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Rosie Grover: Bright Light, Long Shadow

I was at Todd Grove Park, doing nothing, and spotted a big wooden sign on the western edge across from the golf course. I walked over and checked out various plaques honoring Ukiahans.

My eyes were drawn to one telling the world Rosie Marie Grover would never be forgotten. A few days later I was at McGarvey Park (West Clay, South Dora) and strolled over to a corner bench. I was mildly surprised to see a small bronze marker, top center, that reads:

Rosie Marie Grover

1970 – 1985

"Your Light Still Shines" 2015

Rosie Grover, the teenager who in 1985 got off a Greyhound bus on State Street near Talmage Road well past midnight. She had no adult waiting to pick her up and was soon set upon by a stranger.

Rosie did the best she could. She went to the pay phone outside the old House of Garner restaurant (now Mountain Mike’s Pizza) and called 9-1-1 to plead for a ride. She lived half a mile south.

CHP dispatch said No. Violates our policy, she said.

And the instant Rosie hung up that phone what remained of her life would be nasty, brutish and short.

Rosie Grover (1985)

She was murdered in a small ravine 75 yards from the pay phone, her head bashed flat by a chunk of concrete. Crime scene photos were impossible to look at, and it was quick work flipping through them and leaving the room.

How do I know? I spent two years working with the team defending Richard Clark, a young man from Vallejo with no reason to harm Rosie Grover, and at that point in his life more likely to commit a suicide than a homicide.

I spent many months living off-and-on at a Travel Lodge Motel in the middle of Vallejo, combing Richard Clark’s background and rough neighborhood for clues to how he could have done something so wicked and deeply out of character.

Because that’s all I found: Richard Clark killed a girl for no reason? Naw. Nicest kid around. Best behaved boy for blocks in any direction. Everyone said the same thing. I’d knock on doors and people would say, Now did you know those kids got abandoned by their mother and their father was dead and Richard raised up his brother and sister all by himself? Richard wouldn’t hurt anyone. Murder?!?

One old guy lived two doors from the Clark wreck of a house on Magazine Street, and he argued with me, told me I was a lousy investigator and slammed the door because I was too stupid to understand the only Clark kid who’d act crazy and get violent was Robert Clark, the hell-raising younger brother. Richard? Nice kid. Not a chance.

I retrieved Richard’s school records, talked with his teachers, talked with a man who ran a small engine repair shop where Richard had worked after school.

A hazy picture came into semi-focus. Richard’s mother was an alcoholic, mean, ignorant and mentally ill. None of my diagnoses were documented by government agencies. The crippled family staggered along on Magazine Street, mom absent and finding new boyfriends to spend weeks with at a time. Dad died (suicide?) years ago.

Richard fed his little brother and sister, got them off to school and endured years of abuse from local delinquent kids. He washed sibling clothes in the kitchen sink. He knew one recipe: beans out of a can heated in a saucepan. He was 10 years old.

Neighbor kids urinated in his pots of beans; I know because I talked to them and they told me so. They threw rocks at the house and broke out windows. Little brother Robert often joined in the fun of destroying his own home.

Mom sometimes stopped by with boyfriends, one of whom repeatedly beat Richard with the tracks from his Hot Wheels car set, leaving bleeding welts on his legs and back. The kids told me that too.

Mom made her own children crawl on the floor, perform tricks and beg for leftovers she brought home from Denny’s and McDonald’s. She refused to come to court to describe Richard’s life with and without her. She never quit failing him.

The trial was held in San Jose and I lived there nearly a year with Ukiah attorneys Joe Allen and Ron Brown.

Richard Clark (2007)

The trial took months; the verdict took hours. No surprises.

It’s both tragic and sadly inspiring that 35 years later Rosie’s life is remembered and her death lamented. Rarely are bright memories of crime victims kept alive in the aching hearts of those who miss them still.

For Rosie Marie Grover the world never delivered on the promise we make all our children, which is that they be given an opportunity, a future, the chance to live and learn and love. To grow and to grow old.

Richard Dean Clark, lost and abandoned as a little boy, was given little opportunity, not much of a future and never experienced love. He has been allowed to grow old, however, sitting alone for 30-plus years on San Quentin’s Death Row.

(Tom Hine lives in Ukiah and is mostly retired after 35 years as a criminal defense investigator. If he had an office TWK would answer phones. Courtesy, the Ukiah Daily Journal.)

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