It’s been more than 10 years since 19-year-old Samantha Clarke left her home on Lindsay Drive in the Town of Orange with only a house key, never to be heard from again.
In a press conference Friday afternoon, Orange Police Chief Jim Fenwick said her missing persons case has been reclassified as an active abduction and murder investigation.
The chief wouldn’t elaborate on the details that led to the change, except to cite “new information and advances in investigative and forensic technology.”
He would not specify what that new information was, nor whether or not her body had been found, referencing, “the sanctity and security of the investigation.” He only added, “Information has pointed us in that direction.”
For the most part, the press conference, attended by a handful of media representatives, town police officers and officials, was an appeal for information from the community that may help investigators close the 10-year-old case. No one from Clarke’s family was in attendance.
“Orange is a small, yet close-knit community where what happens to one, happens to all,” Chief Fenwick said. “Samantha’s family and those in this community and know and cared for her, are hoping for answers about what happened to her. We have investigators working diligently on this case and are following up on every lead and tip we receive.
We continue to use every available investigative method, technology and resource to our unified goal of seeking justice for Samantha’s family.”
In the late evening of Sept. 13, 2010, Clarke told her younger brother she was going to meet a friend and would be back the following morning. She was reported missing two days later and the chief said investigators have worked relentlessly and tirelessly on the investigation ever since.
“We believe some people who are familiar with the circumstances surrounding this case remain in our community as well as the communities surrounding us,” he said, thanking those who already have been interviewed and signaling they probably will be interviewed again.
“We know there is likely information that has not been shared. Even if you have been interviewed already, or believe the information you have has already been provided, we ask you to contact us,” Chief Fenwick said, listing the department’s phone number (540-672-1491), email (police@townofOrangeva.org), and Instagram account (@orangepoliceva_).
He said there are occasions and cases where people who have knowledge initially are reluctant to share critical information because of close relationships with those who may be involved, their reputation amongst friends or within the community.
“We recognize this and know relationships can change over time. It is not too late to come forward. Investigators are working tirelessly and working with other agencies to bring this case to closure,” he said, reiterating, but not expounding upon, “technology that was not available at the time Samantha went missing” that has allowed investigators to develop new leads.
Friday’s press conference was the first substantial update on the case in years.
In the fall of 2014, investigators from multiple law enforcement agencies searched the lake in the Greene Acres residential community in Greene County and another lake in Orange looking for Clarke’s body. The Greene Acres lake had been the site of numerous searches and dives early in the investigation, as authorities searched for both Clarke and then missing Nelson County teen, Alexis Murphy. Randy Taylor was considered a “person of interest” in both cases. Later that year, approximately 150 volunteers and law enforcement officials scoured 200 mostly wooded acres of privately owned hunt club property in western Orange County in another effort to find Clarke’s body. Authorities at that time said Taylor was familiar with the area and had access to it. In 2014, Taylor, now 62, was convicted in Murphy’s disappearance and death and is serving two life sentences.
The chief was asked Friday if Taylor was still a person of interest in the case.
“It’s no secret Randy Taylor was one of the last people to have contact with Samantha Clarke,” he said. “Beyond that, we’re not going to comment further.”
He also was asked if investigators felt they were close to solving the 10-year-old case.
“We’ve always felt we were close, from the time it was reported to us,” he said. “One of our own is missing and it’s my job and the job of our officers, prosecutors and everyone to get one of our own back.”