Explosion in Essex

September 13, 1995

Husband and wife and three kids in a station wagon: The quintessential picture of the American family. Only not in this case, in which the family was literally blown to bits and the few remains of the station wagon so twisted and charred it took police several hours to realize it wasn't a mini-van.

The explosion that destroyed a family in Essex Monday night was grotesque. Photos and television footage of the blast's effects made folks gasp. One officer likened it to the Chase train wreck a decade ago -- so horrific you had to see it to believe it, he said. Baltimore County police are continuing their investigation, but they now believe Mark A. Clark, apparently from Cumberland, detonated the vehicle with himself and his family inside: his estranged wife Betty Louise Clark, of Rosedale, their 4-year-old daughter and two of Mrs. Clark's children, a 6-year-old boy and 11-year-old girl. Remarkably, the older girl briefly survived the explosion, which launched parts of the vehicle three football fields away; she died at Johns Hopkins Hospital two hours afterward.

One observer described the images as the "Hiroshima of domestic violence." The O.J. Simpson case has sharpened America's focus on domestic violence. In the past five years, the number of domestic violence cases in Maryland has tripled.

If the probe into the Essex explosion bears out police suspicions, people will wonder, "How could someone kill his whole family, children and all?" And police will reply that these crimes of passion defy puny reason and sanity. Unidentified residents at the apartment complex where the woman lived said a man had threatened her Sunday at a gathering, "I'm going to blow you up." All too often, we see examples of people willing to destroy several lives, including their own, to vent the pressure of their emotional grief.

Such acts cross all bounds of income and lifestyle, from a placid Ellicott City suburb where a Westinghouse executive, Daniel Harney, murdered his estranged wife and wounded her lover the day after Christmas last year, to the California naval base where a former Navy football star and two other recent Annapolis graduates were killed in a romantic murder-suicide, to the Carroll County courtroom where Roy M. Robertson was convicted last week of killing a friend, with whose wife he was having an affair.

"Things like this don't happen in Essex," said a woman whose home quivered a half-mile from the blast. Not true; they occur all around us.

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