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Lab Murder: The Brutal Slaying of Yale University Student Annie Le

Kym L. Pasqualini is the founder and former CEO of Nation's Missing Children Organization and National Center for Missing Adults.

Annie Le, a doctoral student was murdered in a lab at Yale University in 2009 and was a national story. Photo courtesy of New Haven Register.

Annie Le, a doctoral student was murdered in a lab at Yale University in 2009 and was a national story. Photo courtesy of New Haven Register.

Everyone who met her agreed Annie Le was outstanding. She was beautiful with a smile that would light up the room and an academic superstar while in high school and college. She was valedictorian of her graduating class at Union Mine High School in El Dorado, California, where she was voted “most likely to be the next Einstein. After receiving a $160,000 scholarship, she attended and graduated from the University of Rochester in New York with a major in cell developmental biology, with a minor in medical anthropology.

Annie was then accepted into a Yale graduate program that would have led to her doctorate in pharmacology. At 24-years old, Annie found herself earning her doctorate and attending Yale University, a prestigious Ivy League college in New Haven, Connecticut.

During her time in the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology, Annie was liked by everyone, or so they thought.

The disappearance

On September 8, 2009, five days away from her wedding day, Annie left her apartment and took Yale Transit to her office at Sterling Hall of Medicine on the Yale campus. At approximately 10:00 a.m. Annie walked to another campus building where her research lab was located on Amistad Street.

Annie Le could be seen in security footage entering the Amistad building at Yale campus and never leave. Photo courtesy of Oxygen.

Annie Le could be seen in security footage entering the Amistad building at Yale campus and never leave. Photo courtesy of Oxygen.

Annie entered the building just after 10:00 a.m. as documented on the school’s security cameras. She was never seen leaving the building.

The house that Annie Le shared with five other roommates in New Haven, Connecticut. Photo courtesy of New Haven Register.

The house that Annie Le shared with five other roommates in New Haven, Connecticut. Photo courtesy of New Haven Register.

Annie was very responsible and would never be late. By 9:00 p.m. that evening she had not returned home and one of her five roommates called the New Haven Police Department and reported her missing.

When police went to Yale to investigate, they found the building and area are monitored by about 70 security cameras. In addition, the building and rooms could only be accessed by those with a Yale identification card. While reviewing the footage they could see the petite young woman enter the lab but never leave. They secured the building to investigate further.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Connecticut State Police joined in the search.

Annie Le and her fiancé Jonathan Widawsky were in love and due to get married when she was found murdered on the Yale University campus. Source: Facebook.

Annie Le and her fiancé Jonathan Widawsky were in love and due to get married when she was found murdered on the Yale University campus. Source: Facebook.

It took five days, but on September 13, 2009, the day Annie was supposed to be marrying the love of her life, Jonathan Widawsky, the police instead located Annie’s body.

“It is my tragic duty to report that a body of a female was found in the basement of the Amistad Building late this afternoon. The identity of the woman has not yet been established,” wrote Yale president Richard Levin in a letter to university staff and students. “Law enforcement officials remain on the scene; this is an active investigation, and we hope it is resolved quickly.”

Annie Le, a Yale doctoral student was murdered on campus on September 8, 2009. Source Facebook.

Annie Le, a Yale doctoral student was murdered on campus on September 8, 2009. Source Facebook.

Annie was described as smart, funny, and high-energy who was led by compassion. Who would have brutally murdered her?

For days the family waited patiently for any word Annie would be found alive. They had looked forward to sharing the happiest moment of her life at the upcoming lavish Long Island wedding. They could not fathom she would be found dead on her own campus.

The suspect

On the day Annie was found, fellow student, Raymond Clark III reported seeing her leave the Yale Animal Research Center carrying two bags of mouse food and a notebook.


Raymond Clark III, a Yale University student was identified by police as the only suspect in the murder of Annie Le. Photo courtesy of CBS News.

Raymond Clark III, a Yale University student was identified by police as the only suspect in the murder of Annie Le. Photo courtesy of CBS News.

