Episode 064: Samantha Clarke

January 9, 2023

When a young woman leaves home in the middle of the night and doesn’t return, her connection to another missing persons case leaves her family desperate for answers.

Episode Media
Samantha Ann Clarke
Samantha Clarke (Facebook)
Samantha’s tattoos (Charley Project)
Randy Taylor (Nelson County Sheriff’s Office)
Episode Sources
Episode Transcript

Welcome back to Bite-Sized Crime. This week I’m bringing you another missing persons case from Virginia. In last week’s episode, I mentioned the multiple cases of missing and murdered women along Route 29. While some of those cases have been solved, there are still several that have gone years without any sort of resolution. I was particularly struck by the case of 19-year-old Samantha Clarke and how closely connected her story is to that of Alexis Murphy. And yet, she hardly received any media coverage at the time of her disappearance or in the years since. Although there is little information available, I still believe her story deserves to be told.

Samantha Ann Clarke was born on July 17, 1991. Her mother, Barbara, was just 16 when she gave birth, dropping out of high school and moving in with Samantha’s father, who was a much older man. When Samantha was a toddler, her parents split up, and she was raised by her father. At the age of 12, Samantha moved to the small town of Orange, Virginia, where she would spend the rest of her teenage years with her mother’s family.

By the fall of 2010, 19-year-old Samantha had graduated from Orange County High School and was sharing a small two-bedroom apartment on Lindsay Drive with her mother and her 12-year-old brother, Hunter. She had a group of friends she was close with, and she was active on social media, posting regularly on Facebook and MySpace.

Samantha also enjoyed hanging out with her mom. Because of their closeness in age, Samantha and Barbara often seemed more like sisters than mother and daughter. Even when they argued or if Samantha needed space and went to stay with friends, they always stayed in contact with each other no matter what.

On Friday, September 10, Barbara and Samantha attended a football game at the high school, then headed to the town of Ruckersville to hang out with friends at The Northside, a local restaurant and bar on Route 29. As the night progressed, Samantha and Barbara chatted with people at the bar and exchanged phone numbers with a few young men. To Barbara, it seemed like just another fun night out – nothing really out of the ordinary.

But when Samantha disappeared a few days later, Barbara was left questioning everything.

On the evening of Monday, September 13, Barbara left the apartment to go work the night shift. Samantha was in her pajamas, watching TV on the couch, and Hunter was upstairs in his bedroom. Barbara told them goodnight and made the five-minute drive to work. But just a few hours into her shift, around 12:30am, Barbara’s cell phone rang – it was a call from the apartment’s landline. Barbara couldn’t answer the phone while she was working, but as soon as she went on break, she called back.

Hunter answered, and his words sent a chill through Barbara: “Sissy left.”

According to Hunter, Samantha had called upstairs to him and said she was leaving. This was definitely not like her – Samantha liked to hang out with her friends, but never after dark and especially not after midnight. But Barbara figured that’s what Samantha must have done, and she would surely be back by the time Barbara got home from work.

But when Barbara returned to the apartment at 7am, Samantha was nowhere to be seen. Her pajamas lay on her bed, so she must have changed clothes before leaving, and she had taken her apartment key with her. But Samantha didn’t have a car, and Orange didn’t have any sort of public transportation. If Samantha had gone somewhere, she must have gotten picked up by a friend or headed out on foot.

Trying not to panic, Barbara took Hunter to school like usual and then returned home to rest after her long shift. It was still early in the morning – maybe Samantha had spent the night with a friend and was just sleeping in before coming back to the apartment.

What worried Barbara the most was that Samantha didn’t have a cell phone or a drivers license. They actually shared a cell phone, and Barbara had had it with her at work that night. If Samantha had gone somewhere and gotten into some trouble, she wouldn’t have any identification or any way to contact her family. Barbara and her sister decided to drive around town looking for Samantha, but they didn’t find anything useful.

As Tuesday stretched on with no sign of her daughter, Barbara knew she had to do something. She drove to the police station to report Samantha missing, but was told something that we often hear in these sorts of cases: she had to wait 48 hours to file a report. Samantha was an adult; she was allowed to go missing if she wanted to. However, the Orange Police Department disputes this version of events, saying that Barbara initially went to a police station outside their jurisdiction and that she didn’t file a report with them until Wednesday. Whatever the truth is, the fact remains that Samantha had been missing for nearly two whole days before an investigation began.

Once it did, detectives needed to get a full picture of the days leading up to Samantha’s disappearance. They asked Barbara to help them piece together a timeline of Samantha’s actions and communications.

On Friday the 10th, when Samantha and Barbara had gone to The Northside bar, Barbara recalled that they had been talking to two young men in their 20s. Investigators have never publicly identified these men, so for clarity, I’ll just refer to them as Man #1 and Man #2.

According to Barbara, Man #1 seemed to really like Samantha and offered to give them a ride home. Apparently he then stayed the night at their apartment before leaving the next morning, and he and Samantha messaged each other on Facebook throughout the day on Saturday.

On Sunday, Man #2 called Samantha, wanting to hang out. He picked her up and took her on a “repo ride” to go repossess someone’s car. As fun as this may have been for Samantha, it wasn’t without its drama – Man #2 had a girlfriend, and she was not happy about Samantha hanging around. The details here are a bit murky, but apparently Samantha and the girlfriend got into some sort of physical altercation on Monday morning at the house shared by the two men.

Detectives questioned all three of these individuals, but no charges were ever filed. However, it did prompt investigators to look into Samantha’s phone records. When they did, they discovered that the same number had called Samantha multiple times on the night she disappeared. The number belonged to a man named Randy Taylor.

