MORGANTOWN — It all started nearly half a century ago on the evening of Jan. 18, 1970 in Morgantown, and now 47 years later three modern researchers and piecing together the clues they find about the strange crime in a podcast.
After seeing a showing of “Oliver” at the Metropolitan Theater in Morgantown, West Virginia University freshmen Mared Malarik and Karen Ferrell decided to hitchhike back to their dormitory, so they got into what was described as a cream-colored Chevrolet with a driver who appeared to be in his mid-forties.
That was the last time they were seen alive.
Over the next few months speculation grew as to what happened, and the story got stranger and stranger.
The state police began to receive anonymous letters that April that were signed with just a triangle directing them where to find the girls.
On April 16, 1970, the bodies of Ferrell and Malarik were found in the woods, decapitated and decomposing.
A man named Eugene Paul Clawson confessed to the crime and was convicted of the girls’ murders. Clawson received a life sentence, but it wasn’t an open-and-shut case for many.
Whether it was the fact that the girls’ heads were never found, claims of divine intervention by cults in Maryland who claimed they knew what happened or the over-abundance of suspects, the case of Mared Malarik and Karen Ferrell left a lot of everyday people wondering.
The curious nature of the story has intrigued many over the 47 years since, and three people have joined together to dig deeper and share what they find.
Geoff Fuller was 8 years old when Ferrell and Malarik disappeared, and even then he was interested in the story.
“That whole thing was kind of disturbing,” Fuller recalled. “Everyone around town was talking about it. Morgantown was a lot more isolated then, and that kind of crime didn’t happen — and it still doesn’t.”
Several years later, Fuller skipped out of high school with his girlfriend to attend Clawson’s first trial. Even then, things didn’t seem right.
“We were struck by the fact that it didn’t appear as if Clawson actually did it,” Fuller said. “Since then I’ve been interested in finding out more about it.”
Sarah Gibbons is a Monongalia County native who has lived in Fairmont for the better part of the past decade. Like Fuller, she was intrigued by the gruesome murder. Unlike him, however, she wasn’t around when Ferrell and Malarik were killed, and only heard about the crime years later.
“I sort of remembered the story like an urban legend,” Gibbons said. “When I started to do the research on it, I found that it had so many levels to it that I had never even heard of.”
Soon, Gibbons had begun to establish herself on the internet as a researcher of the case, contributing to a growing Reddit post dedicated to the story.
The final person to enter into the fold was Kendall Perkinson, who works with Kromatic Media, which operates out of Morgantown.
“I first heard about this with Sarah,” Perkinson said, noting that the two had just became friends in an unrelated capacity. “She started telling me this story and the complexity of it. The levels of storytelling that were there made it seem like it would be compelling to tell in a larger format.
“It was something I was interested in immediately.”
With his interest piqued, Perkinson asked if Gibbons had ever considered telling the story in a different way, such as a podcast. While true crime podcasts have gained popularity in recent years, largely as a result of the success of Serial, which investigates a murder in Maryland, Perkinson said he didn’t enter into the project in an effort to emulate others using the podcast approach.
“The story itself and the way it twists and turns and has all these ins and outs are what made me say, ‘this is a good story. This can be told in a way that is really interesting,’” Perkinson said. “I listened to Serial, because everyone listened to Serial, but I’m not a true crime person. I just like storytelling.”
From there, the trio began work on their podcast which they titled, “Mared & Karen: The WVU Coed Murders.”
So far, three episodes have been released, telling the story of what happened to Malarik and Ferrell and revealing what the trio have discovered about the case.
The first episode was released May 18, and each of the three contributing to the project has played a vital role in the storytelling process.
Fuller provides a depth of knowledge and experience, having spoken to many of the key players over the years.
“I just know people, and I’ve been working around this case for so long I’ve come to know people who were involved in it,” Fuller said. “I grew up in Morgantown, and a lot of people I already know have parts to play in this story.”
Gibbons has used her investigative curiosity to research the case alongside Fuller. In the process, she, too, has learned more about what may have happened and all the layers of the story.
“For me the story just keeps unfolding,” Gibbons said. “The more people we interview, the more people who put a personal spin on it. Everybody has their own view of it. But there’s so many details that I had never heard about, and it’s become more complex every day.”
Unlike Gibbons and Fuller, Perkinson entered into the project with little knowledge of the story. He serves as the voice to the podcast, and plays a vital role in storytelling by bringing a fresh set of eyes and ears to the process.
“For me it’s been a discovery because I didn’t know the foundations of the story,” Perkinson said. “As we go I’m asking clarifying questions. As a journalist I’m catching up with what these folks have already learned.”
As time has passed, the trio has continued to find out additional information, and has received feedback from people who were interested in their work and willing to share their own perspective.
“It’s been a continuing revelation for me,” Fuller said. “The kind of stuff Sarah finds is adding whole new dimensions from what I thought I new.”
“Tons of people have been reaching out with memories,” Perkinson added. “This is something that apparently resonated a lot in this community and is still out there and people are still thinking about it.”
The podcast can be found on iTunes, Soundcloud and at www.kromatic.media.
Perkinson said that the trio hopes to have Episode 4 of “Mared and Karen” released by July 1. In this installment, the podcast will focus on all of the suspects in the case. In Episodes 5 and 6, which don’t have release dates, the story will focus on Clawson’s trial.
Even with the conclusion of the podcast, Fuller and Gibbons will not cease to share the story, as they are currently writing a book that they hope to begin to shop around in August.
According to Fuller, the book will dig deeper into the story and provide what may be the biggest revelation yet.
“I think I figured out who did it,” Fuller said. “We have a whole bunch of circumstantial evidence and we’re just trying to track down the last bit.”
Fuller said that if the last bits of evidence come to light and the last remaining gap is bridged, the podcast may feature their revelation of the killer, but if not, the book will shed light on all of his findings.
Email Sean McNamara at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @SMcNamaraTWV.