Was Yale Murder Workplace Violence?

Media accounts suggest that Raymond Clark, charged with the murder of Annie Le, may have been motivated by office dynamics. But we may never know why Le was killed.

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In the days following the arrest of Raymond Clark III, there have been many news accounts based upon on- and off-the-record statements made by authorities charged with solving the murder of Yale student Annie Le. These stories strongly suggest that the murder was the result of “workplace violence.” Clark, who had originally been identified as a lab technician, was little more than the person responsible for caring for lab mice. According to one newspaper report, “authorities believe Raymond Clark…. snapped because he thought Le wasn’t following the rules.”

“This case appears to me to be romantic obsession bordering on stalking,” theorizes psychologist Gary M. Farkas. “It is within the realm of workplace violence, but it a minor subcategory of that subject.”

A week ago Tuesday, just five days before her wedding, the 23-year old Yale graduate student just disappeared during the middle of the day from her laboratory in a secure building on the medical campus of Yale University. Despite the fact that more than 100 law-enforcement officers and FBI agents were assigned to the case, it was not until Sunday, the day she was to have married Jonathan Widawsky, that police recovered her body behind a wall in the basement of the building from where Annie had disappeared. That basement was also the fiefdom of Ray Clark and his rodents. Clark was subsequently arrested and charged with Le’s murder; he did not enter a plea at his arraignment.

This seemingly senseless crime has been so shocking to our collective emotional systems that it is not enough that the police arrested the man they are sure is the murderer. The case calls out for some explanation as to why this happened. To fulfill that need both the authorities and the media are trying to lay it all off on “workplace violence” as though that is an answer.

Clark and Le had an email exchange, in which he took the young woman to task for her handling of the lab mice in a way that did not meet Clark’s standards. Le responded in a conciliatory manner—but in a way that may, in retrospect, have been incorrectly or inappropriately understood by Clark to mean something that it did not. Le’s roommate described her as a sweet, kind person who was very dedicated to her work.

To reduce this obscene homicide to a simple case of a fight between co-workers is just too convenient. This is not a skit on the The Office—and Raymond Clark should not be mistaken for Dwight Schrute. On the show, Dwight is an assistant sales manager who is quite officious and takes what he and everyone in his work orbit does way too seriously. A source in New Haven tells us that Clark might have some characteristics in common with Dwight. But Clark stands accused of strangling a beautiful 4’10” woman to death, just days before she was going off to start a life with the man she loved.

Chris E. McGoey, an expert on workplace violence who has been following the Le case, says “this case is not your typical workplace-violence situation. Workplace violence usually goes past threats or physical altercations over personalities. In this case I believe that it was emotionally driven. Possibly the young man had an obsession or infatuation with the young woman, which had not been returned in kind.“

McGoey says he believes that Le may have rejected Clark’s advances or that he attempted to give her a hug before she left to get married and when his infatuation with Le was exposed, he struck out at her. “He may have struck her and then he panicked when she screamed,” McGoey theorized.

Psychologist Gary M. Farkas, who was quick to point out that Clark has not been convicted of anything, says he understands why the Le homicide would be characterized as workplace violence. “This case appears to me to be romantic obsession bordering on stalking. It is within the realm of workplace violence, but it is a minor subcategory of that subject.”

Dr. Farkas was struck by reports that Clark, a jock who was not an exceptional student in high school, joined the Asian Awareness Club at one point. This appeared to be somewhat out of character for the young man, Farkas offered—and might indicate that he had a fascination for Asian women.

Everyone is sifting clues in search of a motive. After all, as Farkas said, “You don’t kill someone over dirty mice trays.” New Haven Police Chief James Lewis told the Associated Press. “The only person who knows the motive is the suspect.” He went on to say, “It’s true in many cases. You never know the truth absolutely unless the person confesses, and in this case, it’s too early to tell.”

John Connolly is a former New York City detective turned journalist. He is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine, and is finishing a book called The Sin Eater on disgraced and imprisoned Hollywood private investigator Anthony Pellicano.