The case of Steven Clark was well-known in the town for all the mystery surrounding it, but any leads had gone cold decades ago. So when the local police station got a call with fresh information on his whereabouts, the hunt for the missing man continued.
What was in the woods near his family home? How could someone have seen him that Christmas afternoon after he vanished? And who wrote that letter to the police seven years later?
It was Christmas vacation 1992 in Marske-by-the-Sea, a small coastal town in the UK. The Clark family – retired parents Doris and Clark, and their 23-year-old son Steven – had decided to take a walk to the next town, Saltburn-by-the Sea, as was typical in the holiday season.
Steven and his mother stopped at the public restroom on the pier. But when Doris came out, her son was nowhere to be seen.
“I stood directly in front of the exit,” Doris told detectives. “I don’t know for how long. I was there for quite a long time, wondering what had happened to him.” The couple reported that they searched high and low for their disabled son, and assumed he’d decided to walk back home to Marske alone.
But Steven wasn’t at home when they returned. Their son had gone missing. Police turned up nothing – until seven years later when a mysterious letter with new information arrived at the station.
Steven moved around a lot when he was younger, but he’d spent time volunteering at local disability charity Marske Hall and was well-known in the community.
So the fact that no one had seen him at all on the day he disappeared left police stumped. But new evidence suggests that wasn’t the case at all, forcing police to reexamine the anonymous letter that was sent to the incident room in 1999.
After police recently decided to reopen the cold case, they received a call from a Marske resident claiming she saw Steven that afternoon walking towards Marske Square. The woman didn’t realize that simply seeing him that day was worth mentioning.
But one key detail about the sighting has made police question everything about the case, leading them to make an urgent appeal for whoever sent the mysterious letter in 1999 – as well as to conduct a search of the local woods and question two suspects.
According to the report, Steven went missing at some time between 3 pm and 4 pm that winter’s afternoon. As it was late December, it was already dark by 3.45 pm on that particular day.
So how could someone have seen him walking in Marske before sunset – at least a 45-minute walk away from the town he was said to have vanished from? It’s possible the witness – and her family – were mistaken, but Steven has a very unique trait that makes him easy to recognize.
When he was two years old, Steven was in a traffic accident involving a truck that left him with a permanent limp, so anyone that knew him would see it was him, even from a distance.
But what has any of this got to do with the letter? What did it say? What were police expecting to find in the woods? And who did they arrest?
“I can’t divulge the contents or topic of the letter,” insists Det Chief Insp Shaun Page. “But the person who sent it may know more that could help. They obviously felt compelled to write seven years after his disappearance.”
Whatever was in the letter must be something important for police to start searching the wooded area not far from where Steven’s parents still live.
The new sighting of Steven before he was said to have gone missing – plus whatever mysterious information was in the letter – has led crime scene teams to scour the undergrowth in the wooded area near a school.
And it wasn’t the only place the police were compelled to search. Officers also spent five days inside the home of two suspects – and even dug up their back yard.
Steven’s parents Doris, 81, and Charles, 78, were arrested and questioned before a team set up a tent on their property to conduct an investigation.
Charles says the case is still a mystery and Doris firmly denies wrongdoing, saying the fresh ordeal is “ludicrous” and a “shock.” But the process of a cold case review shouldn’t be particularly surprising to the elderly couple, considering what they used to do for a living.
The couple – who have been released on bail – are both former police officers. The pair had made several appeals for information about Steven’s disappearance over the years – but are now being looked into themselves.
It’s clear that if Steven was spotted near his home earlier than he was said to have gone missing, there are some discrepancies in the original missing person report.
“We believe that Steven was alive on December 28 between 3 pm and 4 pm in close proximity to his home address,” Det Chief Insp Page confirms.
“We’re building up a picture of what Steven was like and the relationships that he had with those around him,” he added, before revealing the new technology they’ll be employing to delve deeper into the case.
A digivan – a police vehicle with a bright screen appealing for information – has been circling the streets of Marske.
Det Chief Insp Page said, “The public is very important to this case and the potential sighting of Steven is absolutely key for the investigation – it forms the basis of our appeal.” But the police have yet to reveal exactly why they are suddenly looking into this so aggressively.
Steven was born in Colchester in 1969 – a southern town almost 300 miles away from Marske. He went to school in Cambridgeshire and moved to South Africa in the early 1980s.
He returned to the UK 10 years later, living in Guildford before settling in Marske in 1991, where he was apparently happy with a girlfriend and had job interviews lined up. But it seems the police have reason to believe he didn’t simply up and leave again.
Five police cars and vans, a crime scene investigation vehicle, and an incident command unit had cordoned off the Clarks’ property. Police taps had blocked off a footpath running along the back of their yard and witnesses reported shovels and concrete breaking equipment on site.
Did Steven simply disappear? Or is there more to this case that only the writer of the mysterious letter can reveal?