The Freshwater Murders were an act of family annihilation believed to be perpetrated by Clark Freshwater. On February 14, 2009, Clark's wife Dorothy and his children Jared, Emile, and Tabitha Freshwater were shot to death in the family home, Freshwater Knoll, in Samuelton, Oregon. Only the youngest member of the family, Towhee, survived. In the aftermath of the slayings, Clark disappeared and remained at-large for more than ten years.
In 2018, Clark's body was discovered in a shallow grave in the cemetery at the long-abandoned Hensley Asylum for Infirm Ladies and Needful Girls outside Crestview, Oregon.
- Dorothy Freshwater
- Jared Freshwater
- Emile Freshwater
- Tabitha Freshwater
- Towhee Freshwater (survivor)
Online Description of the Freshwater Murders
What follows is an account of the murders published at a popular true crime website.
Clark Freshwater, Perpetrator of the Freshwater Murders
Classification: Mass Murderer
Number of victims: 4
Date of murders: February 14, 2009
Date of arrest: Remains at-large
Date of birth: December 25, 1966
Victims profile: His wife, Dorothy, 39; his children: Jared, 15; Emile, 15; and Tabitha, 11 (one survivor: Odelia, 8)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Samuelton, Oregon, USA
Status: Remains at-large
The Freshwater Murders are a “family annihilation” mass murder in which Clark Evan Freshwater is alleged to have killed his wife and three of his four children on the morning of Saturday, February 14, 2009. After the murders, Clark fled the scene and remains at-large.
The only survivor, Odelia Freshwater, was eight years old at the time of the killings. Of the victims, fraternal twins Jared and Emile were fifteen. Tabitha was eleven. Their mother, Dorothy Freshwater née Moores, was 39.
Prior to the birth of his children, he was the last member of a large and extensive Freshwater clan who had lived Barlow County, Oregon since the days of the Oregon Trail. Over the years, the once wealthy clan had gone bankrupt and all but died out. After going away to college, Clark had returned to Samuelton, Oregon in the early 1990s with the goal of restoring the faded luster of his family name. With him came his new wife Dorothy.
Clark went to work at Rolling Sage Bank, where he would in time rise to Vice President of Business Development. Dorothy was was a stay-at-home mom, though a busy one. She not only volunteered as a parent aide at her children’s schools, but served on the organizing committee for the Barlow County Fair and worked on various charitable events sponsored by the Bear Lodge where Clark was a member.
The boys played football and ran track in the spring. Of the two, Jared was bigger and more physically intimidating—known as something of a bully at school. Emile was quieter, smaller, the better runner. He was less likely to get into trouble, but was quick to defend his brother. You didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the Freshwater Twins. They were a force to be reckoned with at Barlow Consolidated High School. Tabitha was reportedly her own girl. A little more than three years younger than the twins, she stayed out of their orbit. Like them, she was athletic, with a keen love of soccer. But she was also an advanced student and known as a mechanical whiz, particularly with electronics and motors. The was the only girl in the robotics club at her school.
They all had things going on, busy schedules, and often didn’t cross paths until dinner time each night—if then. Practices and clubs kept the kids out, and work kept Clark out—when he wasn’t volunteering for some committee of his own. It wasn’t uncommon for Dorothy and little Odelia to be the only members of the Freshwater family sharing a meal in the big kitchen of the old family domicile, Freshwater Knoll.
By all appearances, the Freshwaters were a typical family. But things changed on on that fateful Saturday in February. Clark would normally put in a half-day to work with clients who couldn’t get in to the bank during the work week. But unknown to Dorothy, he’d scheduled a personal day. Though he didn’t say so outright, speculation around the office was that he planned to treat his wife to something special, perhaps a romantic getaway to Dryer Lake Resort. Nonetheless, he stopped by the office first thing to attend to a couple of business matters, but he was out the door with a smile and a wave before most of the staff had even arrived for work. Clark was always free with a smile.
No one would ever see him again.
On his way to the office, he’d dropped Jared and Emile at the high school stadium for track. It was a voluntary conditioning day, since formal practice didn’t start for a couple of weeks. They planned make their own way home after the workout.
Tabitha had spent Friday night with a friend. That left Odelia and Dorothy alone at Freshwater Knoll. Dorothy had a planning meaning for the County Fair at 10:00 am, but if Tabitha or the boys weren’t back, Odelia could come with her.
