PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On Saturday, October 30, 1926, Marvin Clark left his Tigard home and boarded a motor stage to visit his daughter in Portland. Later, his wife, Mary, learned he never arrived.
He disappeared and has never been found. His case is one of the oldest unsolved missing person cases in the country.
The then-and-now search for Marvin Alvin Clark
“I wonder who he was and why he left, or was there some sort of foul play or why did he leave the family and not come back again,” his great-great granddaughter Pam Knowles told KOIN 6 News.
She said she doesn’t know a lot about him other than what her grandmother — Marvin’s granddaughter — told her.
“He was a sheriff in Linnton and lived in Tigard,” Knowles said. Her grandmother described Marvin as adventurous.
Marvin and Mary Clark had 4 children, Knowles said. “The pictures of them together show them as being a very loving couple. They had at that time what I would consider probably a very nice home in Tigard. And my grandmother and her siblings always talked fondly of their grandfather.”
His disappearance was an immediate mystery that drew the attention of the region.
“Tigard man, 75, missing,” was the headline in The Oregonian. “Marvin A. Clark last seen at stage depot.”
The Oregonian described him as a “well-known resident of Tigard” who had lived there for 15 years at the time of his disappearance. The article stated relatives began “a frantic search” for him.
“The missing man is afflicted with paralysis on one side and is side to have a halting gait,” The Oregonian wrote. The paper also announced the family offered a $100 reward for information.
“They did?” Knowles asked. “Wow. That’s a lot of money for then.”
The search continued, but as time passed hope faded.
The twist 60 years later
In 1986 some loggers discovered very old skeletal remains in the hills above Highway 30. KOIN 6 News was there as investigators recovered the remains and discovered some unusual items suggesting the man had died decades earlier.
“We did find some coins in his pocket. They were dated 1919 and the others were dated around the same era,” Deputy Medical Examiner Bigoni told KOIN 6 News at that time. “It’s been many, many years. There was a revolver next to the body and the clothing, which is deteriorated.”
Investigators at the time thought it might be Marvin Clark. But there wasn’t enough evidence to know for sure.
“At the time, it was deemed a suicide, based on the police report,” said Multnomah County Sheriff’s Sgt. Rian Hakala, who was the missing persons detective for the sheriff’s office in 2014 when he got involved with the case.
Hakala said investigators in 1986 also found “some remnants of old shoes, a pen that had ‘FOE’ — Fraternal Order of the Eagles — engraved on it, just some miscellaneous items. Sears Roebucks pocketwatch, some items that kind of go back, have an old era that has some historical aspect to it to tell us the bones had been there for a long time.”
The bones were taken to the medical examiner’s office, where they sat.
DNA samples and new technology
As the missing persons detective in 2014, he worked closely with Dr. Nici Vance, the state forensic anthropologist. “Nici had some bones that were there at her office that were unidentified,” he said.
They had DNA from those bones, and he worked with a genealogist to track down Pam Knowles that year.
“I started to think about, well, this would be kind of interesting to find out about this family member that went missing so long ago,” Knowles said. “What he basically wanted me to do was give them a swab to see if there was, if this truly was the bones of Marvin Alvin Clark.”
She said she was hopeful — and her son was very interested in the case.
“I brought my son with me because they wanted another swab, and he’s very into this kind of stuff, as well.”
Hakala said everything pointed to the bones being the remains of Marvin Clark. “I would have bet that it was him,” he said.
But the DNA test from family was necessary to absolutely confirm it.
“We sent (the DNA swabs) off to the University of North Texas, where you have to wait and wait,” he said. “Unfortunately, to get the results back on DNA is not as fast as it is on TV. I want to say it took about 4 to 6 months to get those results.”
He admitted it “was kind of agonizing because we knew it was him and everybody was ready for it. We just needed confirmation.
“And it wasn’t him. It wasn’t him, unfortunately.”
One mystery became 2
Two mysteries remain: Who died in the woods? And what happened to Marvin Clark?
Pam Knowles’ DNA is now on file and Marvin Clark’s case is listed in the National Missing and Unidentified Persons Database — NAMUS.
“If at any point in the future bones are sent in and it’s Marvin, we will get a positive identification,” Hakala said. “And who’s to say he won’t get found by a hunter or a landscaper or developer or something like that happens. So, there’s a chance he could be found.”
He said he would love to give Pam Knowles and her family some answers after 92 years.
“Even though Pam is so far removed from Marvin specifically, it would be neat to give her an answer. ‘We found him. Here he is,'” Hakala said.
Pam Knowles said it’s interesting to have one of the oldest missing person cases in the country be directly connected to her family.
“I just love the historical part of it and, you know, the mystery. So, what happened? What happened to him?”
She said it would be “interesting to see if anybody else follows up on it someday. I would love to have a tip so we could find out what happened to Marvin.”