On a September evening in 2010, Barbara Tinder took one last look around the house as she got ready for work. She had been given the overnight shift, so she knew she had to check on her two children Samantha and Hunter before she left.
Samantha Clarke, her daughter, sat on the couch in her PJs. The TV was on, and the recent high school graduate seemed invested in the show. Barbara rarely worried about Samantha. While her daughter had a great social life, she was not the type of teenager who enjoyed late-night adventures with friends. When the sun had set, Samantha preferred to remain in the comfort of her home. Hunter, her 12-year-old son, was upstairs in his room, about to go to bed.
Feeling like everything was in order, Barbara headed towards the door but snuck one more glimpse of Samantha before opening it. She was still on the couch, in her PJs, enjoying a TV show. Barbara had no idea it would be the last time she ever saw her daughter.
Shortly after arriving at work, Barbara’s cell phone rang, her home phone was calling. Because her break had not started yet, Barbara did not answer. However, one hour later, when it was her break, she called back. It was Hunter. He told her Samantha had shouted from downstairs that she was going out with friends.
Barbara was a bit taken aback. Not only was it 1:30 AM, but Samantha also was not the type of person to meet up with friends at night. Even at 19, she still had a subtle fear of the dark. Despite this, Barbara continued her shift at work and assumed Samantha would be back by morning. Unfortunately, she was wrong.
Around 7 AM, Barbara returned home from work. Hunter was home, but Samantha was still nowhere to be seen. However, she did see the pajamas Samantha had worn the night before lying in the living room. Barbara assumed that her daughter had changed clothes before leaving to meet up with her friends. As for her absence, Barbara didn’t panic; it was still early, and perhaps Samantha had spent the night at a friend’s house. Besides, Samantha had taken her house key with her, so she had planned on returning home.
Even though Samantha wasn’t a nighttime person, she did have a history of leaving unannounced. One time, she left to visit a friend in another town with no warning. However, she called the home phone from her friend’s house to inform Barbara of her whereabouts.
Barbara woke Hunter up and dropped him off at school. When she returned home, Samantha was still gone, but it was barely past 8. Exhausted from her night shift, Barbara collapsed on the couch and took a nap. She expected to see her daughter back in the house once she woke up. However, when she awoke, Samantha was still nowhere to be seen.
Worry finally began to set in. Samantha did not have a cell phone, but she would always call the home phone to tell Barbara she was staying at a friend’s house and it had not rung during her nap. Something was wrong.
Barbara and the police dispute the events surrounding the initial police response. According to Barbara, she drove to a police station to report her daughter missing. Barbara claimed authorities refused to file a missing person’s report because Samantha had been missing for less than 48 hours. They told her Samantha was an adult and had the right to leave without warning and seek out some space.
However, Chief James Fenwick of the Orange County Police Department claimed the police station where Barbara attempted to file a report was outside of the jurisdiction of where Samantha was last seen. As a result, they were unable to launch an investigation. Chief Fenwick explained that Barbara showed up at the Orange County police station later that day and was permitted to report Samantha missing. The investigation commenced on September 15, 2010–nearly thirty hours after Samantha’s disappearance.
When Barbara returned home, she noticed the home phone had rung numerous times. Could Samantha had called during her visit to the police station? She quickly called the number back, and not only was she disappointed, but her fear also grew.
Randy Taylor, an older man that ran in the same crowd as Samantha answered the call. Taylor sounded frantic, he was aware that Samantha was missing and told Barbara he was the last person to have seen her the night of her disappearance. However, it is unclear exactly where he was when he last saw her.
Barbara was suspicious, while Samantha and Taylor knew of each other, they didn’t consider each other friends. Did Taylor know more about her daughter’s disappearance than he claimed?
The next three years were a blur of searches of false sightings. Nearly all of the people Samantha associated with, including Randy Taylor, were questioned by authorities–but none of the interviews produced any answers or clues to indicate Samantha’s whereabouts. Still, investigators kept an eye on Taylor after Barbara informed him of their phone call. Phone records state that Taylor had called Clarke’s home phone during the early morning hours of September 14–when according to Hunter, Samantha was still in the house.
In August of 2013, three years after Samantha’s disappearance, things took a terrifying turn when another teenager from Virginia mysteriously disappeared.Randy Taylor (left) was quickly deemed a suspect in the abduction and murder of Alexis Murphy (right).
On August 3, 2013, 17-year-old Alexis Murphy vanished while driving to Lovingston, Virginia for a hair appointment. Senior pictures were coming up, and the confident teenager couldn’t wait to look her best. Alexis was an active user of social media, and her abrupt silence on Twitter was noticed by several of her friends and family members.
The investigation was immediate and captured nationwide attention. On August 6, Alexis’ car was discovered abandoned in Charlottesville, Virginia. Surveillance video captured unknown male parking the car before leaving the parking lot on foot. Unfortunately, the video did not give investigators a view of his face.