Police immediately closed in on Raymond Clark III, 26, who was the only one working in the lab with Annie. A 13-page arrest affidavit revealed that security cards showed the movements of both Annie and Clark, that scratches were found on Clark’s body, and Clark attempted to clean the crime scene and erase his DNA.

Though the document did not offer a motive, sources familiar with the investigation told the Hartford Courant that the strangulation occurred due to a work dispute between Clark and Annie.

From 10:40 a.m. that morning until 3:45 p.m., Clark went in and out of the lab room where Annie had been working and another room down the hall 55 times, according to the affidavit.

A small part of the affidavit was redacted and appears to be about the discovery of Annie’s body.

When Clark left the building that day, police could see he was wearing different clothing than he had been wearing when he arrived at the facility.

While police had been searching for Annie, a fellow student Rachel Roth told Yale University police Officer Sabrina Wood about a box of wipes that had blood spots on it. The wipes were located on a steel pushcart in the room Annie had last logged into with her security card.

The blood on the wipe box was not the only thing that Wood’s noticed. According to the affidavit, Wood’s saw Clark go over to the cart and move the box so the “blood splatter” was facing the other way and out of sight. Wood’s immediately began making small talk with Clark.

As investigators searched for Annie, Clark continued cleaning scrubbing the drain in the room with steel wool and cleaning products.

Another Yale University Sergeant Jay Jones also saw Clark scrubbing the floor under the sink, near the drain. Jones thought it strange as the floor was clean. Jones also saw Clark touch the pushcart.

By September 10, the FBI had collected a list of evidence to include the box of wipes and an extra-large lab coat with red stains that were found in a recycling box.

Surveillance footage showed Clark wearing a similar lab coat earlier on the day on September 8, according to the affidavit.

Investigators then went to Annie’s apartment to gather her personal belongings, including a toothbrush to be used in DNA testing.

The results from the test showed the blood was that of Annie on the box of wipes and the lab coat.

The Amistad Building on the Yale University campus where Annie Le’s body was found in September 2009. Photo courtesy of Yale.

The Amistad Building on the Yale University campus where Annie Le’s body was found in September 2009. Photo courtesy of Yale.

On September 10, Clark came forward with information about Annie. He told investigators that he saw Annie leave the building 15 minutes before he left the building and before a fire alarm went off. The alarm was set off by an autoclave used to sterilize lab equipment.

The interview convinced investigators to focus on Clark so they applied for search and seizure warrants to get mouth swabs, fingerprints, body hair, and fingernail clippings from Clark. They conducted a polygraph test and he failed miserably.

On September 12, police discovered evidence above a hallway drop ceiling outside the lab. A rubber glove with bloodstains was found along with a sock. They also collected a pair of work boots covered in blood that had a label “Ray C” on them, along with a blue hospital scrub like the shirt Clark was seen wearing in the surveillance tapes.

They had seized a sizeable amount of evidence but had yet to find a body.

However, an alert investigator smelled something in the area of the utility panel in the lab. Investigators brought in cadaver dogs who very quickly found the body of a female wearing surgical gloves, her panties pulled down around her ankles. She also had a broken jaw and collarbone. Blood was all over behind the wall and the insulation was used to try to conceal the body behind the utility panel. Investigators also found a bloodstained lab coat, a sock that looked like the one found in the drop ceiling, and a green-ink pen.

On September 15, police searched Clark’s apartment in Middletown and obtained DNA samples which we soon found to be a match, including the match of a semen sample left at the crime scene.

A stain on the sock contained both Annie’s and Clark’s DNA.

Raymond Clark III was arrested on September 17, 2009, for the murder of Annie Le, a fellow Yale University student. Photo courtesy of the Oklahoman.

Raymond Clark III was arrested on September 17, 2009, for the murder of Annie Le, a fellow Yale University student. Photo courtesy of the Oklahoman.

Police had built a substantial case. Clark was arrested on September 17, 2009, at the Super 8 Motel in Cromwell, Connecticut. He was charged with murder and remanded to the MacDougall-Walker Correctional Facility in Suffield to await a trial.

