Paul Clark’s disappearance on Christmas Eve in 1998 has haunted investigators involved ever since.
| Christmas Day, 1998. |
Right after a Christmas gift coverage of Furby and Nintendo 64 sales, Rachel Gould of Oklahoma City’s KOCO channel 5 News broke the hardest story of her life.
The story was difficult for Gould to cover due to her personal connection with the person involved: Rachel’s Ex husband, Paul Clark.
“A local man, Paul Clark has gone missing,” reported Gould. “Known around the community as a good man, the former firefighter was last seen on Christmas Eve morning at a local grocer. His last purchase was a bouquet of flowers. An ominous sign most thought – a self memorial.”
Since the divorce, Gould had always worried about him – he never seemed to recover from the emotional toll it took on him. She had even felt guilty due to the circumstances that led to the divorce: her affair. Yet Gould also claims that it was Paul who had become emotionally despondent years prior, which spurred her to seek other human connections. Gould stated, “I always knew he was hurting but it was harder to see back then because I was hurting too. But I never thought he was in danger. It just never struck me. I had known him for eighteen years. Paul wasn’t the type who would hurt himself.”
Clark’s disappearance seemed to be less of a surprise to his few close friends, however. His most trusted friends came forward and said that they had known about Paul’s tumultuous struggle with depression. They also admitted that Clark had been acting increasingly reclusive during the months leading up to his disappearance, but that they did not know how to approach him about his distant behavior.
Yet, what makes Clark’s story particularly interesting is the seemingly unrelated disappearance of a woman from Rochester, Minnesota, and the investigation that ensued. This woman’s case started a mystery that haunts forensic detectives to this day.
| The day after Christmas, 1998. |
On the northern shelf of the country, 35-year old Jane Rosenfield worked as a computer programmer for IBM. She spent most of her time preparing for the Y2K scare by helping develop a millennium language extension. Rosenfield was a brilliant programmer with a love for computers that developed since she was a young girl. She was affectionately known by her friends as a “code worm” and a “nerd”. As for her romantic life, she never settled down and got married, nor did she ever have kids. Thus, she spent most of her time holed up in her home, in online chat rooms with other programmers and her online boyfriend, Paul Clark.
Rosenfield’s and Clark’s missing person cases seemed to converge too conveniently. Detective Ray Weiss of the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Department shined some light on their unique love story:
“The Clark disappearance is one of the only cases – that I’ve ever seen – that never got cold because it was never hot to begin with.” Continuing, “All the pieces were there for this thing to end badly. Recently divorced, Ex firefighter- depressed – I mean we get a tip on Christmas Eve from his old firehouse- he leaves them a farewell card Christmas Eve. We retrace his steps and have him stopping at a liquor store and buying a bottle of wine and then the grocery store and picking up roses. He tells a bag boy there that he’s off to meet someone. Everyone says he seemed happy. Excited, even.
Once we arrived at his [Clark’s] house on December 26th, nothing seemed to be overtly amiss. His truck was in the driveway, but we had knocked and got no answer… and the door was also unlocked. I remember my partner at the time had been hesitating and telling me to prepare myself for “the smell” before opening the door. But there was no smell. No dead body. In fact, the inside of the house was very clean. He had a computer on the kitchen counter with a CD player right next to it. His wallet was on the desk by the window in the living room. His shoes and jacket were both by the doorway. Even his luggage was untouched. It’s like his life came to a standstill before he vanished into thin air. Our cadaver dogs found no trace of him in the neighboring woods along the property. It wasn’t until we checked the activity on his computer, which was still running, that we’d get any clue as to what was going on. The screen displayed a chat box with a user named “Mini in Minnesota”. In the chat box was a countdown, presumably between Paul and this user, and a link to a website. That’s when we decided to call the FBI.”
After connecting the screen name to Rosenfield, the FBI immediately searched her home fearing the worst. Their suspicion was that she either ended up as Clark’s victim or played a role in Paul’s disappearance. But after arriving at her home, in Rochester, they found an eerily similar scenario as the police did at Clark’s home: a clean, tidy home, with her purse on the kitchen counter, and her car in the driveway. FBI investigations never found financial records of purchases of cab fare or plane tickets in either of Clark’s or Rosenfield’s credit cards. All that was found in both homes was a computer screen with an open chat box named “Ok In Oklahoma” with an active countdown and a hyperlink.
The investigation eventually led to the discovery that Rosenfield had mentioned to Clark how she had been ‘working on something’ around a month before their disappearance. She had been planning an escape for them both so that they could start a new life together. Rosenfield claimed to have managed to program a link that could send them both to a completely new location together if they clicked it simultaneously. They talked about it excitedly for months, eventually giving this new location a name – “Summerland”.
| 2007 |
Retired FBI agent Dave Nguyen was ecstatic to participate in an interview about the strange case on the BBC. He was especially enthusiastic when asked for his theories on what he thought had happened.
“I was obsessed with that case,” Nguyen stated plainly. He shrugged and smiled wearily. “I guess I still am. Back then, digital forensics in the bureau were nothing like they are today. We didn’t have the manpower or the resources, or even really the know-how to investigate computer crime unless it was of a financial nature. We had seen a couple cases of strangers meeting up on the internet and winding up dead or missing a few times before but nothing like this.”
During the investigation, Nguyen sifted through hundreds of thousands of hours of chat logs between the two clandestine lovers. They talked about everything from starting a family rock band to Paul’s divorce to Jane’s concern about her growing drinking problem. Their interactions seemed to be incredibly intimate, despite their never having met in person. To Nguyen, Clark and Rosenfield evidently loved and cared for one another deeply.
When asked about what he thought happened to Paul Clark and Jane Rosenfield, Nguyen just scratched his head and spoke timidly. “I think they’re still out there, together. It might sound crazy but I wholeheartedly believe that they found some quality real estate in this imaginary place called ‘Summerland’”.
By the following winter of 1999 the FBI had labeled the case as inconclusive. Nyguen continued to work on the case late at night and on weekends obsessively, to the disappointment of his own wife. One night, Nguyen decided to take a leap of faith and visit the hyperlink himself. Instead of being directed to a typical “Error 404: Bad Gateway” page, he was startled to see a web page with a picture of Paul and Jane together. Underneath the photo of them said,
“Happily in love in our own slice of paradise. Merry Christmas, Paul and Jane – 1998.”
I’d like to thank Fauxy.Official for reading/organizing and even rewriting parts of the short story for me. Also for designing the logo. Go buy Fauxy a coffee and support their web toon at: Ko-Fi.com/Fauxy
This will be the last entry for the year so I’d like to thank anyone reading this and everyone who has taken any time out of their busy schedules to read or contact me. I will be posting a final year end blog discussing next years plans and will have new posts beginning in 2021.
And lastly I feel obligated to add that as much as it pains me … just no. No matter how many signed Tom Delonge guitars you offer me – I will never write for your shitty website, Alienexpanse.com. Sorry Nevik! That’s it – that’s all – see you next year. – DC