Because of the publicity, several sightings of Alexis were reported. One of them, which came from a gas station clerk in Lovingston, Virginia, was quickly deemed credible. Surveillance video captured Alexis entering the store. When she left, investigators noticed a man trailing behind her. The man was identified as Randy Taylor.
Investigators quickly obtained a warrant to search Taylor’s property. During the search, they found a bloody t-shirt and a strand of Alexis’ hair. The shirt was sent to a forensics lab, and results confirmed everyone’s worst fear–the blood was that of Alexis. Additionally, Alexis’ cell phone was found in the woods surrounding Taylor’s camper.
On August 11, Randy Taylor was arrested for the abduction and murder of Alexis Murphy. Even though they didn’t have a body, investigators were certain they were looking at a homicide.
As Samantha’s family watched the case unfold, they felt sick to their stomach. The man who claimed he saw Samantha on the day of her disappearance was now on trial for the murder of another young girl.Randy Taylor attempted to pin Alexis’ murder on Jesse Matthew (center) who, in 2016, was convicted for the murders of 19-year-old Hannah Graham (left) and 20-year-old Morgan Harrington (right)
However, Taylor maintained his innocence. He tried to pin the crime on Jesse Matthew, a serial killer who murdered two women in Charlottesville, Virginia–where Alexis’ car had been found.
On October 17, 2009, 20-year-old Morgan Harrington disappeared after leaving in concert at Charlottesville’s John Paul Jones Arena. After several extensive searches, a farmer found remains on January 26, 2010. An examination of the remains concluded the Virginia Tech student had died an extremely violent death, without a doubt, it was a homicide. Male DNA was discovered on her clothing. When submitted to a database, it matched DNA recovered from a sexual assault in 2005. The victim, who survived the ordeal, was interviewed by police and gave a physical description of her attacker. However, the case quickly grew cold, until another young woman in Charlottesville disappeared.
Five years after Morgan’s murder, Hannah Graham, a student at The University of Virginia, disappeared during a night out with friends. Security footage showed Jesse Matthew with the 19-year-old, and after an extensive search, her body was found in a location just miles away from where Morgan’s was discovered. Like Morgan, Hannah was murdered and DNA evidence matched that found in both Morgan Harrington and the 2005 rape case. Police were dealing with a serial killer.
Police quickly issued a warrant for Jesse Matthew’s arrest and he was captured in Texas a few days after Hannah’s body was found. He pleaded guilty to both murders and was sentenced to life in prison in 2016.
Was Randy Taylor innocent? Was Alexis another one of Jesse Matthew’s victims? Investigators believed it was worth a shot, and submitted evidence found in Randy’s trailer to be forensically compared with the murders of the two women.
When it came back, investigators got all the answers they needed. Not a single piece of evidence had any trace of Jesse Matthew; he had not harmed Alexis Murphy. In July of 2014, a jury found Taylor found guilty of the abduction and murder of Alexis Murphy. It was Virginia’s first guilty verdict for a homicide without a body and Taylor was given two life sentences.
In December of 2020, Randy Taylor led investigators to the location of Alexis Murphy’s remains. Samantha Clarke has now been missing for over a decade.
Despite the developments within the past decade, no one has been charged in connection with Samantha Clarke’s disappearance. On January 15, 2021, investigators announced they believed Samantha was deceased and the case was now classified as a homicide. Authorities didn’t elaborate on what led to the reclassification but did confirm that Randy Taylor is still their biggest person of interest.
It has now been nearly eleven years since Samantha Clarke vanished. Numerous searches throughout central Virginia have turned up nothing, but Barbara Tinder believes Randy Taylor is responsible for her disappearance and awaits the day he returns to court–for the murder of her daughter.
The families of Morgan Harrington, Alexis Murphy, Hannah Graham, and Samantha Clarke bonded over their tragedies. Gil Harrington, Morgan’s mother, turned her grief into action and launched “Help Save the Next Girl”, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating young women about predatory dangers. The organization also assists in local missing person cases and continues to advocate for Samantha.
Despite this, those that knew Samantha Clarke cling to the hope that she is still alive and will walk back through the front door. Eleven years is a long time, but all they can do is continue to wait for answers.
Chief James Fenwick continues to oversee the case. In an interview with CBS19, he stated he believed a group of people in the Orange community know exactly what happened to Samantha. The Orange community is extremely close, so Samantha Clarke’s name triggers a reaction from everyone.
“At this point, one of our own is missing, and it’s my job, the job of all of our law enforcement officers, and prosecutors, and whoever, to work together to get one of our own back,” said Fenwick.
If you have any information regarding the disappearance of Samantha Clarke, please contact the Orange County Sheriff’s Office at 540–672–1200.