Beaten by a Hair [Forensic Files] Case Study: Hadden Clark And Laura Houghteling

Forensic Files Beaten by a Hair Summary (How Laura Houghteling Died and Hadden Clark Caught?)

Date of IncidentOctober 19, 1992
Region and LocationBethesda, Maryland
Forensic Files CaseBeaten by a Hair (Season 3, Episode 9)
VictimLaura Houghteling
CulpritHadden Clark
Type of CrimeMurder, revenge killing
Forensic EvidenceBloody pillow and pillowcase, synthetic wig fiber, partial thumbprint, bloodstains resembling a knife, wig from storage
Forensic Techniques UsedBlood type analysis, RFLP DNA test, Luminol, Microscopic examination, Amido Black protein stain
Charged ForSecond Degree murder
Punishment70 years (30 + 30 +10 years)
Conviction StatusConvicted,  going to release in 2063
Where is NowAlive in prison of Montgomery County, Maryland

On Monday morning of October 19, 1992, Laura Houghteling (23 years), a Harvard graduate young woman, left her home in Bethesda, Maryland for work in a public-relations firm in Washington, D.C. But she never reached there.

The company called Laura’s Mother Penny, but she was out on a business trip. However, Laura’s brother Warren, who was living nearby went on for a check and found that the back door was open.

Laura Houghteling with his brother Warren and mother Penny in case summary of beaten by a hair

There was no clue for Laura. In her bedroom, there was a missing bedsheet.

The Family informed the police about Laura’s disappearance. On investigation, police found a strand of hair in Laura’s brush.

On forensic examination, the source of hair is synthetic like a wig. However, she didn’t own one.

After four days, two main pieces of evidence i.e. a bloody pillow and pillowcase were recovered from the woods near her house. Using the DNA RFLP technique, it was identified as Laura’s blood.

By analyzing the blood pillowcase using Amido black reagent, there was a partial thumbprint. With the amount of blood on the pillow, police start considering the case a homicide.

But the Police have no clue who might harm her. What was the motive?

Police even couldn’t find her body. However, they got a lead from Laura’s brother, Warren.

He told the investigators that he saw Hadden Clark (42 years), a part-time gardener who was working for their mother. And when tried to talk to him about Laura’s disappearance, he sped up his car and ran away.

How Hadden Clark gets Caught

The police learned that Hadden Clark had a troubled life as he was born with brain damage. He was a trained chef but because of schizophrenic conditions, he frequently had to change his job.

He was homeless and parked his truck in a church parking lot near the woods where the bloody pillow was found.

Penny confronted two main pieces of information to the police:
(i) She had an argument with Clark, one week before Laura disappeared.
(ii) She also keeps a spare house key in the shed which Hadden was aware of. 

Police discovered Clark had purchased duct tape, braided rope, and nylon cord days before Laura’s disappearance. He paid the items with a personal check and in the memo section of the check, he wrote “Laura.”

Other Facts went out: On the day Laura disappeared, Clark bought a queen-size sheet from a department store that matched the size of Laura’s mattress.

He also rented a storage locker in Rhode Island. He revisited the locker two days after Laura’s disappearance. With written court permission, the storage unit was opened and police found unusual items in it.

Inside Clark’s Storage Locker

  • Female clothing and accessories
  • Slacks dresses, shoes, and coats
  • Wigs

This also explains why the person seen leaving Laura Houghtelings’ home on Monday morning was not Laura, but Hadden Clark dressed as Laura.

Linking Hadden to the crime scene: 

a. Wig Fiber Vs Hair from Laura’s brush:  Using a microscopic examination, a wig from the storage locker matched with the hair strand from Laura’s hairbrush.

To add evidentiary value to the case, both samples (wig and hair strand from hairbrush) were sent for microspectrophotometry analysis. The dye analysis confirmed that both fibers were identical.

b. Partial thumbprint on a pillowcase: they matched with Clark Hadden.

Finally, as an exchange plea deal, Hadden showed the location of Laura’s body which was recovered from a shallow grave about half a mile from her home.

On December 15, 2000, at Hadden’s grandparent farm, he also showed a grave of jewelry, including several items belonging to Laura Houghteling. He took jewelry from each of his victims as souvenirs.

As per reports, there are more than 100 jewelry items that he claimed to be the other victims of his.

What was the Punishment and Trial for Hadden Clark?

On November 6, 1992, Clark was arrested, but he pleaded guilty in exchange for the location of Laura’s body. 

In June 1993, because of pleaded agreement, he was charged with second-degree murder and sentenced to 30 years in prison.

However, after six years in jail, in 1993 because of mitochondrial DNA testing, he was also linked to the homicide case of Michelle Dorr. He got another 30 years of jail time.

Finally, an additional 10 years was added for robbing the Mahany family.

This made a total of 70 years. So, he was born in April 1951 and got convicted in 993. So, if I add 70 years to it,  which means he will be a free man in June 2063. This means 111 years and 10 months.

He probably isn’t gonna make it alive from Montgomery County, Maryland where he is still serving his sentence.