Best as it can be reconstructed, Clark Freshwater left Rolling Sage Bank a little after 8:00 am and returned home. No witnesses saw his Jeep Grand Cherokee drive up the hill from town, but it was a cold, blustery day and not many people would have been outside. Though there are homes on the lower reaches of Samuelton’s College Ridge, Freshwater Knoll is the only house on its cul de sac. It would be easy to miss a vehicle driving up that way if one weren’t paying attention.
It is unknown exactly where little Odelia was when Clark entered the house, but he seems to have found Dorothy in the kitchen. Ceramic shards and a puddle of spilt coffee on the kitchen floor suggest that either the husband and wife had an altercation, or Dorothy simply dropped her cup and fled. Fingerprints on the broken mug indicate she was the last to hold it.
Dorothy seems to have run through the dining room. A bullet was recovered from the wall just to the left of the doorway leading from the dining room to the front hall, indicating a likely shot as she fled. But she wasn’t fast enough. Clark caught up with her in the entry passage leading from the front hall to the living room. Based on blood spatter patterns and powder burns, he shot her at close range in the back of the head. Blood loss indicates she took approximately one minute to die.
Clark dragged her body into the living room—an unused space that was unfurnished and in need of renovation. Some of Dorothy’s blood leaked from the wound at the back of her head and pooled on the marble floor. (Investigators would later find Odelia’s handprint in the blood, indicating she’d gone to her mother’s body after it was moved.) Clark crossed Dorothy’s hands over her chest and slashed an X across her face. The medical examiner would later confirm the slashes were postmortem.
Clark then set out to clean up the blood in the front hall, though it is believed he was interrupted by Tabitha returning home from her overnight. Her friend’s house was halfway down the hill on Day Place, about two blocks away. It was common for the friends to walk back and forth between houses without supervision, and it was later reported to investigators that Tabitha left for home about eight-forty and likely made the short walk in under ten minutes. Typically the family came and went through the side door which opened into the house’s daylight basement. From there, a stairway led up to a small hall between Emile’s and Jared’s bedrooms and on into the kitchen. It appears Clark shot Tabitha in the chest when she reached the top of the stairs. Death must have been quick, as there was minimal blood loss. Powder stippling on the body indicates the shot was fired at close range.
As with Dorothy’s body, Clark dragged the dead Tabitha into the living room. Unlike Dorothy, he did not disfigure his daughter’s remains—leaving her only with her arms folded in the same manner as her mother’s.
At that point, it is unknown whether he searched for Odelia or simply lay in wait for Jared and Emile. He had to have assumed his youngest daughter was in the house. Either way, he wouldn’t have had long, as the boys had left the stadium at 8:35 a.m. for what would have been a half hour walk home—shorter if they chose to run. As with Tabitha, Clark shot the unsuspecting Jared as he climbed the stairs from the side door. Based on a bullet recovered from the stairway wall, it is believed he shot at Emile as well, but missed. Emile seems to have run. Clark pursued, and fired again as Emile attempted to escape through the side door. The bullet struck the boy in the head.
This is when Clark most likely fled, taking the murder weapon with him. He did not move the bodies of his two sons, except to drag Emile inside the side door. He locked the house and disappeared.
The Discovery of the Bodies and Early Investigation
The first indication something was amiss was when Dorothy failed to appear at the fair committee meeting at the Bear Lodge at 10:00am. She also failed to answer her cell when another committee member called. But no one was too worried. She wasn’t one to go AWOL, and people were happy to cut her some slack. “Something probably came up and she wasn’t able to let us know.” By then, she had likely been dead for more than an hour.
But it wasn’t until late Saturday evening that people began to suspect something serious had happened. Jared and Emile were expected at a party being held by a member of the football team. When they didn’t show up, and didn’t respond to text messages or social media comments, a group of boys drove up to Freshwater Knoll to find them. “I figured they were grounded,” teammate Jack MacElroy would say. “Their mom could be kind of a b***h about the stupidest stuff, so we thought we’d try to help them sneak out.”
However, the boys came upon a dark house. At this point, some speculated the family had gone away on a trip. But if so, the lack of communication either through social media or by phone or text was starting to look weird. Jared’s girlfriend Madison Key and another girl drove up to the house first thing Sunday morning. They found the quiet unsettling and almost left, but Madison decided to ring the doorbell. Through windows on either side of the front door they could see into the front hall, but from that angle they were unable to see the blood on the stairs or through to the where the bodies lay in the living room. After getting no answer, they went around to the side door. They then went to the side door. There, Madison spotted the slumped figure of Emile through a gap in the curtains on the side door’s window. When the figure didn’t move despite repeated knocks and yells, Madison dialed 911 on her cellphone.
