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My Story

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Adam Benjamin Clark was murdered September 27, 1983. He was six years old. He was my son.

In 1974, I married Adam’s father, Allen, when we were both nineteen years old. We belonged to a fundamentalist Christian sect with a strict set of rules: education, especially for a woman, was of the devil, a woman caused the first man to lust and fall from the Garden of Eden, and early marriage was mandated because dating led to sin. A woman’s purpose was to obey her husband and have his babies.

Within two weeks of marriage, my husband physically, sexually, and emotionally abused me. I sought help from my church and family. If I left my marriage, I would be shunned and treated as if I were dead.

I didn’t know another way to live.

Allen and I had two children, a girl and a boy. Our daughter was born in 1974. She was perfect, healthy, and beautiful. Our son, Adam, was born in 1977. He was diagnosed with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS), a severe multiple faceted anomaly.

I was told that nothing I would ever do for him would make any difference to him because he was so retarded he would never know me as Mommy. His right hand had five fingers, but only one digit on his left. I was told he would never talk because his vocal cords were not normal, and anyway, he was probably deaf. I was told he would never walk because his bones and joints were maligned. I was told that if I was ever able to take him home, the first cold would probably kill him because he had no immune system. I was told a lot of things.

Allen, his parents, and most of his doctors wanted me to institutionalize and give up on him.

I just wanted to love him for however long he lived.

With the support of one pediatrician, I brought him home.

Adam required constant and special care, physical and occupational therapy when it became available, and several corrective surgeries. But my son once patted me on the face, looked into my eyes and said, “mama, night-night.” He signed with his good hand when he wanted to go potty, he was selectively autistic, and he combat-crawled everywhere. He learned to feed himself with an adaptive spoon. Adam definitely knew he was a boy because he refused to talk to me for days after his sister and I permed his hair. Adam was no bigger than a doll because he didn’t grow. He was cherished, valued, and an equal to his sister.

Adam was an elf of a child.

In the 1970’s, there were no shelters for victims of domestic violence in Arizona. Orders of protection didn’t exist. When I reported the abuse that was happening at home, my father instructed me to become more obedient. My grandmother told me she would disown me if I left my husband, and if he killed me, my children belonged to him.

I agreed to a legal separation from my husband in order to stay alive. The children and I were declared indigents, received welfare, and I cleaned houses for $25 each. My husband moved into a new house and drove a sports car. He paid $200 a month in child support and no spousal maintenance.

Against my family’s and church’s rules, I enrolled in a local community college. I decided that becoming a registered nurse would allow me to support my children and become a better mother to my sick child. Without support from my church or family, I finished the prerequisites and was accepted into the nursing program.

Two months into the program, Adam died while in the care of a babysitter.

I believed his death was due to complications of Cornelia de Lange syndrome, a bad infection, and prolonged CPR.

I was charged with murdering him.

My little girl was taken away from me and given into the custody of the abusive ex-husband I had managed to escape from. My relationship with my nine year old daughter was damaged and broken. I lost my house to help pay for legal fees. I lost my house cleaning clients. Child support and welfare stopped. I was invited not to return to the college in which I was enrolled and to consider a different career path. My church abandoned me. So did my family. I was followed and stopped by police officers. I became the focus of the news media.

While grieving for the loss of my son and daughter, and in shock over being charged with murder, I was accused of being too emotional. I was also accused of being too controlled. I was watched and evaluated by both my own and state psychologists while I continued to fight for the return of my daughter. I had to prove I was sane, fit, and incapable of murder.

God sent two heroes, Brice Buehler and Tom Novak, to be my civil and criminal lawyers. Tom Novak grew thin in defense of a child he never met. Brice Buehler saw the flaws in the coroner’s autopsy and fought for my freedom.

May 18, 1984, a day before what would have been my son’s seventh birthday, the charges were dropped, but I was told that at any time they could be reopened because they were dropped without prejudice. I couldn’t prove I was innocent. They couldn’t prove I was guilty. I tried to live with that but I found it extremely painful. Many of my life decisions were based upon living with fear of being charged again.

In 1987, I managed to finish my education and dedicated my career to children. I became a high risk labor and delivery registered nurse. I also helped to found and direct a bereavement program for mothers and children.

I remarried in 1988. I had two more children at 38 and 40 years of age.

In 2001, two weeks after my second husband left me and our two children, the Glendale Police Department notified me they had reopened Adam’s case.

I was so terrified, I thought I would die.

Brice Buehler was again, my attorney, pro bono. It took many months for Mark Campbell and Bruce Foremny from the Glendale Police Department to convince me I wasn’t being recharged. It took more months for them to convince me that Adam did not die of natural causes: Adam died a violent death at the hand of the one person who had seemed to stand by me and protect me during the ordeal that occurred because of my son’s death, Adam’s babysitter.

His name was Eugene Anthony Colombaro. He changed his name to Harley Debs Spencer and moved to Utah after charges against me were dropped.

Spencer murdered Adam because I had refused Spencer’s sexual advances.

In 2001, after a tortuous year of angst and a week-long trial, Colombaro aka. Spencer, was found guilty of second degree murder.

My son did not deserve a violent death. I did not deserve to be charged with his murder. My daughter did not deserve to lose her mother, home, pets, friends, school, or her trust in her country, God, or me.

For damages done against Adam’s family, through the help of the Never Again Foundation, I filed and won a civil suit against Eugene Colombaro aka. Harley Spencer. On paper, I was awarded fourteen million dollars.

O.J. Simpson was convicted in civil court. Colombaro aka. Spencer aka. was convicted in both criminal and civil courts.

