MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Over 50 years ago, two freshmen coeds at West Virginia University, Mared and Karen, went missing after attempting to hitchhike back to their dorm from High Street. When police found the pair, they were decapitated, and their murderer has never been found. West Virginia authors Geoffrey Fuller and S. James McLaughlin recently released a book with what they found during their decades-long investigation.
Q: What is the book about?
SJM: The book starts out with the disappearance itself and all of the Morgantown police and the West Virginia State Police involvement with that up until when the girls are found, and then it focuses on the trials, one and two, with Eugene Clawson, and we talk about the possibilities of ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ in that. I think it’s fair to say we both don’t think that he did it. And then, we start talking about some other possible suspects that there might be. For anyone who has listened to the podcast, there are some extra suspects that we didn’t have enough time to talk about on the podcast.
GF: And a lot more details than we could talk about on the podcast about all the suspects.
SJM: Right. So, after we go through those suspects, then we talk about our experiences separately and then when we started working together. So, that’s kind of how the book progresses.
Q: What got you interested in working on this case?
GF: I was here when it happened, and so I, of course, heard all the news about the missing girls and all that kind of thing. Then, when I was in high school, I attended Clawson’s first trial in ’76 with my girlfriend. We skipped school. And, we were pretty convinced that he didn’t have anything to do with it. We were kind of amazed that he got convicted because there was no evidence to speak of except his confession. And, in reality, when we dug into it, he confessed a bunch of times, partial confessions, and changing things all the time.
SJM: He was learning disabled, so in his mind, he had this plan to be proven that it wasn’t him that killed Mared and Karen so he would be moved to another facility that was closer to where his mother lived, and it just wasn’t really grounded in reality.
GF: He also said that he thought he would be let loose if he was not convicted in Morgantown. He would come to Morgantown. They would give him Sodium Pentothal, and they’d prove that he didn’t do it. And then, they’d let him go, so he’d get out of prison in New Jersey. For some reason, he thought that was the plan.
SJM: I guess he thought they’d shorten his sentence in New Jersey.
Q: What about you, Sarah? What got you interested in this case?
SJM: It’s such a weird story because it wasn’t planned at all, but my husband, when he was my fiance, he was going to Spain for two weeks. Friends of his were having a wedding. And, I don’t know, I just got this idea in my head. I remembered when my parents had talked about Mared and Karen, and I wanted to look into it because it just seemed so surreal. So, I started to do some research into it, and I found out there’s a whole lot to the story that I had never even been told.
I did a write-up. I put it on Reddit’s Unresolved and I met Kendall before I met Geoff, and we were standing on Kendall’s porch, and I said, “Hey, you just bought this house. Would you like to hear about the worst crime that’s ever happened in Morgantown?”
So I gave him the rundown on it, and he said, “Do you want to make a podcast?” I’m like, “Sure, what’s a podcast?” [laughs]
And then, the article that I wrote did its rounds. It was on Facebook, it got the attention of Geoff, and we were able to connect, and we had dinner and discussed the murders, and he’s like, “Do you want to write a book?” I’m like, “Sure, what’s a book?” [laughs]
So, it all came together at almost the exact same time, and it’s been pretty serendipitous.
Q: Given that it happened so long ago, was it difficult finding information on this case?
SJM: Yeah, it’s definitely more difficult. I think the Morgantown Police Department doesn’t keep any files older than 1980. So, it was just happenstance that he had been shadowing someone who had the actual files, or otherwise, it would’ve been destroyed. There wasn’t much information online except what [Geoff] was posting, and that was one of the reasons that I wanted to get a hold of him. He seemed to know a lot about the case.
GF: I shadowed a state trooper, Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hall, back in 2006 to 2009 or 2010, and he was investigating the case. He had an involvement in the case. Actually, he took Clawson’s confession and was sent up there to corroborate his confession and get his feeling about the guilt, and he said that Clawson was lying. But, apparently, a lot of other state troopers didn’t feel that way. And there was, of course, the prosecutor in Morgantown, so Clawson was convicted, but Richard was still sure that he didn’t do it.
SJM: He was convicted twice.
GF: Yeah, convicted in ’76 and ’81.
Q: Did WVU make any changes to campus as a result of this case?
SJM: I’m not really sure that they made any safety changes. I mean, the PRT did come into existence, but we can’t find any evidence that there’s any correlation between the two.
GF: And I went through three boxes of Samuel Elias’s papers. He was the one who was in charge of the PRT project, and he didn’t say anything in testimony. He testified before Congress, all kinds of things. There was no evidence that it had actually come because of the coed murders. That seemed to be just solely a WVU transportation problem because of the two campuses.
Q: So there was little done about safety with the hitchhiking and everything like that?
SJM: I think women in general stopped hitchhiking if they could help it, but I don’t think that the university did a whole lot for safety concerns. Eventually, Beverly Manor was closed. It was no longer a dorm, so there was no issue with the buses not being able to get out there because it wasn’t a dorm anymore, but other than that, I can’t say that a lot of safety precautions were taken.
