For 32 Years, Someone in Clarion County Has Kept a Horrifying Secret
CLARION, Pa. (EYT) – Every community has its secrets, mostly dark ones. I mean, why would you keep something good a secret, right?
People like to talk out loud about good things. It’s true they like to talk about bad things, too, but there are some subjects that are just so bad, so beyond the pale, that they mustn’t be mentioned out loud. When they are, it’s done carefully, in hushed tones, with trusted people, in out-of-the-way corners of dark rooms using coded language.
This is part one of an ongoing investigation into the identity of Clarion County’s “Penny Doe.” Please see our other articles in the series:
- For 32 Years, Someone in Clarion County Has Kept a Horrifying Secret
- New Information Uncovered in Penny Doe Case for the First Time in 30 Years
Angie Clinger stands next to the location where she and three other children discovered the body of Penny Doe on July 22, 1990. Photo by Gavin Fish, August 4, 2022.
Governments have honed the craft of recruiting people seemingly born with just the right temperament to keep a secret. Somebody who doesn’t seek credit; who thrives on knowing, not on telling. They take those recruits and put them through a refinement that removes every last inkling of the desire to spread the information they have locked inside their minds. My uncle was one of those people. He spent his career as a Special Agent of the FBI. He specialized as a polygraph operator, and even continued to administer lie detector tests as an FBI consultant for years after his retirement. Do you know what he told me a couple years before he passed away? Nobody can keep a secret forever.
Someone has been keeping a secret in Clarion County for the past 32 years.
This composite image is an artist’s rendering of what Penny Doe may have looked like.
On July 22nd, 1990, seven-year-old Angie Clinger was out playing with her 10-year-old brother and two neighbor friends, a 10-year-old boy and a 12-year-old girl, in the hills of Monroe Township. Thirty-two years later, she remembers the day almost perfectly. Almost. There’s some blurriness in her memory. It was the day before her eighth birthday. It was sunny. It was humid. The milkweed was tall. Their large clusters of pink flowers swayed in the wind. The monarch butterflies had laid their eggs on them and cocoons could be found dangling beneath their leathery leaves.
The children weren’t far from home. They were making their way over to a culvert running under the railroad tracks where a creek was overflowing and watering the berry bushes. They’d brought small containers with them just in case they encountered some ripe fruit.
Angie didn’t see the body at first. She smelled it. It wasn’t a pleasant smell, but it wasn’t uncommon. Deer carcasses litter Pennsylvania’s roads, victims of passing vehicles. So, when Angie caught the whiff of decomposition, it didn’t frighten her off.
As the group of children came closer to the culvert, they saw what they guessed was causing the stench, and naturally thought it was a rotting deer. It didn’t take them long, though, to realize the truth. Seconds, probably. This was the body of a woman. She was lying face down in a couple of inches of water, a few feet in front of the culvert. She was dressed in a black t-shirt and blue jeans. She had brown hair, though it was in the water near her head. Not on it. Angie could see bones. She doesn’t remember seeing very much flesh.
When I met Angie for the first time, it was in the parking lot of Zion Baptist Church in Monroe Township. I had reached out to her through Facebook, hoping I’d found the right Angie Clinger. She was apprehensive about meeting a stranger who said he was a reporter, and wanted to do it in a public place with good cell reception. If she felt uneasy at all, she was going to leave.
The plan was to follow her from the church to the location where she’d found the body with her brother and friends. After a short conversation, she felt comfortable taking me there. So, I hopped in my car and followed her for a few minutes until we arrived at the spot, a secluded intersection of Lawrence Road beneath us and high-voltage transmission lines above. As we pulled up, I could see the culvert come into view, previously hidden by the overgrown foliage. I hadn’t noticed before, but the hillside it tunneled through was actually a man-made earthen structure. On top, twenty feet or so above where I was standing, sat the old railroad bed. Back in 1992, trains would still occasionally pass. But today, it’s tracks have been removed to give way to hikers, dog walkers, ATVs, and side-by-sides.
