WV WV - Mared Malerik & Karen Ferrell, both 19, Morgantown, 18 Jan 1970


Jul 6, 2006
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On January 18, 1970, two West Virginia University students, Mared Ellen Malerik and Karen Lynn Ferrell were hitchhiking back to their dorm after seeing a movie ("Oliver"). They were picked up and not seen again until their headless bodies were found in the woods about 15 miles south of Morgantown, WV. The case went unsolved for five years before Eugene Paul Clawson, who is now serving out his life sentence, confessed to the crime.

I was growing up in Morgantown in the early 1970s, and the crime caused quite a stir. For the most part, Morgantown was--and pretty much still is--crime free, and the beheadings disturbed and frightened a lot of people. When nothing happened in the case for five years, most people more or less tried to pretend it never happened. When Clawson confessed, all the fears and so on got stirred up again. As a high school student, I skipped school and attended the closing arguments.

Well, it seemed clear to me after hearing the closing arguments that Clawson didn't do it. Sure, he was a bad guy (serving time for the rape of a 14-year-old girl at the time he confessed, for instance, and he had spent more of his life in jail than out of it), but I think he got sent to jail for the wrong crime. There is a long list of reasons that he couldn't have committed the crime, but I won't go into them here. Everyone from the Governor to many of the investigating officers to the general public needed a conviction ASAP.

Anyway, he was found guilty, mostly on the basis of his confession, the details of which he drew from a Detective Cases magazine. (No detail of his confession was not in the magazine, and every wrong detail of his confession was wrong in the magazine article in exactly the same way.) His conviction was overturned because of the inappropriate introduction of death photos of the girls into the trial. In his new trial, he was convicted again.

Lately, I've started wondering who might have done it. One of the things I'm doing is going over as much public domain material as I can find. I'm also looking to write to or talk with anyone who has information, ideas, thoughts, curiosities, etc., about the case. I've talked with a few people who were involved in the case

So... anyone out there still interested in the case? Formerly involved in the case? Anyone have anything to share?
I don't know much about this case, except the ghost stories and automoblie accident's they sayed was caused by people thinking they seen these 2 ghost, but i sure remember when it happened and how it shocked the complete area was ..It was a time when nobody even locked there door's on there home's ever..2 area men was in prison little bit after this happened and excaped and made it back to our area and was staying somewhere behind where we lived in the mt's..My sister and me was little kid's playing in the backyard and them 2 men came out of the mt's 1 carrying what turn out later was my dad's big handheld mowing cy walked right by us and never hurt us at all I even think they sayed hi how your kid's been doing. my mom saw them 2 guy's walking by through the kitchen window and well that ended our outside play time for a month or 2 until they was cought and returned to prison..I even remember them men's family telling us not to worry they told them they never would harm or hurt us and them men even returned and put the mowing cy back where they found it...Time's was sure different back in them day's.. that made this crime all the more shocking...
Hey Geocam.... Remember reading this in my Unsolved murders book, but it's been a while since I 've looked at it. I'll dig my book out and look at it again. My guess is, that with a crime this heinous, it wasn't the first or the last for this guy.

Where are you in WV? I'm in Summersville.

First of all, welcome to WS's. I remember when the WVU Co-Ed's were murdered and would be interested in hearing your theory. Could you please elaborate on the statement you made above:

There is a long list of reasons that he couldn't have committed the crime, but I won't go into them here.
Sorry about the slow reply, folks. I’ve been away from my computer for a couple of days.

To answer your question, Shadow205, I’ve never sat down to write out all the reasons I think Clawson didn’t do it, but I can give you an overview at least, then if you still want to talk about more.... This is off the top of my head, so please bear that in mind as you read.

As I said, I attended the closing arguments of his first trial, and the Prosecuting Attorney’s whole approach was to appeal to the jurors' hearts rather than their heads. I realize now that that’s a common strategy, but at the time it made me suspect he felt he couldn’t convict on reasoned evidence alone. It made me look closer at the holes in his case, or rather, the holes in Clawson's confession, which was the whole case.

