A 2010 graduate of Orange County High School, Samantha Clarke loved animals and was looking for a job when she disappeared that September.
The Thomas Nelson Highway property where Randy Allen Taylor lived is heavily wooded and has been surrounded by police tape, visible across the driveway in this aerial photo taken Friday, August 15.
As accused kidnapper Randy Allen Taylor sits in jail issuing protestations of innocence through his attorney, one former friend says the 48-year-old Lovingston resident has a history of getting into trouble— and then getting out of it.
"He's a very smart individual; he knows how to play the system," says the former friend, who spoke with the Hook on condition of anonymity, and who spent time with Taylor in the late '90s and early 2000s.
After hanging out with Taylor for six months, the former friend says, it seemed to him "there was something off with Randy. Everything was always someone else's fault."
In 2004, according to Albemarle County District Court records, Taylor faced a number of charges, but despite pleading guilty to arson for the 2002 torching of a Dodge Ram conversion van, he served no time.
Also in 2004, Taylor was charged with brandishing a weapon and stalking, and an unrelated charge of curse and abuse.
"A white man driving a red Toyota followed me to the corner of Georgetown Road and Hydraulic Road then pulled a black pistol out and pointed it," wrote an Albemarle County man in an August 21, 2004, criminal complaint in Albemarle County General District Court describing an alleged encounter from the previous night. "I saw him again today," writes the man in that complaint.
Taylor, who lived on Georgetown Road at the time, was found not guilty of the charges of brandishing a weapon and stalking, and his accuser, reached by the Hook, declined comment.
Five months earlier, in March 2004, another man accused Taylor of curse and abuse, a charge that the words spoken "provoke a breach of the peace," according to the statute.
"Don't get out of the car you punk-ass motherf***er," Taylor allegedly said to the man, who was with his girlfriend at the time, according to the complaint in Albemarle County General District Court. That misdemeanor charge was dropped before prosecution.
Taylor, who was born in Pensacola, Florida, according to Albemarle district court records, had lived in New Jersey and told the former friend he didn't like going to the Garden State because "the cops harassed him." The former friend says Taylor didn't offer more details on that alleged harassment.
In Virginia, the former friend says, Taylor enjoyed watching crime shows— 48 Hours and CSI were his favorites, says the friend— and he was also a car buff.
"He hung out with a group of guys who were really interested in cars," says the former friend, who recalls that Taylor once drove a 20-year-old Chevy Caprice. Coincidentally, that's the same model car that Taylor has described being driven by a black man whom he claims came to his camper in Lovingston along with Alexis Murphy on the evening she disappeared. Through his attorney, Taylor described the man as a drug dealer who sold him $60 of marijuana and who left the Thomas Nelson Highway property with Murphy.
The former friend isn't the only one who has less than fond memories of Taylor.
"I wouldn't let him near my home," says one resident of Eheart's Corner trailer park on Ridge Road in Orange County, where Taylor lived at the time of 19-year-old Samantha Clarke's disappearance in September 2010. Taylor confirmed to the Hook in October 2012 that he has long been a suspect in that case because he called her phone multiple times the night she vanished.
The woman, who spoke on condition of anonymity citing the high profile nature of the case, recalls her former neighbor as "creepy," and says on multiple occasions he spit towards her husband and his friend out of his car window while seeming to make unfriendly remarks.
But while she kept her distance from Taylor, particularly after witnessing law enforcement officers search his trailer during the Samantha Clarke investigation, she says his son was a frequent and welcomed guest in her home.
"He was a sweet boy, good manners, very polite," says the woman, who describes Taylor's son and her own son doing "typical boy things, playing Xbox, riding bikes."
"He loved his father," says the woman of Taylor's son.
At presstime, Taylor had not responded to the Hook's request for an interview made through Colonel Ronald Matthews, superintendent of the Albemarle Charlottesville Regional Jail.
As the investigation into the disappearance of Alexis Murphy enters its third week, various media outlets have reported on evidence recovered thus far, including the retrieval of several cell phones.
FBI spokesperson Dee Rybiski confirms the discovery of several phones and says they are undergoing forensic testing.
Investigators also appear to be looking into Taylor's claims that another man was present when he interacted with Alexis Murphy on August 3. According to Richmond television station CBS6, sometime between Friday, August 16, and Sunday, August 18, Louisa County Sheriff's Office issued a "Be on the Lookout" for a maroon Chevy with large rims like the one described by Taylor. The Sheriff's Office confirmed to the station that a vehicle matching that description was pulled over, but now say that was unrelated.
"There was nothing to it," says Louisa County Sheriff Ashland Fortune.
Rybiski says area law enforcement agencies have informally been looking for a car matching that description. "Officials have been reporting to Nelson County any that they've spotted," she says.
On Friday, August 15, Hallahan, a former police officer turned defense attorney, told Lynchburg television station WSET that his request for tips about that mystery man had resulted in 20 to 30 calls and that he had given the man's identity to investigators.
"He's a witness that I needed law enforcement to talk to," Hallahan told the station, questioning how Taylor could be charged with abduction based on a single hair— the evidence Taylor reportedly told his attorney was the basis for his arrest.
Rybiski declines comment on the man's identity, and reached by the Hook, Hallahan hung up on a reporter. A subsequent call was answered by voicemail on which Hallahan emphatically states he will not be returning media calls.
Taylor is scheduled to appear in Nelson County Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court on Thursday, August 22, for a bond hearing, and his former attorney, Adam Rhea, who successfully argued in June 2012 that charges against Taylor stemming from an April 2011 traffic stop should be tossed, says the upcoming bond hearing may be "a good bellwether of the strength of the prosecution's case."
While prosecutors typically don't reveal all the evidence they may have against a defendent during a bond hearing, Rhea, who says he has not been in contact with Taylor or Hallahan, wonders if the prosecution might feel pressure to show more of its hand.
"If they think they're about to have him released on bond, they'll proffer a little more info to the judge to keep that from happening," suggests Rhea. "If they don't proffer something to the judge, it seems to indicate that they don't have something to proffer."
–with additional reporting by Lisa Provence