Spotlight Case: Toni Clark

I haven’t done a spotlight case in awhile, so today I’d like to write about Toni Danieelle Clark. She was seventeen years old and two months pregnant when she vanished from Oakland, California on March 16, 1990. Her case is one of the stranger ones in the Charley database.

It’s an established fact that Toni was driving to her boyfriend’s house when her car stalled on a bridge and another car rear-ended her. It’s an established fact that by the time police arrived at the accident scene just minutes there, Toni had vanished without a trace. Beyond that, no one really knows what happened.

Toni’s mom believes her daughter called her about a week after the accident. She heard someone crying on the line for less than a minute before the connection was broken. The call couldn’t be traced and there’s no proof that it was really Toni. The authorities were (and, mostly, still are) of the opinion that Toni was thrown from her vehicle in the accident, went off the bridge and was killed. They actually charged the other driver with manslaughter, but there just wasn’t enough evidence to prove Toni was actually dead. Her body was never found. The driver was acquitted.

I think I’d have to know a lot more about the collision and Toni’s car to buy into the accidental death theory. Like: was Toni’s windshield broken in the wreck? (Indicating she’d gone through it.) Or was she driving a convertible, maybe? What I really don’t understand is how a rear-end collision is supposed to have thrown her sideways over the bridge rail, rather than forward onto the road. Unless Toni perhaps tried to pull over before the car stalled, and was angled towards the side of the bridge? There are frustratingly few details about this.

But the abduction theory doesn’t really make any more sense than the accident. How could someone snatch a woman like that, in front of witnesses, and get away without anyone seeing anything suspicious? The accident occurred at midnight, but a place like the San Francisco Bay Bridge would have had traffic even at that hour. It’s likely at least half a dozen people were watching and no one saw a kidnapping. There were reports of a black man looking under Toni’s car, but that hardly seems significant — after a wreck, of course you, or bystanders, will look under the vehicle to check for damage. The phone call Toni’s mom got is odd, but how does she know it was her daughter? Perhaps it was someone who heard about Toni’s disappearance and was playing a sick “joke.” Or perhaps the call was entirely unconnected — someone getting a wrong number, say.

If this was an abduction that has got to be the luckiest abductor in the world, I think, or the smartest. The fact that there were no witnesses makes me think (assuming this was an abduction) that the kidnapper was actually in Toni’s car already when the accident occurred. Maybe hiding in the backseat, waiting to strike, then the wreck, and he realized he had better get out now or he’d get discovered. So she’s trying to collect herself and assess the damage, and he jumps on her from behind, covers her mouth, and whisks her off into the darkness. This sounds wildly implausible, I know, but the whole story is wildly implausible.

I suppose the abductor could have been someone Toni already knew. The fact that she was pregnant makes me wonder about the boyfriend. I don’t know anything about him or their relationship, but when a pregnant woman disappears you always have to look at her partner.

None of my theories really hold water.

Your guess is as good as mine.

David Michael Bell’s remains identified

Some remains found east of Cisco, Texas last week have been identified as David Michael Bell, a Charley Project missing person. He was 27 years old when he disappeared from Cisco the day after Christmas in 2007. His case got more than the average amount of attention for a black man, I think because he had been a minor league baseball player and also he was kind of cute.

The police don’t suspect foul play in David’s death, though with skeletal remains you would be hard pressed to find proof of murder. His car had run out of gas and they think he might have gotten lost walking to get help and gotten hypothermia. He may have also been having mental problems when he disappeared. He stopped randomly at a church that day and made some remarks that were so bizarre the pastor called the cops. But when the police came, David was acting normal and so they let him go. No way anyone could have known, of course.

This is the part, I suppose, where I’m supposed to say something about closure. But closure is such an overrated concept.

Update on little girl stolen from Connecticut grave

ABC News says her name was Imani Joiner. She was born with a birth defect where her brain didn’t develop into two hemispheres like it’s supposed to. Wikipedia says some cases are mild, but most babies with this condition die before birth or shortly after. Imani survived two years and was locally kind of famous for that. I’ve read up a bit on a similar condition, anencephaly, where the brain basically doesn’t develop at all. Anencephaly is a rare, tragic and totally unpreventable event; I’m guessing holoprosencephaly is the same.

The cops think someone who had heard about Imani was trying to use her body in a religious ritual. The article doesn’t say outright, but it looks like they found the body and identified it, then realized it was stolen from a grave, rather than the other way around. I hope people who know the truth about this are speaking up, or will soon. I expect they will; this has undoubtedly caused a lot of public outrage.

Speaking of buried and disinterred children, this out of Oklahoma with shades of Adam Herrman: Investigators have no reason to doubt the remains found in Milton-Freewater belong to Oklahoma girl Cheyenne Wolf. She’s the little girl thought to have been killed and her body buried and unearthed nearly a-half-dozen times by her parents Abel and Denise Wolf.

Such stories to open your day with!