The one I remember noticing at the time was that Clawson punched out of work in Philadelphia at 2:30 in the afternoon on Sunday, January 18. He said he drove to his mother’s house in Point Marion, just over the PA-WV border from Morgantown. At least a five-hour drive, and that’s charitable. There he left his car, hitchhiked to Pittsburgh--another hour to an hour-and-a-half drive, discounting the inevitable delays of hitchhiking--stole a car, drove down to Morgantown and picked up the girls about 9:00. So that's at least seven hours of drive time in a 6 1/2 hour window. Factor in the time it takes to find and steal a car, and it makes his timing dubious.

However, if you point out that the actual time the girls were picked up was about 11, Clawson's confession becomes plausible on this point. If you assume the fastest likely driving time.

The Prosecuting Attorney dismissed that by saying Clawson had someone from work punch out for him. Unfortunately, after investigating, he also could not come up with a candidate who may have punched Clawson out. (So to speak.)

One of the things that was learned for the second trial about driving time was that he was actually 90 minutes late to work that day because he rode a bus, which means that even if you assume he had a car but just chose not to take it to work that day, he still had to take some amount of time to get from work to his car at home before driving to Point Marion, et cetera.

Of course, this is moot if someone actually did punch Clawson's time sheet.

There was a car stolen in Pittsburgh that matched the general description given both by Clawson and by two people who attended the movie with the girls, but again, it was later discovered that the car was actually stolen on January 20th. In fact, what happened was that the owner, for reasons that weren't entirely clear but were probably personal, reported that the car was stolen two days earlier than it actually was.

The witnesses saw the co-eds get in a cream-colored car with a man about 40 driving. Clawson was 30 and had long hair, not a style in those days that would suggest a 40-year-old man.

The entire scenario is a little odd. According to his confession, Clawson drove south on Route 119 (although he didn't name the road, a road he should have been familiar with as the only route from Point Marion to Morgantown) and back off the road to kill the girls. He then drove back north, past Morgantown, and up to Point Marion to throw the heads in a crevice. There are plenty of remote wooded areas north of Morgantown, areas with which Clawson could have been familiar because he was born in Morgantown and grew up in Point Marion, but he chose instead to drive south to unknown territory--and killed them in an area that turned out to be a much-trafficked lover's lane--kill them and take their heads back north and get rid of the heads very near his mother's house. Not much sense there.

Now, you could easily argue that a man who kills and decapitates two women doesn't have much sense, and I would agree. It just seems a stretch.

Then there is the whole orgy part of the confession. It's elaborate and brutal, and according to Clawson, he had four orgasms. That part of his confession is also entirely lacking in detail and reads more like orchestration of a fantasy than reality. Testimony in the second trial indicates that he was XXY, which--in case you're not familiar with that--is a congenital, chromosomal problem that usually causes sexual dysfunction, among many other things, including low intelligence. As the doctor who testified in the second trial put it, "That would be difficult for a normal male and impossible for a person born XXY."

The coroner found no evidence that either of the girls had been sexually abused or even had had sex recently. The three months the bodies lay in the woods may have had some effect on what could be found, but I don't know enough about that to say. The bodies were found on top of one another, not--as Clawson said--stretched out side to side. They were also both fully clothed, and the clothing was neat, inconsistent with the idea that he ordered them at gunpoint to get dressed after an orgy. One girl's half-empty cigarette pack was even tucked neatly into her waistband.

Clawson confessed that when he picked the girls up, he immediately drew a gun and told them to get in the back. Yet the witnesses say the girls were riding in the front, Karen on the outside and Mared on the inside. Clawson also testified that he had picked them up after a movie--and this is possibly a telling detail, I think--yet where he picked them up is 2 1/2 blocks from the nearest theater. He wouldn't have had any reason to think they were at a movie, and they probably wouldn't have chatted with a man who had just pulled a gun on them.