Angie called the hill we were looking at “the trestle.” Everyone calls it that. It’s confusing for this California-raised kid to call a mound of dirt and rocks a trestle, but I didn’t dwell on it that day. I found out later that the railroad bed was indeed laid on a trestle that was built out of wood in the 19th century. Later, rather than reinforcing it as the railroad was upgraded from narrow gauge to standard, the trestle was filled in with earth.
On the day Angie and I stood in the spot where the body lay 32 years previous, Angie’s demeanor changed from apprehensive about being in the middle of nowhere with a stranger to something else. Solemn, maybe. Reverent.
“I always think of it. It’s just sad. I think of the feeling that we had when we found her. Terrifying,” Angie said. “We ran. And then we felt like someone was watching us. I don’t think I ever ran so fast. It was traumatizing.”
The children passed Angie’s house, her mom was outside watching them run, and went to their friends’ house where they told their parents. The police were called, and soon after Angie found herself seated in the bed of a pickup truck that was leading the authorities back to the culvert under the trestle. Seven-year-old Angie and one of the neighbor kids decided to stay back at the truck while the others led the adults to the body.
Two days later, their discovery was mentioned in a small blurb in The Clarion News.
“MONROE TWP – A body of an unknown while female (estimated to be in her teen years) was found by children hiking through the woods near Township Route 535, four-tenths mile west of State Route 2012 at 1 p.m. July 22. Time and cause of death and identity are under investigation.
“Anyone with information concerning this matter should contact Pennsylvania State Police.”
Another two days passed and another blurb was published in The Clarion News.
“CLARION – State Police report little progress in connection with the investigation of a body discovered by two youths hiking in Monroe Township July 22 and are appealing to the public for any information that might be related.
“We’re looking for information, anything that somebody can supply us with any type of lead,” Cpl. Dan Fiscus told the Clarion News. “We don’t have anything right now to work with. We have the jaw and skull and it will take time to put that all together. Positive identification may not ever be possible.”
“Although identification may not be possible, police say identification is essential to the investigation, hence the public appeal for information.”
The article goes on to report that an autopsy was conducted in Allegheny County and that police believed that the woman suffered blunt force trauma to the head. Police also believed that the woman had been dead one to three months when she was found. They combed through missing persons reports from Clarion County and the surrounding area. No match.
This clay mask was created by reconstruction artist Michael Taister in April or May of 1991. Photograph was taken by Gavin Fish on September 6, 2022.
Over the years, police have leaked out bits of information about their Jane Doe case hoping that they might jog somebody’s memory. For example, they divulged that she was wearing size 9-10 Gitano brand jeans. She wore a Stoplight California brand black button-down short-sleeve shirt with an attached floral print vest. Her panties were Fruit of the Loom brand in size 7. She wasn’t wearing shoes and socks, nor a bra. Her teeth were in good condition; investigators surmised that she may have come from somewhere with fluoridated water. Lastly, there was a penny in each of her front pockets. It’s that last detail that cause many to refer to the victim as Penny Doe.
This paragraph describing Penny Doe was released sometime after May of 1991 by Pennsylvania State Police. Obtained by Gavin Fish on September 7, 2022 through a Right to Know Law Request.
Angie and I spent about 30 minutes together at the trestle the day we met. As we left, I glanced at the time. It had been 32 years, 13 days, and about 44 minutes since Angie, her brother, and their friends made their grim discovery. 32 years, 13 days, and about 44 minutes that somebody had been keeping Penny Doe’s identity a secret. In that moment, my mind flashed back to the conversation I had with my FBI Special Agent uncle a couple of years before he died. That conversation gives me hope.
I think that Penny Doe’s identity will be discovered. And that little ray of belief is enough for me to cling onto as I dig into the mystery that has baffled investigators for more than three decades. It will take me from lead to lead. I will uncover documents never before released. I will speak to medicolegal death investigators, forensic scientists, anthropologists, and geneticists. The purpose of everything I do as I investigate this case will be to prove what my uncle told me all those years ago.
Nobody can keep a secret forever.
|Gavin Fish is a reporter for EYT Media Group and YouTuber based in Venango County. In addition to his YouTube Channel, he has contributed to investigations and reports for ABC News, Investigation Discovery, and Fox Nation, and has collaborated on projects developed for Netflix, Oxygen, Discovery Channel, Amazon Prime, and Hulu.|
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