A house painter who confessed to killing his wife in their Torrance home 31 years ago joined investigators on a boat Wednesday in an unsuccessful attempt to show them where he submerged her body off the coast of Rancho Palos Verdes.
Michael Lubahn Clark, 59, sentenced Monday to spend 15 years to life in prison for second-degree murder, accompanied detectives and a prosecutor aboard the Sheriff's Department vessel, but thick fog prevented him from getting his bearings on where he disposed of the body, Torrance police Sgt. Robert Watt said.
"An effort was made to further investigate this case, but due to the inclement weather we were unable to pinpoint an area to search," Watt said. "Unless his account of what happened changes, we will attempt another search at a later date."
Investigators had hoped the noontime trip that began at Terminal Island would allow divers to determine an area to search for anything that might remain underwater. Clark told investigators on Monday that he tied his wife's body to 50 feet of rope attached to heavy cinder blocks, paddled out about 500 yards and allowed the body to sink.
The thick fog that blanketed the coastline prevented him from getting his bearings of the shoreline in front of him, Watt said.
Clark agreed Monday to join detectives, a prosecutor and a Sheriff's Department dive team leader on the boat ride before he is sent to prison in February. Clark was convicted in October of killing his 26-year-old wife, Carol Meyer Lubahn, who was last seen March 31, 1981.
Clark had told his wife's family and detectives at the time that his wife of 10 years had left him and their two young children in the middle of the night and never returned.
Clark later remarried, had two more children, and dropped Lubahn as his surname, instead using his middle name Clark as his new last name. He moved to Huntington Beach.
Torrance police never stopped believing Clark was responsible and arrested him in 2010, basing their case on inconsistent statements Clark made over the years to detectives, family and a news reporter about what happened to his wife. Jurors wasted little time finding him guilty.
Clark finally confessed to what happened after his first son and his wife's sister urged him to tell detectives where he hid Carol Lubahn's body so they could give her a proper burial. On Monday, Clark told them he punched his wife after she told him she was leaving him. She fell, hit her head on a table and died instantly. In a panic, he wrapped her in blankets, tied her to rope and cinder blocks and drove the body to a cove near Point Vicente in Rancho Palos Verdes. There, he loaded her onto a raft, paddled out and submerged her body.
Ocean experts said investigators might never know the truth because there might be nothing to locate in the water. Any human remains likely are long gone. The water where Clark said he placed the body is about 50 feet deep.
"Anything biological, anything biodegradable, I couldn't see that lasting more than a year," said Brent Scheiwe, program director at the SEA Lab in Redondo Beach.
Scheiwe said the chance of finding the cinder blocks or rope also was slim after such a long time.
"Most likely it would be gone," he said. "Obviously, it would depend on how open it was to the conditions. If it was in some sheltered area, there might not have been a lot of wave action. If conditions had sheltered it, there might be remnants there."
Jim Dines, mammalogy collections manager at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, said microorganisms and crabs would have eaten the body's flesh, which would have quickly degraded. The bones would have separated and decomposed.
The ocean might have dispersed the cinder blocks or covered them with sediment, Dines said.
"Thirty years is an awful long time," Dines said.
Doug Hammond, a professor of marine chemistry at USC, said rope or cinder blocks might still be there, but divers might not see them because they were likely covered with sand.
"It's remotely possible they could find something, but it would be very tough," he said.
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