Clawson said he borrowed his brother's machete with his brother's permission, but his brother was in the service and stationed at Guantanamo Bay at the time.

There's more, but I'm going to stop now. We're left with a few options. (As I mentioned earlier, this all does make sense if Clawson pulled his confession from a magazine article, because his confession, the accurate and the inaccurate, precisely mirrors an article from a detective magazine published a couple of months before his confession.) But here are the choices as I see them.

Clawson did it, but his confession purposely got things wrong in the hope that he would be acquitted. By "it" you would have to say that Clawson decided to pick up two hitchhikers, and then murder and decapitate them on a whim. No motive for the crime, just craziness. The motive for his confessing was that he believed that, if acquitted in West Virginia, New Jersey would neglect to ask for him back.

Clawson did it and did rape one or both girls, but the evidence was lost to time and weather. Again, he mussed up his confession in the hope he would be acquitted. Motive for confessing same as above.

Clawson didn't do it. He confessed because, as he said in the second trial, he was in jail in New Jersey at the time, facing sentencing for 14 counts for various things, including rape of a minor, sodomy, etc., and he thought he would come to West Virginia where he would be acquitted.

I'm probably forgetting other possibilities, but this'll do for now. For either of the first two possibilities to be true, you would have to wonder why a man would confess to a crime that no one had any idea he committed--a crime far worse than any he was awaiting sentencing for--on the off-chance that he would both be acquitted and New Jersey would neglect to ask for him back.

Clawson was a social conviction. I think he was convicted because he was a very bad man who belonged in jail and because the region needed a conviction for something so heinous. But what happened to the real killer?

LButler, I live near Charleston. (Long way to read to find the answer to that question, but hi ho. Hope it was interesting reading.) By the way, I have that copy of Unsolved Mysteries in WV, but I can't find it. I've been wondering lately why the co-ed murders were included in the unsolved category.

I agree that whoever did murders so savage should have had precursors of a similar nature. Clawson's precursor crimes were all--besides burglary, I believe--about forced sex with underage boys. There's some question about the nature of the "forcing," but whether or not sex with 15- and 16-year-old boys is by definition forced is a different discussion. I believe it is, but the "force" in such cases is not on the same continuum as beheadings. Know any similar crimes before or after January, 1970?

Hope this answers your questions,

As I recall, Clawson led investigators to the crevice where he dumped the heads. After repeatedly checking the area (the crevice led into a deep opening) the heads (or skulls) could not be found. However, animal droppings were located nearby which contained hair consistent with the color of both victims.

The defense theorized that the hair came from a nearby dump used by a local beautician, but it was determined by investigators that the beautician always burned hair before dumping the remains (some kind of superstition, also as I recall).
Partially true, Shadowangel. As to the beautician's statement about burning the hair, it was also said that not all of it burned at any given time and that it wasn't even always burned. In addition, both of the hair samples showed that it was from hair that had been cut, rather than, say, pulled out. Clawson never mentioned cutting the hair. Both samples (which, by the way, came from a nearby bird's nest, not from the crevice itself, I believe--I'll have to see if I can check that) also showed signs of dye of various kinds. Mared sometimes streaked her dark hair, probably peroxide, and Karen didn't do anything as far as investigators could determine.

But you have quite a memory. Have you been looking back at this case or is it just something that sticks in your mind? (And are you the same person as Shadow205?)

Sorry, Shadowangel. Correction. Karen did dye her hair. For some reason I had it in my head that she didn't, but I looked back and she did. In fact, of the two, she may have dyed more often than Mared. Also probably peroxide though.

Just wanted to correct my misstatement.

Hello again,

First some news, and then a couple of questions.

I've been finding out some more about the coed murder case described above. There were four anonymous letters sent to the police back in April and May of 1970. The police at the time thought that the writer of the letters was the person who beheaded the coeds; however, Clawson--the man who confessed six years later--could not have written the letters.

