true crime

Annie Le couldn't wait to get married. On her wedding day she was found murdered.

Content warning: this post contains mentions of sexual assault and violent crimes against women and may be triggering for some readers.

Annie Le had a lot to look forward to.

The 24-year-old was an accomplished academic, on her way to earning a doctorate at Yale University.

But on September 8, 2009, Le was also looking forward to something extra special; she was just five sleeps away from marrying the love of her life, Jonathan Widawsky.

Thanks to a man named Raymond Clark, Annie would never get those sleeps.

She was reported missing from her lab on campus that day. Her dead body was found five days later, on September 13 – what should have been her wedding day.

Yale student Annie Le was found murdered on campus in 2009. Post continued after video.

Video by ABC

Who was Annie Le?

Annie was born in San Jose, California in 1985, into a tight-knit Vietnamese-American family. She grew up to be very smart; valedictorian of her graduating high school class, and voted ‘most likely to be the next Einstein’.

Annie won a scholarship to attend the University of Rochester in New York, where she met and fell in love with her future fiancée, Jonathan Widawsky.

At a memorial held the week after Le’s body was found, attended by hundreds, Widawsky’s sister, Lauren, described the couple as “more than soul mates.”

“They were best friends,” she told the mourning audience, adding that Annie, “lit up his life and he lit up hers. Their relationship was truly special.”

Annie’s intended mother-in-law, Janet Widawsky, also spoke at the memorial. She described how Annie was excited about her wedding, and her future with her son. She also talked about Annie’s kind heart, and how she was an animal lover who once rescued a group of abandoned kittens and took one of them to her home.

“Annie was a passionate young scientist who wanted to save the world,” she said.

“A life cut too short.”

What happened to Annie Le?

Campus security footage captured Annie entering the building where her lab was on September 8, at 10am.

When she didn’t return home that night, her roommate reported her missing. Police attended; they found Annie’s computer and mobile phone – but the young student was nowhere to be seen.

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At first, it was suspected that Annie may have been in voluntary hiding due to ‘wedding nerves’. However, after the discovery of blood-stained clothing in the lab’s ceiling on September 12, the case was declared a homicide investigation.

The next day, Annie’s intended wedding day, police noticed a smell “similar to that of a decomposing body” in the lab.

At 5 o’clock that afternoon, when Annie was meant to be walking down the aisle, police cadaver dogs helped find her decomposing body, which had been hidden in a wall of the lab room.

Her bones had been broken to make her fit.

“She was like mush; so smashed up you couldn’t recognise her,” an unidentified police source told The New York Post.

The coroner later found that Annie had died from “traumatic asphyxiation by neck compression” and that she had a broken jaw and broken collarbone; injuries she had sustained when she was alive.

She had also been partially undressed. That, with the semen found on her underwear and on her body, confirmed there had been at least an attempted sexual assault.

Who is Raymond Clark?

Clark, a 24-year-old lab technician who attended to the animals at the research centre, entered the building on September 8 just 29 minutes after Annie had arrived.

Clark had a reputation for being angry with students whom he deemed left the lab in an untidy state after they’d completed their work. An unidentified source revealed to ABC News that Clark had previously emailed Le, complaining that she had left dirty mice cages behind after one of her studies.

But it was what Clark left on September 8 that would be his undoing: his DNA on Annie’s body. He was arrested on September 17, just days his victim’s body was discovered.

Various sources known to Clark spoke to the media about his character.

Annie Le murder
Police escort Raymond Clark III for his arraignment at the New Haven Superior Court in 2009. Image: Getty.

Kelly Godfrey, who knew Clark in school said they had spoken within the last year.

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"Ray was just the nicest kid," she told ABC News. "He wasn't judgmental. He was really quiet, but he was very friendly."

"He was easily one of the nicest guys in our class. This is a real shock.”

Another former acquaintance said, "He was a pretty nice kid…very good with people who were older. He respected authority."

Clark had worked at the Yale lab with his girlfriend, Jennifer Hromadka, whom he resided with at the Wharfside Commons apartments.

A neighbour, Annemarie Goodwin, later claimed that Clark was controlling of Hromadka.

“[He was] very controlling of his girlfriend. He wouldn't let her talk to me, or anything," she told Good Morning America.

Raymond Clark’s guilty plea for the murder of Annie Le.

Clark pleaded guilty under the American Alford doctrine, which allows a defendant to assert innocence, but plead guilty when he knows it’s in his interests, because the evidence strongly indicates guilt.

CNN reports that at the plea hearing, Clark winked at his family as he walked into the courtroom.

"This is not the Ray we know," Clark's father later told the awaiting media. "Ray has expressed remorse from the beginning.”

He also added that it had been difficult for him "to imagine your child did the unthinkable", and extended his sympathy to Annie’s family.

It was reported that Clark cried as Annie’s family delivered their victim impact statements in court.

Annie’s mother, Vivian Van Le, said the murder was beyond her comprehension.

“I will never hug Annie again,” she said.

“The world will never know what she had to offer. I will never see her walking down the aisle. I will never hold my grandchildren.”

Clark apologised in his own statement; “I am truly sorry I took Annie away from her friends, her family and most of all her fiancé.

“I took a life and continued to lie about it while Annie's friends, family and fiancé sat and waited.”

“I'm sorry I lied. I'm sorry I ruined lives. And I'm sorry for taking Annie Le's life.'

Clark was sentenced to 44 years in prison for the murder, and was also found guilty of attempted sexual assault.

The Le family’s representative, Joe Tacopina, said after the sentencing that Annie’s mother had not attended because it would have been "excruciatingly painful for her to listen to the details."

He added that, "The family is satisfied that justice was done.”

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

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