Barlow County Fire and Rescue EMTs were the first responders. Not initially suspecting foul play, they broke through the side door to attend to Emile. He was found unconscious, with dangerously weak heart and lung function. He was rushed to St. Mark’s Hospital in Samuelton, then airlifted to Oregon Health Sciences University Hospital in Portland. He remained in a coma for three weeks, at which point it was decided to take him off artificial life support. He was then moved into a hospice facility.
Barlow County Sheriff’s Deputies arrived as EMTs were attending to Emile. Upon discovery of the other victims, they performed a thorough search of the house. It was a large rambling mansion dating from Prohibition which had fallen into disrepair. Before Clark and Dorothy took possession in 1992, the place had stood empty for a number of years, any many of the rooms had remained in poor shape while the couple slowly renovated. There were numerous nooks and crannies where someone might hide, and even a small elevator which ran between the first and second floors. The deputies did not find Odelia or Clark and thus extended the search to the wooded ridge above the house. The deputies theorized they had been injured while fleeing a possible home invasion and were unable to find help. The search took some time to organize, but was not fruitful in any case.
Because the city of Samuelton contracts with the county for police service, the investigation was led by the Barlow County Sheriff’s Department. Once the scope of the crime became clear, the Sheriff requested assistance from the Oregon State Police. Investigators descended upon the house. Another search was performed, then state criminalists arrived and began processing the crime scenes in the front hall, back stairway, and living room. Six hours after Madison Key’s call to 911 there was still no sign of Clark or Odelia.
Bullets recovered at the scene and from the bodies indicated the murder weapon was a nine millimeter handgun. Clark Freshwater was known to possess a Beretta M9. However, no weapon was recovered from the scene—nor were any shell casings or unused ammunition. Forensic analysis could not rule other possible firearms. The lack of casings led some to speculate revolver had been used.
Mid-afternoon, Clark Freshwater’s Grand Cherokee was found at the Dryer Lake Resort Village in the north central part of Barlow County about twenty-five miles from Samuelton. It was left in a parking space outside the hotel. He hadn’t checked in, and no one remembered seeing him there. It’s unclear how he left the resort, assuming he’d even been there. No vehicles were reported stolen. Those who supported the home invasion theory thought the Jeep might have been stolen by the invaders, then abandoned at the resort. For others, this theory strained credulity, especially when the only fingerprints found in the vehicle were shown to belong to Clark or other family members. (His fingerprints were on file as part of a background check performed by the Rolling Sage Bank when they hired him.)
Still, investigators didn’t feel they could outright dismiss the theory Clark and Odelia were hostages of these unknown home invaders. The discovery of Clark’s Jeep didn’t conflict with this theory, though no one could say why this perpetrator or perpetrators would kill four family members and kidnap the other two.
A more likely theory, one held by the lead investigators from the state, was that Clark had committed the crime and then fled with his youngest daughter. Though no one could say why Odelia was spared while the others shot, this theory was seen as more plausible than home invaders who came out of nowhere, killed four out of six family members, then disappeared with two hostages.
Then the strangest moment in the whole sorry mess occurred. Odelia Freshwater, age eight, came walking out of the elevator in Freshwater Knoll. She was haggard and starving, having apparently hidden for more than a day and a half. When she heard the noise of the police, she’d been afraid to move. Only when the investigators were nearing the end of their crime scene analysis and things had quieted down did she find the courage to creep out.
By this point, investigators had a rough idea of the sequence of events. Initial review of Clark’s financials had flagged some irregularities as well. It would take some time to sort out the details, but investigators began to suspect Clark was the sole perpetrator, first of embezzlement from the bank, then of a horrible plot to escape his current life in order to start a new one. Odelia’s appearance was seen as reinforcement of this idea, as it eliminated the possibility he was on the run with her. It was believed he’d decided to kill his entire family and then go into hiding with his ill-gotten gains. Odelia had avoided becoming a victim by successfully hiding. Clark probably decided he couldn’t afford to stick around to search for her. Though no one reported hearing gunfire—no surprise given the house’s isolation and thick walls—he might have feared someone heard Emile trying to escape.
In subsequent questioning by state child services specialists, Odelia was unresponsive. Some believe she witnessed the killings, but if so, she has never admitted it. Others have speculated she merely heard the shots Clark fired at her mother and hid in terror. The latter seems more likely. What is certain is that at some point she crept from her hiding place and saw her dead mother, getting close enough to leave her handprint in the congealing blood. She then returned to her hiding place and didn’t come out for another day.
How the initial responding deputies or subsequent investigators failed to find her during many searches of the house remains unexplained to this day.Note: much of this account is drawn from articles in the Samuelton Ledger.