GF: Around town, I hitchhiked all through high school and stuff, so guys, I think, kept hitchhiking, but a lot of women stopped, and you used to see dozens and dozens of students [in front of the Mountainlair] hitchhiking, and the car would stop, and they’d all pile in, as many people who could fit as possible, and then they’d drive away, so it was real common for everyone to be hitchhiking, and then after that, women largely stopped hitchhiking apparently.
Q: What’s the most interesting part about this case to you?
SJM: Personally, I find the letters that came from Cumberland, Maryland that were signed with a triangle–I find that really fascinating. They were sent on to the governor, and if they hadn’t been sent on, then we may have never found their bodies. But, someone had written these letters saying that they wanted to help them find the bodies, and here was a map. They drew a map–a terrible map, and they said “The animals are on the move. You need to find them quickly.” And I think, what, four letters in total?
GF: Yeah, spread over time. There was one letter sent on April 8th and then another one mailed the 10th to correct people because whoever was writing this–at the time, they didn’t know who was writing this. They were all handwritten, and he was trying to correct impressions that were coming over the news about where to look, and his claims about where the bodies were—he said, for instance, they were near a stream and in the woods. And, as you know, around here, that doesn’t—
SJM: We’re very close to a stream and near the woods right now.
GF: Yeah, so you can’t go anywhere in West Virginia without being close to a stream and woods. So, they found Mared’s purse on March 1st, so the state police were already starting to look south of Morgantown before the letters came. Then when the letters came, they said to look 25 miles south of Morgantown, so the state troopers drove the direction and they ended up in downtown Grafton, and they said, “Well, this isn’t it.” They drove another mile and said that there was nothing there.
Eventually the bodies were found eight, nine miles south of Morgantown rather than 25.
SJM: [To Geoff] But what do you think is the most interesting part of the case?
GF: One of the things that [Sarah] said, one of the first times we got together, was that Morgantown must’ve been really scary in the ’70s, and I thought, I grew up here, I didn’t think it was scary at all. It was scary. There was a lot of people doing bad things, especially to women in Morgantown. There was a lot of child abductions. There was a lot going on that never made the news, never was public. It was in reports and things. Police were on it, but I don’t know what they were doing about it, but there was just a lot of bad people doing bad things that I wasn’t aware of.
Q: Do you think you had that perspective because you were a man as opposed to a woman in the ’70s?
GF: Plus, the general public had no idea what the police were doing because that’s all happening out of sight, and it wasn’t really being reported that much. Sometimes, but I think as Sarah pointed out, there would be an abduction or some kind of event and it would get splashy news, and then when it actually got resolved, it was printed in a small story in the back of the newspaper, so people weren’t aware that there was a constant search for bad people doing bad things.
SJM: Or when they were caught, a man was convicted of 12 attempted abductions, and we’re not sure how many of those were actually coeds and how many were children because technically anyone under the age of 21 was not considered an adult, so they were kind of grouped together. So, 12 counts of attempted abduction, and he was put into psychiatric care for three months. That was his punishment.
GF: There was another time that the magistrate fined the guy some small amount, 30 bucks or some kind of small amount of money for an assault. There were very few laws against doing those kinds of things and any kind of violence against women. That wasn’t really a thing, so the police would always have to cobble together the things, but that’s a whole lot less than ideal. I don’t think that really started until the ’80s.
Q: Anything else that you would like to add?
SJM: I do want to mention that we listed the pictures that we got from Brevard County of some necklaces and bracelets that had been taken from John Brennan Crutchley’s house in 1985, and a lot of his victims had never been identified, so if people want to take a look at those pictures, and maybe find out if [you know who these belong to], that would be great.
Geoffrey and S. James McLaughlin encourage folks to take a look at jewelry found in possession of John Brennan Crutchley to see if they look familiar. Crutchley was investigated for the deaths and disappearances of 26 women in the DC/Maryland/Virginia/Pennsylvania area.
GF: We were looking specifically for two necklaces, one of Mared’s necklaces with a religious medallion, and then Karen had a necklace with a class ring dangling on it, and those were both missing. So, when we found this Crutchley fellow and discovered that he had a whole stash of necklaces, we thought there might be–so, we were in communication with the lead investigator down there. And, that’s on the podcast, and we have an extensive interview in the book.
SJM: There’s also the detective magazines if anyone wants to read those. We have those in PDF form, and you can see what the magazines printed versus what Clawson said in his confession and what was wrong with what was printed that he was regurgitating in his confessions.
GF: Yeah, there were 30-35 mistakes in the articles, and Clawson just repeated those mistakes, and they were all completely wrong. That’s one of the reasons that Richard said, “I don’t think he did it.” His confession was just like this magazine article.
John Brennan Crutchley is the person that I think is likely to have done it. We have a big circumstantial case against him. Crutchley’s sister was going to WVU at the time and was also a freshman, and so I think we can find a connection between her and Mared and Karen. But, we haven’t found it yet.
SJM: So, if anyone has anything to say about that, contact us.
GF: Yeah, Crutchley was from Clarksburg, so right down the road, and like I said, his older brother went to WVU med school and his sister was a freshman in 1970.
More information on the WVU Coed Murders book and podcast is available on their website, coedmurders.com.