Read More: John Helble & Andy Rich [Hair of the Dog] Forensic Files Case Study

Forensic Evidence Against Hadden Clark in Beaten by a Hair Case Study

EvidenceForensic MethodForensic Significance
Blood traces on mattressLuminol reagent Indicated that a violent crime occurred in Laura’s bedroom.
Bloody pillow and pillowcaseBlood type analysis, RFLP DNA testConfirmed the blood belonged to Laura
Partial Thumbprint on pillowcaseAmido Black stainConnected the crime scene to Hadden Clark when matched to his thumbprint.
Bloodstains resembling a knifeAmido Black protein stainSuggested a possible weapon used in the crime
Wig fiber on hairbrushMicroscopic and microspectrophotometry Linked Clark to the crime scene when matched synthetic hair on Laura’s brush to a wig in his storage locker
Detection DogsCanine scent detectionTracked the scent from the bloody pillowcase to Houghteling’s bedroom
Purchased recordsClark purchased duct tape, braided rope, and nylon cord with check.A potential link as Laura’s name in the memo section.
Female clothing in storage lockerFemale clothing, wigs, and shoes were found in Clark’s storage locker.Suggested a possibility that Clark disguised himself as Laura to leave the crime scene undetected
Laura’s BodyAutopsy reportRevealed possible cause of death as suffocation

Forensic Analysis in Beaten by a Hair Case of Hadden Clark

Forensic Analysis and Instrumentation Used In Beaten by a Hair Case of Hadden Clark

1. Blood Type Analysis and RFLP DNA Test

RFLP (Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphism) DNA testing was used for the identification of a person but now has become absolute. Now, mini-STRs PCR techniques are used.

Back to the case, the blood group type analysis and RFLP DNA test confirmed that the blood found on the pillowcase and pillow belonged to Laura Houghteling.

2. Luminol Reagent

Luminol is based on the oxidation activity of blood (heme) that results in fluoresces in UV under dark conditions. 

In Beaten by a Hair forensic files case, luminol reagent is sparred over Laura’s mattress and there were latent blood patterns. This clearly indicates something violent happened to her.

3. Microscopic Examination

When the synthetic wig fibers and hair found on Laura’s hairbrush were viewed under the microscope, they both appeared identical.

But for more descriptive evidence, investigators send the sample to the FBI for spectrographic analysis.

4. Microspectrophotometer Dye Analysis

A microspectrophotometer measures the absorption of light by an object and its interaction.

The intensity of absorption varies as per the object’s surface and composition.

For this case, microspectrophotometry is used for the dye analysis. When both hair samples were observed under a micro spectrometer, they generated an identical absorption graph.

This concludes that the wig hair found on Laura’s hairbrush belongs to the same wig that was recovered from Clark’s storage locker.

Read More: Michael Prozumenshikov & Zachary Persitz [Going for Broke] Forensic Files Case Study

5. Amido Black Protein Stain

Amido black is a protein stain dye that produces a dark blue-black color product in the presence of blood.

In this case, the amido black protein is used to enhance the partial thumbprint and a knife blade over the pillowcase.

The fingerprint matched Hadden’s thumb. This was one of the important pieces of evidence against Hadden Clark.

Blade marks show that the knife could be a possible weapon of crime.

6. Canine Scent Detection

There are many cases where scented dogs are used to track down a grave. One of the cases is of Bill Bruns and Pearl Smith [Missing Pearl].

Similarly, in this case, a scented dog tracks the pillow scent from the woods back to Laura’s Hengtons house. This suggested that she never leaves the house, and how it was possible to see her on Monday morning.

General FAQs

Who Was Hadden Clark?

Hadden Clark is a convicted murderer, responsible for the killings of Laura Houghteling and Michelle Dorr. He was born with brain damage and diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic when he was in the US Navy. He struggled throughout his life, working odd jobs as a gardener and chef. Clark is currently serving two 30-year and one 10 years sentences for his crimes in Maryland.

What happened to Laura Houghteling?

Laura Houghteling, a young woman, disappeared from her house on October 19, 1992. She was seen leaving home on Monday morning but never reached work. After 5 months, the body was recovered in a shallow grave about half a mile away from Laura’s home. She had been violently attacked and suffocated to death by Hadden Clark.

What was Hadden Clark’s motive for murdering Laura Houghteling?

He never concluded the real reason why he killed Laura Houghteling. However, based on some reports and considering his mental instability and past murder, it may be because of his fight with Laura’s mother Penny over missing tools or he became obsessed with Laura, or felt rejected by her, leading to a violent outburst.

How did the police initially become suspicious of Hadden Clark?

Luara’s brother told police how Hadden flew away with his car when he was approaching him to ask about Lauara’s disappearance. His mother also added they two had a fight one week ago. Police also found purchasing records of duct tape, braid ropes, and nylon cord from a store with a check memo named “Laura.”

Was Hadden Clark involved in any other murders or criminal activities?

Hadden Clark was convicted of murdering Laura (23 years) and Michelle Dorr (6 years) and claimed to be involved in several other unsolved cases. From 1999 to 2000, he revealed information about his older murders, but his statements were never verified.


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