal side.

The results were encouraging, but not definitive, Vance said.

Now, "they're looking for a maternal link, someone on his mother's side, and following that lineage to shore it up and make the statistics a little better," she said. "There's an association there, but it's not strong at this point."

Vance entered Clark's name into the database of the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System, which provides a central repository of information about missing persons and unidentified decedent records. The free online system can be searched at findthemissing.org.

"There might have been an item of jewelry that was found with that person that could trigger a memory of a family member," she said.

The database, funded by the National Institute of Justice, consists of nearly 10,000 cases. Among the oldest active ones are cases involving a farmer in his 30s who went missing in Oklahoma in 1902, a 2-year-old who disappeared in 1930 in Chicago and a 22-year-old hiker who vanished in Rocky Mountain National Park in 1933.

As might be expected in Clark's case, which dates back to just before the Great Depression, some facts are sketchy and conflicting. According to the database, he was in his early 60s when he vanished while taking a stagecoach ride to see his Portland doctor in 1920.

But contemporaneous articles from The Oregonian newspaper show Clark was 75 and went missing on a bus trip in 1926. The old clippings say the "well-known" Tigard, Ore., resident left home on Saturday, Oct. 30, to visit his daughter, Mrs. Sidney McDougall, in Portland.

A frantic search began two days later when Clark's wife called McDougall and learned he never completed the trip that's about 10 miles.

McDougall, an article says, had not been expecting a visit from her father because he returned to Tigard from her home only a few days before his disappearance. The newspaper said Clark had been traced to a terminal in downtown Portland, near McDougall's place.

McDougall offered a $100 reward - more than $1,300 in today's money - for information about his whereabouts, but nothing turned up. Police across the Pacific Northwest were asked to be on the lookout for Clark, who had partial paralysis on the right side, a "halting gait" and couldn't use his right arm.

Then, on May 10, 1986, loggers clear-cutting an isolated section of Portland discovered the remains of a man who had been dead for at least a half-century.

Near the skeleton, investigators found an 1888 V nickel, a 1919 penny, a pocket watch, leather shoes, wire-rimmed glasses, a Fraternal Order of Eagles pocket knife and four tokens with the inscription "D&P." A historian told The Oregonian in 1986 that those where likely tavern tokens, which were awarded in card games and could be used to buy food or alcohol.

Police also found a corroded revolver, and an expended .32-caliber bullet. A single shot had entered the skull at the temple. Medical examiners at the time said it was the oldest case they ever had. They ruled the unknown man's death a suicide. Investigators were skeptical that his identity would ever be learned.

Clark's name surfaced a couple days later when a woman told detectives it might be her grandfather.

The woman, Dorothy Willoughby, said Clark had once been the town marshal from Linnton, which was annexed by Portland in the early 20th century and is near the secluded ravine where the man chose to end his life. She said her grandfather went missing around 1920 and was said to have been depressed over medical problems and sometimes used a cane.

The granddaughter's hunch, however, wasn't enough to solve the disappearance. She died in 1991.

When Vance discovered a file about Clark and the 1986 remains, she realized the case number might be in the storage unit where the remains of unidentified people are kept. "And I was like: `Oh my gosh, I still have this guy. This is fantastic,'" she said.

With the advances in DNA, she sent a sample in 2011 to the Center for Human Identification at the University of North Texas, which also manages the database of missing and unidentified people. Now, they are searching for more of Clark's descendants.

"I don't like the word closure, I kind of think resolution," said Janet Franson, a regional NamUs administrator whose territory includes Oregon.

Join the discussion

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Selene April 30 2014 at 12:32 PM

No one cares anymore. All those that would are DEAD. Too little to late for this guy.

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36 replies
Dick Austin April 30 2014 at 1:34 PM

It amazes me at the amount of negative people in this world. I'll will bet that each of the negative comments on this story come from people who are typically unhappy and very seldom find the positive in any situation!

In regards to this story - If there are relatives to this missing person this will be a great mystery solved.

If no relatives are found it is still a great thing because it is part of this town's history and there are enough history buffs around that this story would certainly be interesting to them.

I hope the mystery is solved.

Flag Reply +1 rate up
greenlite5099 April 30 2014 at 3:14 PM

If your going to do the suicide thing, at least leave a note so the rest of us won't worry about you and more.

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YourFtr April 30 2014 at 11:14 PM

Judge Crater !??

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Kathy April 30 2014 at 12:55 PM

ITs very interesting, I had a great great Grandfather that disappeared too.Will never know what happened to him either and he was on his way to town with a wagon full of hay. Generational history is facinating,,

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2 replies
Storm Kathy April 30 2014 at 2:06 PM

I too had a grandfather that disappeared and my father searched for years for him. My grand mother never got over it. SHe had him declared dead 10 years after he walked off to now where. My dad went so far as to go to Ireland and see his family there and they too knew mothing. My dad died never knowing what happened to his dad and I wish I could find out too. SO people do care and it has been well over a hundred years since he dissappeared and my dad died in1978 at 75 yrs of age. I am 70 andn have still searhef to no avail. I know my dad knows NOW what he wondered about since he was 8 years old but I don;t and neither do my kids. We also had 2 uncles that this happened to. One came home from work gave my Aunt his paycheck ran out to get milk and never was seen again and hte other was ona train and never made it home . Well over a hundred of years ago but grand kids and such do care.

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MatuArt Kathy April 30 2014 at 3:13 PM

I know you'd appreciate knowing what happened to him

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MatuArt April 30 2014 at 3:14 PM

For you dead heads who show no respect for this family~ I'm glad Custer got his!

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gfirealty April 30 2014 at 8:55 PM

Sure its a waste of time and money, but it is cool that technology could possibly solve a mystery that is so old...

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cidasplace April 30 2014 at 8:05 PM

I am very much involved in genealogy, it's fascinating, to see your ancestors come alive, how they lived, how they died, I have been working for over a decade on my family's genealogy, I get excited every time I find a new piece to the puzzle. I think it's important for the family to find out what happened to their loved ones.

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Aneisha April 30 2014 at 1:00 PM

Some of you people are disrespectful I bet if he was apart of your family you would want to know and I think its an interesting story and I would like to know what happened with the DNA results and its not a waste of money or time. I don't know what's wrong with You people theses days allways complaining about something...

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2 replies
spdy65 Aneisha April 30 2014 at 2:19 PM

My guess is that heartless people who spout cruel comments about cases like this don't care about their own families either.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
MatuArt Aneisha April 30 2014 at 3:12 PM

Tell it!

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Alex April 30 2014 at 7:53 PM

What they found, could be John Crater & not Marvin Clark .

Flag Reply +3 rate up
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