Unbeknownst to Barbara, Samantha had also been talking to Taylor at the bar on Friday night. In his mid-40s at the time, Randy Taylor was not the typical guy Samantha usually hung out with, but it seems as though he ran in the same circle as the two younger men, and he apparently went on the “repo ride” with Samantha and Man #2 on Sunday. This strange connection led investigators to bring Taylor in for questioning.

Randy Taylor admitted to talking to Samantha at the bar and hanging out with her on the “repo ride”. In his version of events, he wanted to warn her about Man #2’s criminal history and jealous girlfriend, so he asked Man #1 for Samantha’s phone number. He sent a text on Monday night, but because Barbara had the cell phone with her at work, Samantha didn’t see the message. According to Taylor, he then called Samantha’s home phone and talked to her for a while. He told investigators that at one point, Samantha hung up on him, but said she wanted him to call again. When he did, he claimed to hear a man’s voice in the background, then she hung up again. While this may be true, the phone records showed that Taylor called Samantha six times that night, which seems excessive and makes me think that there must be more to the story.

Whether they believed his story or not, police now had their sights set on Randy Taylor. But they were struggling to prove that he had actually met up with Samantha on Monday. Taylor went so far as to claim that he hadn’t even been near Orange that night – he had been thirty minutes away, and he had his young son with him. If detectives had enough to get a search warrant for his phone, there’s no mention of it. The evidence they did reveal was circumstantial at best; at the end of the day, they didn’t have enough to file charges against Randy Taylor.

As the months passed, Samantha’s case languished. Barbara worried that the community had lost interest in finding her daughter, and she was frustrated by the lack of media coverage. The year before, college student Morgan Harrington had disappeared from a concert in Charlottesville, and her case had been all over the news. Barbara didn’t begrudge the Harrington family their attention, but she wished that Samantha could have the same.

Even though Samantha’s story had faded from the public eye, investigators were still actively working the case, and Randy Taylor was still their main suspect. They even placed a tracking device on his vehicle, hoping he would lead them to Samantha. In 2011, Taylor got pulled over for a traffic violation, and police found a handgun in his car. He was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. However, Taylor had found the tracking device – he sued the police department and claimed that they had conducted a warrantless search and seizure. A judge ruled in his favor, and all charges were dropped.

In spite of this setback, investigators kept searching for Samantha. In the first half of 2011, a dive team from the Virginia State Police searched the Green Acres lake in neighboring Greene County ten times. Authorities never publicly stated why that particular lake was searched so many times, but it’s believed that Randy Taylor had some connection to that area.

In 2012, Taylor went public with his complaints against the police department, claiming that they harassed him, planting evidence and ruining his life. He told a Charlottesville newspaper that the negative attention had lost him his job, his home, and the custody of his son. “The case needs to be solved, but the way they’re going about it is ridiculous.”

Then, in August of 2013, three years after Samantha vanished, Randy Taylor was arrested and charged with the murder of another young woman – 17-year-old Alexis Murphy. This time, investigators had plenty of evidence, and Taylor was ultimately given two life sentences.

Although Alexis Murphy’s case ended in tragedy, the flood of media attention breathed new life into Samantha’s case. Suddenly, her story was back in the news, and Randy Taylor was at the forefront. Federal agents and law enforcement from Orange County stated that Taylor had been a suspect in Samantha’s case from the beginning, and they still believed that there was a possible connection.

But 2013 turned into 2014, and Samantha was still missing. Barbara expressed her frustration and fear that she would never know what happened to her daughter. “This is almost the fourth year and we still have no clue… I want answers about where my daughter is. Is she still alive? Will she ever be back home?”

Dive teams searched the area around Green Acres Lake several more times in 2014 and 2015, but it doesn’t appear that anything came of it. Orange Police Chief Jim Fenwick told reporters that they were still committed to Samantha’s case and were following every lead. “Our investigation from the beginning has focused on the people that Samantha Clarke was known to be in contact with the weekend before she disappeared. We don’t ignore anything. Any new leads or tips coming in we’re going to address, but at this point the investigation remains focused on those individuals, one of whom is Randy Taylor.”

Sadly, the years have passed with little progress in the case. In 2021, shortly after investigators recovered the remains of Alexis Murphy, Chief Fenwick announced that Samantha Clarke’s case had been reclassified as an abduction and homicide investigation, citing new information and advances in forensic technology. He also reminded the public that they were still actively seeking new leads. “We know there’s likely information that has not been shared. Even if you have already been interviewed or believe the information you may have has already been provided, we ask you to contact us.”

It’s now been over 12 years since Samantha Clarke disappeared. Barbara thinks about her daughter every day, and her Facebook profile picture is of the two of them on Samantha’s prom night. In an interview with Dateline, Barbara spoke about how special Samantha was. “I miss her smiles, her laughs, the funny things she would say to make me laugh… She’s a happy girl. She would always stay happy. And if you were sad, she’d find a way to make you happy.”

Samantha Ann Clarke was last seen in Orange, Virginia, in the early morning hours of September 14, 2010. She is described as being 5’4” with brown hair and brown eyes. She has multiple piercings and tattoos, including a Tigger tattoo on her right ankle, the word Lucky on her left ankle, two dolphin tattoos on her back, and a Playboy bunny tattoo on her right arm. She would be 31 years old today. If you have any information on the whereabouts of Samantha Clarke, please contact the Orange Police Department at (540) 672-1491. And please share her story on social media. You never know who may hold the missing piece.