Weeding through the spooky lore associated with Middletown’s Whipporwill Valley Road and disseminating truth from fiction is like taking a ride down the pitted dirt road with faulty struts.
People have tended to get mired in the bottomless pits that are the myths.
In the dark, especially, the road itself becomes one big, freakish ghost story. The tales of phantom trucks trying to cut people off, potholes representing buried farmers cursed by witches burned at the stake, Ku Klux Klan ghosts up to no good, and spirits, including a dancing Jesus, coming to life are only concoctions of ghost story lovers.
Yes, the KKK was all over that and other local areas many years ago. There were probably “witches,” or renegade women of their day. And it’s a pretty sure bet there were farmers. In fact, Whipporwill is one of the only remaining dirt roads in the area that winds through what’s left of farmland.
The truth: In the daytime, the road in the Chapel Hill section of Middletown is beautiful and quite serene. The rolling landscape is dotted with cows, horses, a pond and plenty of pretty wildflowers and foliage.
It gets spooky when people, mindful of the lore and armed with pranks to play on one another, head down the unlit dirt road in gleeful anticipation of a good scare.
Then there’s the truth of the one documented grisly thing that happened on Whipporwill — Fair Haven girl Nancy Clark was murdered and dumped on the road on March 6, 1982.
She was 22. A graduate of Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School, a lot of people knew Nancy and were shaken to the core by the "too close to home" aspect of the whole thing. I was one of those people.
It took some time to find Nancy Clark's murderer. Until then, all anyone knew was that she was last seen outside of the Oceanfront Bar in Sea Bright just before 2 a.m. on March 6, 1982.
She had been seen with three men, according to witnesses, and the released sketches of them.
That was nearly a month after the murder in which Nancy was killed by a single stab wound to the heart.
“Police here have issued sketches of three men wanted as witnesses and as possible suspects in connection with the March 6 homicide of Nancy Clark, 22, of Fair Haven,” an April 4, 1982 story from the archives of the Red Bank Register said. “According to Police Capt. William Halliday, it is possible that Clark was with the three men in a white, older-model car in the area of the Oceanfront Bar in Sea Bright the night of her death … Clark’s body was found by police at the edge of a wooded area of Whipporwill Valley Road in the Chapel Hill section at about 4 a.m. March 6. Police said a resident driving along that road spotted the body and called police … She was not driving her own car that night, police said, and witnesses at the bar did not see her leave.”
As it turned out, one of those men, then 20-year-old Leonardo resident Thomas W. Bailiff, was charged, indicted and convicted for Nancy Clark’s murder. It was about three months after the murder (the end of May) when Bailiff was indicted.
Hazlet resident James Alexander, then 21, was indicted for complicity to the murder.
Bailiff was held in Monmouth County Jail (what it was called then) on $500,000 bail. Alexander, however, was “released to his parents’ custody on (a) $50,000 bond,” a May 27 Daily Register story said.
Alexander had also been facing several charges in connection with the rape and kidnapping of a Hazlet teen. Police had suspected that Bailiff was involved in that as well.
It was revealed that Clark was hitchhiking after she left the Oceanfront when Bailiff and Alexander picked her up. Alexander drove. They took her to Scenic Drive in Atlantic Highlands where Bailiff stabbed her with a “military type knife.” The two then drove her body to Whipporwill and left it there.
Alexander was only found guilty of hindering Bailiff’s apprehension, not being an accomplice, according to a January 26, 1983 story in the Independent newspaper archives.
Bailiff, a young AWOL Marine at the time, pleaded guilty to the murder and is still in prison serving a life sentence for it. While his attorney tried to make the case in court that Bailiff was a tortured young man who needed and wanted psychological help to understand the depravity of what he had done, he was called “a sexual sadist who hates women” by the prosecution, according to the Independent story.
Clark's aunt was a close friend of my mother's. Her father was a member of the Fair Haven Fire Company and friend to both my parents. During the trial, I remember the aunt calling frequently to rehash the daily details of it with my mother. There was a lot of crying, screaming and praying going on through it all. Nancy's close friends and family were inconsolable. They never understood why it happened — what motivated Bailiff. They just knew it was all so wrong.
Bailiff was denied parole 20 plus years later.
Many were and still are haunted by Clark’s murder and the mindless discarding of her body by her murderer. Because of it, to many with roots in this area, Whipporwill Valley Road will never be only a dirt road with a country view.
Tell us about your memories of Nancy Clark's murder.