FAIRMONT — When he was in high school, Geoff Fuller attended the trial of Eugene Clawson, the man convicted of murdering and decapitating Mared Malarik and Karen Ferrell, two freshmen at West Virginia University in 1970.
The girls were said to have gotten into a white car with a man in 1970 in an attempt to hitchhike back to their dorm and were never again seen alive.
Their bodies were found just outside of Morgantown city limits, but the heads were never discovered, and questions circulated for decades about the truth of exactly what happened.
Despite the eventual conviction, Fuller wasn’t convinced Clawson was the man who committed this crime, and dedicated much of his adult life to trying to figure out exactly what happened and who did it. Eventually, Fuller thought that he had found out who actually committed the crime — John Brennan Crutchley, also known as the Vampire Rapist, who had many connections to the area and had enough evidence against him to convince Fuller.
Now with his research done and a conclusion he was satisfied with reached, Fuller’s longtime fasciation was put to rest.
“In my mind the case was solved,” Fuller said. “I didn’t know if I wanted to write a book, but the thing that had been nagging me since I was a kid was now solved, so I’ll go do something else.
“Then when Sarah had that (Reddit) posting, I was like, ‘Maybe she’s trying to do my book before I do.’”
Sarah was Sarah McLaughlin, and she, too, had a deep fascination with the case.
The two decided to join forces, bringing along Kendall Perkinson from Kromatic Media in Morgantown to tell the story through a podcast titled “Mared and Karen: The WVU Coed Murders.”
That podcast, which is available on Soundcloud, iTunes and many other podcasting mediums, began in May 2017, and in the 11 months since, has produced eight total episodes detailing the case from start to finish.
Well, at least kind of.
The final episode, titled “Burden of Proof” was released April 6, and concluded who Fuller and McLaughlin each thought was guilty of the crime.
After years of research and interviews, neither Fuller of McLaughlin believed that Clawson, although a very bad man who was guilty of many other heinous crimes, killed and decapitated Mared and Karen.
Rather, McLaughlin believes it was a man named William Bernard Hacker Sr., who was convicted of murder in Pendleton County who had decapitated his victim and buried him in the woods, much the same as the killer of Mared and Karen. Fuller settled on Crutchley, who he thought had several things about him that connected him to the case.
Throughout the course of the podcast, each narrative and storytelling style was formed by Perkinson, who did not know anything about who either Fuller or McLaughlin thought was guilty until the final episode.
“I was just interested in crafting the narrative arc,” Perkinson said. “I didn’t know anything.”
With more than 100,000 total listens, the Mared and Karen podcast became very popular over time, with the three producers getting a lot of feedback.
“It was all positive,” Perkinson said. “There were a few little criticism things, but it was almost all positive. That was surprising, because the internet was easy to get sniped on.”
In addition to simply positive feedback from fans, the podcast team also heard from people who weighed in on the case, with that information sometimes making its way into the narrative and aiding in the story and research.
“We actually had people coming to us rather than us going to them, which was nice,” McLaughlin said. “We had some people reach out, and it always feels a lot better when you’re not making cold calls saying, ‘Hey, do you want to talk about a murder?’”
Now, the podcast is over, but the research by McLaughlin and Fuller is far from done.
Fuller and McLaughlin are still seeking more information, particularly from those who were in the area at the time. With the murders having occurred almost a half century in the past, many of those around at the time may not listen to podcasts, and may not be aware of the work the team is doing.
Specifically, they’re looking for information about Hacker and Crutchley, and believe that their connections to the area may lead to some information from those who knew them.
Hacker’s murder of Herbert Corbin occurred in West Virginia, and he worked in the Weirton Mine area — near where Mared and Karen were found.
As for Crutchley, he had many connections to West Virginia, most notably his sister, Carolynn Crutchley, who lived in Towers III as a student at WVU, just down University Avenue from Westchester Hall, where Mared and Karen lived while students.
“The case is 48 years old, so if anyone has anything they want to tell us, we’re open to it, honestly,” McLaughlin said. “I’d like to hear people who knew Hacker. We’re having trouble tracking these people down.
“We really want to get some more feedback from people who went to school with Mared and Karen in college, not high school, but at WVU. Geoff wants to see if there’s a connection to Crutchley through that — if they knew his sister, if they knew him or if they had a class together — anything along those lines.”
“Even if they have theories they shared with their neighbors,” Fuller said.
Anyone with information they’d like to share can contact Fuller at 304-216-0795, or via email at email@example.com.
Email Sean McNamara at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @SMcNamaraTWV.