Murder plea

In January 2010, Clark initially pleaded not guilty but later changed his plea in exchange for a shorter prison term.

On March 17, 2011, with a room full of reporters, along with Annie’s fiancé and family, Clark sat there looking quiet and abandoned. He quietly pleaded guilty to the murder of Annie Le. He was also found guilty of attempted sexual assault.

Clark had made an agreement with the court to serve 44-years, keeping him in prison until 2053.

During the sentencing, about 20 members of Annie’s family sat with their handkerchiefs out. Annie’s mother Vivian Van Le, and father, Hoang Le made emotional statements before the judge’s sentence was imposed.

According to the New Haven Register, the most powerful moment came when Raymond Clark III spoke tearfully to the courtroom.

“I take full responsibility for my actions,” Clark said, reading his statement in a muted and unsteady voice.

“I alone am responsible for the death of Annie Le and causing tremendous pain to all who loved and cared about Annie,” he said.

I have always tried to do the right thing and stay out of trouble,” Clark said, “but I failed. I took a life and continued to lie about it while Annie’s friends, family, and fiancé sat and waited.

Clark went on, “I really never wanted to harm anyone or cause emotional pain to anyone. All I wanted was to be a good son, a good brother, and a good fiancé, but again I failed.”

Jennifer Hromadkam was engaged to Clark when he was arrested and she sat alongside Clark’s parents in the courtroom.

“I blame only myself and there are no excuses for what I have done,” Clark said. “Annie was and will always be a wonderful person, by far a better person than I will ever be in my life,” Clark droned on, seemingly looking for sympathy.

“I’m sorry I lied, I’m sorry I ruined lives and I’m sorry for taking Annie’s life,” Clark continued.

Superior Court Judge Roland Fasano said, “The suffering, the anguish of the families is heartbreaking.” He said the plea agreement is appropriate as it was a substantial sentence and prevents Annie’s family from going through an emotional and very painful trial.

“For murder, 44 years to serve. For attempted sexual assault in the first degree, 20 years to run concurrently,” said Fasano.

Clark remains incarcerated at Cheshire Correctional Institution in New Haven County, Connecticut.

Goodbyes

Annie’s family and friends gathered on September 26, 2009, in California’s Sierra Nevada foothills, near where Annie grew up.

Jonathan Widawsky held a memorial service earlier in the week at the Long Island synagogue.

Jonathan Widawsky held a memorial service earlier in the week at the Long Island synagogue.

Johnathan Widawsky held a memorial service earlier in the week and arrived carrying red roses for Annie. He was clearly heartbroken by the loss of the love of his life.

The service at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Elk Dorado Hills, California, about 30 miles east of Sacramento, followed the service held back east.

Jonathan sat with his head bowed while Annie’s family and friends filled the church to say goodbye to a young woman who was remembered as “beaming with life” who had a mission to find cures for diseases.

Jonathan acted as head usher for the California service attended by more than 600 people.

“If we take those special qualities of hers and continue to make them our own, then she will continue to live in us,” said Monsignor James Kidder, who was once Annie’s pastor.

Annie Le’s mother, Vivian Van Le attended her daughter’s funeral service with the family gathered around her to comfort her. Photo courtesy of ABC News.

Annie Le’s mother, Vivian Van Le attended her daughter’s funeral service with the family gathered around her to comfort her. Photo courtesy of ABC News.

Annie’s mother, Vivian Van Le, tearfully talked about the lullabies she would sing to her daughter when she was small, then read a poem she had written in Vietnamese that was translated by Annie’s brother Chris Le.

“Farewell my child . . . the most wonderful gift that God sent to me,” Annie’s mother said. She continued to describe her daughter’s death as “a knife searing through my soul.”

She turned to Jonathan and said, “Jon, even now Annie’s gone, but I still have you and love you very much. You are my son.”

Monsignor Kidder told the mourners in closing that “the worth of Annie’s life was not its length, it was the intensity of love.”

Comments

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 29, 2021:

Very interesting. A lesson- crime does not pay, but the chap should have been hanged.

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