The murderer of my son will never pay a dime.

Eugene Anthony Colombaro aka. Harley Debs Spencer is retired military. Experts indicate the federal government would have to waive its sovereign immunity to permit the garnishing of military retirement payments to satisfy my wrongful death judgment. If Harley Spencer had a private retirement income, he would not have such sovereign immunity. Retired military should be held to a higher standard of accountability, not a lower one.

In 1983, I was charged with murder because there was no forensic investigation by the Glendale Police Department, the police department in charge.

Eugene Colombaro aka. Harley Spencer was not investigated. If he had been, there was plenty of evidence indicating his history of stalking single women with children. He had a history of abusing women and sexually molesting children. He hid behind a church and his lies. On the night of Adam’s death, he said I had brought him a dead child to babysit. He passed his psychological evaluation conducted by Dr. Philip Esplin.

Adam’s father was never investigated. If he had been, his history of physical violence against me would have been discovered. He brought color photos of an infection Adam had to the Grand Jury. He said I had deliberately burned my son even after he knew Adam’s pediatrician had told him the photos were of a skin infection.

I was accused and charged. I was not investigated. If I had been, my care of Adam would have been discovered through Adam’s extensive medical records, his physicians, therapists, teachers, and neighbors who knew the both of us.

In 2003, Marilyn Buehler, Brice Buehler’s wife, encouraged me to write a book about my experiences. I started. Stopped. Restarted. Stopped. Revised. It’s a work in progress.

A few years ago, Adam’s sister and I agreed to find a counselor. Together, we hashed out our relationship and what happened when she and her brother were babies. The sessions weren’t easy for either of us but we stuck it through. We were rewarded with a renewal in each other’s trust.

It’s 2016.

I no longer believe in a legalistic God with rules that are unevenly biased against being a woman. Christ died once and he died for all men – and women. My salvation doesn’t depend on how well I serve a man. I believe in a God who hears my prayers and responds when I cry. I believe in a God of grace, mercy and forgiveness, a God who knows what it means to be a human and afraid. What got me through was not my faith in God but his faith in me. In spite of how things looked, and though people abandoned me, my Savior never did.

I’m in a constant state of healing.

I view life through a prism of beauty in and around me.

If pride is a sin, then I’m guilty

I’m proud of all three of my children, my two grandchildren, my new husband, their achievements, and mine.

I’m proud I survived.

I’m glad I’m alive.

I give glory to God.

*Commentary is documented by police reports, depositions, court records, the grand jury transcript, criminal trial transcripts, psychologist’s written evaluations, eye witness accounts, journals, victim impact statements, different avenues of public media, Adam’s autopsy and my memory. They have been recounted to the best of my ability. Some names have been omitted to protect the innocent.

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10 Responses to “My Story”

  • Debi:

    My children’s father was murdered 6 months ago and still no anwswes. Seems LE does not care. Sorry for your little boy. And the craziness you were out thru.

  • Terri Strong:

    I am so very sorry for your loss. I know (and love) a little girl with CdLS. I just can’t imagine anyone hurting a child–let alone a disabled one. Did your daughter come back to you? Does she still believe you killed her brother?

    Again, I am sorry for your loss. May you find peace.

  • Joyce:

    Debi, I’m sorry about the father of your children and the insanity of the situation. I feel for your children. Please, keep pursuing answers. Make yourself known. You should be assigned a victim advocate. If you don’t have one, bug everyone in the LE and beyond so you will be assigned one. You are entitled to know that someone is working on the case. I care.

  • Joyce:

    Terri Strong, I agree. Children with CdLS are so very fragile and special. I couldn’t imagine how anyone could possibly harm let alone batter to death such a helpless and sweet child. That’s why I was in denial for so many years. Yes, my daughter came back to me and we enjoy a healthy relationship. It took counseling and many prayers. Miracles do happen to those who wait for them. Thank you for your empathy. The more I talk about my son’s case and share, the more peace I find. Thank you, Terri.

  • Amy:

    Joyce I read your story & I can only begin to imagine what you went through. Your Adam was truly beautiful & precious. Someone I wish I could have been able to get to know. As a mother of a special child myself (my son has cerebral palsy/developmental delays) I don’t know how someone could ever hurt a child (or anyone ) I will never understand. One thing I know is that horrible sick monster who took precious Adam from you will one day have to face the Lord for what he did. Thinking of you and praying that you somehow find peace amidst all your pain. Warm regards, Amy

  • Joyce:

    Amy, thank you for your response. It’s taken me thirty years to become strong enough to openly talk about all the things that happened to my son, myself, and my daughter. They were complicated and awful. I think the same way you do as a mother to a special child. How could anyone harm – or murder – a child such as ours? Unimaginable. Sick. Cruel. Yes, I believe all monsters will one day, face the Lord. Bless you and your son. May you find healing and support in your journey. Love.

  • Mark Campbell:

    Joyce, You and Adam are never very far from my thoughts!

  • Joyce:

    Hello Mark! So glad to hear from you! You are one of my heroes! You saved my life and tried to save Adam’s! Please, please contact me!

  • Kathie Daulton:

    I am in tears at this horrifying story. God bless little Adam, his sister, and you, Joyce. It is hard to fathom the indifference that allowed it to take place.


  • Joyce:

    Thank you, Kathie, yeah it was pretty horrifying and sometimes, it seems the horror will never be over. If it were not for the grace of God … The monster who murdered my child wrecked havoc wherever he went and poisoned everyone he came in contact with. His own children still suffer from the lies and abuse he gave them. Pray for them.

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