Before she was killed in her Stratford Hills home, Suzanne Fairman complained to Thomas E. Clark’s boss about some work that had been done on her deck, according to court documents.
On May 9, Richmond police believe that Clark, who had been involved in the original work on Fairman’s deck, returned to her home and offered to finish the job.
Instead, authorities believe he tied her up, held her in her bedroom and strangled her, according to an affidavit for a search warrant in the case.
Clark was free on bond on several unrelated charges when Fairman was killed, and seven days earlier had been removed from electronic monitoring, said Michael S. Huberman, the chief deputy commonwealth’s attorney in Henrico County.
Clark, 59, of the 7100 block of Horsepen Road in Henrico, is now facing charges of murder, rape and abduction with intent to defile in Fairman’s death.
In Henrico, he is also charged with three charges related to not complying with requirements of the state’s sex offender registry, authorities said. In July 1988, an Alexandria jury found Clark guilty of forcible rape of a woman , a courthouse official said. Jurors recommended, and a judge ordered, that he serve 15 years in prison.
In the case of Fairman’s death, Clark told police he and a co-worker did the original work on Fairman’s deck in mid-April at the two-story house on Tanglewood Road. The search warrant affidavit does not say when she complained about the job, but says she “was unhappy with the work and texted the owner to have it redone.”
Officers responded to Fairman’s home on May 9 to conduct a welfare check after her nephew reported Fairman was supposed to have taken a trip to Florida.
Officers found Fairman, a 53-year-old administrator at Virginia Commonwealth University, in a tub in her bathroom. There was an appearance of ligature marks on her wrist, the affidavit said. A steak knife from Fairman’s kitchen was found on a sink across from the tub, along with a rubber glove, a phone charging cord and a wet bandanna that appeared to have blood on it.
Police found what they believed to be blood in the bed in the master bedroom and on the pillows. The front and back door of the house were unlocked, with no sign of forced entry. The doctor who performed her autopsy found that the cause of death was asphyxia and noted that her hands had been bound.
After learning of her complaint about the deck, Richmond police Detective James Baynes called the owner of C&C and Son Landscaping and Pressure Wash, which Clark listed as his employer of a year on several recent court documents. In the affidavit, Baynes said he asked the owner if he had left anything at Fairman’s home.
“Clark got on the phone and said that he’d left his bandanna at the house,” the court document said. Baynes later showed him a photo of the bandanna recovered from the scene of the homicide and Clark said that he believed it was the one he had left there on the day he did the original work on the deck.
Clark denied having any sexual relationship with Fairman and told Baynes he’d been at work the day she died, the affidavit says. But Clark’s boss told the detective that Clark had “never showed up” for work that day.
When reached by a reporter on Tuesday, Corey Harris, who is listed as the licensee of C&C and Son on the company’s Facebook page, said: “He didn’t do it. I can’t confirm nothing. Don’t call my phone.” Then he hung up.
While Clark was being interviewed by police about Fairman’s death, he made comments that gave Baynes pause, the affidavit said.
“Clark mentioned that the victim was in good shape and went to the gym,” the document says. The suspect also said the victim was “beaten up and thrown in the tub,” but the affidavit adds that a media release had said the victim had been found in the bathtub, but made no mention of her being beaten. When he was confronted with this fact, Clark said that he “must have heard that from somewhere but couldn’t say where he’d heard it.”
Also in the affidavit, Baynes mentioned Clark’s 1988 rape conviction and that he’s a registered sex offender.
And, in describing a Richmond case from 2005, the affidavit said Clark “got into a woman’s house by ruse and assaulted her, then held her down by her wrists and tried to extort money from her.”
Clark pleaded guilty to attempted robbery in the Richmond case. Photographs in the court file showed the victim with a blackened right eye and abrasions under her chin and behind her ear. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In October 2018, Clark and two others were picked up on several misdemeanors in Henrico including distribution of drug paraphernalia, destruction of property, tampering with a vehicle, and two counts of petty larceny.
He was initially denied bond, but as the case was continued several times, a judge let Clark out on a $2,500 personal recognizance bond on Jan. 10.
On May 2, a week before Fairman’s death, prosecutors offered all three co-defendants a plea deal, Huberman said. The others took the deal; Clark’s attorney requested more time and asked that his ankle monitor be removed. Huberman said Clark had been compliant with his pre-trial release. Later that month, Huberman said he had received a call from investigators in Richmond about locking up Clark while they built their case.
On May 16, Clark was arrested on the sex offender registry charges for which he’s been held since.
In August, he pleaded no contest to the five misdemeanors in Henrico and received three years in jail.
A Richmond grand jury indicted Clark on Monday on the charges in the Fairman case.
Editor's Note: This story was updated to clarify the prosecution's position on the removal of Clark's ankle monitor.