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Missing girl case raises questions

Missing girl case raises questions
Published June 18, 2007

ORLANDO – Authorities questioned why the abduction of a missing girl, who was found safe in Wisconsin last week, went unreported for four months.

Wisconsin police found Courtney Alisa Clark safe in a home in Portage on Thursday. The following day police found a malnourished and scalded 11-year-old boy in a closet at the home, and they unearthed from the back
yard the body of a 37-year-old woman presumed to be his mother.

Pinellas County authorities said a caseworker waited until Jan. 25 to report Clark missing, more than four months after the girl was snatched from a foster home by her mother, Candace L. Clark.

The twisting tale of the girl’s disappearance began July 21 when Candace Clark, 23, was arrested on identity theft and fraud charges, Lake County investigators said. After that, a Pinellas County judge placed Courtney in the home of foster mother Cynthia Martell.

On Sept. 23, Clark reportedly showed up at Martell’s home, persuaded her to hand over the child and disappeared with the girl, Lake County Detective James Vachon said.

Martell reported Courtney’s disappearance to the Safe Children Coalition in Pinellas County 10 days later. The agency prepared a juvenile pickup order  two days later but never distributed it to law enforcement agencies, Vachon said. On Jan. 25, more than four months after Courtney was taken, the agency’s caseworker in Pinellas reported the girl missing.

Vachon jumped on the case, then came across a credit report Thursday showing a Portage address for Clark’s boyfriend.

Vachon alerted Wisconsin police. They found Courtney and three other children at the home, along with the tortured boy and the woman’s body.

The woman appears to have been strangled and to have sustained numerous injuries suggesting she was physically abused, the Columbia County medical examiner said Saturday.

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