They're interesting because they can be read either way. If the letters are by the killer, they are creepy. ("Hurry! The animals are now on the move.") If the letters are from someone trying to be helpful, they're not creepy, but whiney and kind of pathetic. ("All of a sudden the police have been complaining about an error in the mileage. . . . After one has driven in an oval pattern for 26 miles under the weather conditions of Jan. . . . it is possible to make about an 18 mile error in the precise location of the bodies.")

I found out a couple of days ago that the police did find the letter writer. There was a group of three people who lived in western Maryland and called themselves "Students of Psychic Science Religion." They were very cooperative and the handwriting from one man was a perfect match.

Just thought I'd post that in case anyone else was curious. That was one aspect of the case that was bugging me.

I also found out last week that a man was convicted of beheading a couple of people in the Fairmont-Clarksburg area in the early 1970s. His name was--get this!--Hacker. Does anyone know anything else about this case? The man's full name, anything else? The man was apparently caught and convicted. Anyone know details?

Lastly, there was someone whose name I've seen on a couple of threads who claimed to be the niece of Karen Ferrell. Her (?his?) handle was something like karenjeff, and I believe she commented on the Sodder family thread as well as discussing the coed murders. Does anyone know this person?

More later as it becomes available, and I appreciate any comments.

Hello Geo
I was talking to Karen's niece as I recall on the Register Herald forums. My mother went to Greenbrier West with Karen; actually I am pretty sure they graduated the same year. I was introduced to this case years ago by a family friend who also was in school with Karen and who knew her better than my mom. My knowledge of this case only extends to the WV murder and mystery book LButler was talking about. I can ask around the family/friend circle and see if I can dig up anything else if you'd like. Just let me know.

That is interesting about the letters. I had never heard that they found who wrote them.
I do not remember the case that you mentioned in Fairmont-Clarksburg but will look around for some information on it.
To answer your question, I am not the same person as shadowangel. There are a lot of us "shadows" on here.
I lived on Collins Ferry Rd. in Morgantown in 1970. I was only six years old though. I don't remember my parents ever mentioning anyone ever being murdered in Morgantown that close to home. I will ask them and see if they remember the news stories. Did the police provide a description of the the man driving the car other than his age? Where exactly were the bodies found? Was there a description of the car other than the color cream?
Green Poet,

The man in the car was described as "maybe 40," dark hair and eyes (probably), and clean cut.

The bodies werre found on the Weirton Mine Road (aka "4-H Camp Road" aka "Old Sawmill Road" aka 76/2) about 11 and a half miles south of town.

The car may have had fins and may have been two-tone.

Hope this answers your questions.

Shadow205 (one of many "shadows" on here),

Did you ever hear anything about the man who was tried and convicted for beheading people in Fairmont/Clarksburg area? I've now heard that his name may not have been Hacker, but Cutter. (I don't think it's a put on.)


I've sent you a couple of emails, but you may not have gotten them. Could you get in touch with me, please?

Thanks All!

A retired State Trooper who is investigating the coed murders case was interviewed on statewide radio Thusday, October 5, and an editorial turned up in the Charleston Daily Mail on Friday. You can see these at these links.



Here is the search page; click on Cached if the above links don't work.

The Dominion Post of Morgantown ran a front page story Saturday, October 7, but for some reason the DP doesn't let people see their precious stories for free. (John Raese must feel that free publicity must be bad for business.)

Anyway, I wonder if this'll shake anything loose.

New information on the coed murder case: The State Police have reopened the case on the basis of new information brought to their attention by the guy I mentioned previously, the retired State Trooper who has been looking into the case.

In addition, WBOY, a TV station in--I think--Clarksburg, WV, is preparing some kind of report on the case. Not sure what they're doing or how much they're going into or, even, when and where it might air, but I'm pretty sure that it's happening.

Stay tuned, those of you who are interested. And if anyone has any information, you might want to come forward now.

