Small-Town Suspicions

A combative civic activist dies mysteriously. Was it the fates or was it foul play?

Following the autopsy, Fred Thomas seemed to be the only person who still had doubts about the cause of Dorothy Clark's death, even after he spoke at length with the forensic pathologist on the case, Dr. Emma Lew. The autopsy report concluded Clark had died of a ruptured abdominal artery. The hardening of many of Clark's major arteries, Lew explains, had caused some to become weak and dilated "until at some point they can rupture." In Clark's case it was the largest artery in the body, the aorta, that burst in the abdominal area. The trigger? Almost certainly an elevation in blood pressure, which can be brought on by a stressful movement or event. "If the rupture is big enough," Lew adds, "you bleed out and the body goes into shock." That was apparently what happened to Clark.

Former El Portal police chief Fred Thomas suspects that activist Dorothy Clark (below) was persecuted to death
Top photo Steve Satterwhite
Former El Portal police chief Fred Thomas suspects that activist Dorothy Clark (below) was persecuted to death

Maybe the deeper cause of Clark's demise was the heartache and frustration that stemmed from her vigilance and activism within the ultimately unsympathetic world of El Portal. She just couldn't make others care as much as she did. "Dorothy was a very good lady, and whatever bad things you heard about her are not true," proclaims Vilma Dervali, wife of ex-councilman Frank Dervali. The couple worked for years with Clark in her food-distribution program, though Frank Dervali, as a local politician, didn't escape Clark's occasional attacks. The Dervalis don't care for Fred Thomas or his conspiracy theories, but they do agree Clark died unappreciated. "They didn't treat her right," Vilma adds, leaving they unidentified. "They caused her a lot of problems."

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