Exciting news Geo...it would be great to see this one solved. I just did locate my "unsolved" books and am planning to reread the coed story again.
PS used to be known as LButler but I had problems with my account and reregistered.
OK, I have finished the story in the "unsolved" book and am somewhat up to speed (although I usually read such things several times to see what I've missed). Here are some things that jumped out at me in the story:

*January 18,, 1970, Mared and Karen had made arrangements to watch "Oliver" at the Metropolitan Theatre in Morgantown with 2 friends, Paulette Burns and Clarence Lewis.

*After the movie, the 2 girls decided to hitchhike back to their rooms in Westchester Hall Dorm.

*Burns and Lewis accompanied them as far as an intersection which led toward the college campus. As the couple walked away, they saw that a cream colored Chevrolet had stopped and the girls were getting in.

*March 1, 1970 a kid picking up pop bottles discovered Mared's purse along US 119 near Morgantown.

*The first letter arrived April 6, 1970 giving clues as to where to find the bodies. a second letter arrived on April 10, 1970 and indicated a general area where the bodies could be found. This led to a massive search in this area.

*During this search, Mared's sunglasses were found (traced through a name on the case) about 1 1/2 miles off the roadway. Her father felt that she was trying to leave clues as to her whereabouts by tossing things out of the car.

*In the next couple of days or so (sorry, I'm not reading a definitive timeline on this) a bottle of sedatives belonging to Mared were found.

*The next day, Karen's purse was found in this area about a 1/4 mile from where Mared's purse had been located.

*The letters did lead to the location of the bodies.

*When the bodies were located, they realized the killer had made great efforts to hide them. 6 r 7 slabs of stone had been hauled from a creek about 30 feet away to cover the bodies. Logs, limbs, leaves had been stacked over the area to conceal them.

*Bodies were neatly dressed, but badly decomposed.

*Both girls were lying on their stomachs with Karen's legs crossing those of Mared.

*They had been decapitated and their heads have never been found.

All this info comes from the West Virginia Unsolved Murders Book II. Geocam has posted info that he remembers happening by being directly involved. I have no involvement with the case and am just posting info from the book for the benefit of those that don't have the book.

Need to run for now, but will post some other stuff about Clawson, the guy that confessed, this evening.

Hope I'm not boring everyone to tears!!

Thanks for posting the WV Unsolved stuff. A couple of things, though.

I just want to say that I am not commenting on the basis of the fact that I knew about the case personally. You're probably confusing this thread with the other one, the one about Marsha Ferber, who I did know personally. Marsha's disappearance was a big deal in Morgantown back in 1988, and I commented because Mischa seemed to have some gaps in her knowledge. On the coed case, though, most of what I know comes from research in the last eight months.

About some things that you report from WV Unsolved:

* Mared and Karen did not attend "Oliver" with Clarence and Paulette (aka Skip and Itsy); the two pairs just ran into each other there. And only Itsy claims to have actually seen the coeds getting in the car. Skip saw them after they were in it. The car passed Skip and Itsy but, stragely, Mared and Karen didn't acknowledge or even look at their friends.

* The first letter was written on 04.06 and delivered to police on 04.08.

* The letters did not lead to recovery of the bodies. They were actually pretty vague and contained only information that was either obtained through newspaper accounts or generally applicable to the area, e.g., "the bodies are in or near a wooded area." Duh. EVERYTHING in West Virginia is in or near a wooded area.

* The rocks were actually not large, and a searcher spotted a foot sticking out from the rocks and branches.

* The girls were actually pretty much on top of one another, face to face. This was a key point in Clawson's confession, because he said they were side by side, as a detective magazine had reported, but they were not.

* Both girls were neatly dressed, which is what led two of the investigators to insist that they were never sexually assaulted. Mared (I think it was) even had her cigarettes still tucked into her waistband.

I'm eager to see what you post about Clawson, Lisa!

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