Street view of Oregon West RV
Photo by Bob Keefer

Light Sentence for Attempt to Hire a Hitman

Lane County businessman sentenced to two years after trying to hire someone to kill his wife

By Melvin Bravo and Emerson Brady

On Jan. 30, Lane County Circuit Court sentenced former Creswell businessman John Clarke to just two years in prison — with credit for the year he spent in jail awaiting trial and a 36-month probation period — after he pleaded guilty to soliciting a hitman to try to kill his then wife.

Lane County deputies arrested him Feb. 7, 2023, after the man he tried to hire to kill Mandy Clarke tipped off the police. 

The night after John Clarke’s arrest, police told Mandy Clarke that he was in the process of writing a confession. On Feb. 8, 2023, she filed for a restraining order against him, and several days later, on Feb. 14, she filed for divorce.

Police discovered texts from a mistress on John Clarke’s phone, an affair he was having for two and half years with a woman who was an employee at Oregon West Enterprises, the RV dealership that John and Mandy Clarke co-owned. Mandy Clarke is now the sole owner.

According to court records, John Clarke told the hitman that his wife wanted to buy at least one “million dollar horse” and that this was a “concern to him, his business, the inheritance his children would get and may cause 26 of his employees to lose their jobs.” 

Mandy Clarke says the assertion she was going to buy a million dollar horse was never true. She has always rescued “at risk” horses, and was looking to buy a quality horse for the first time. The Friesian horse she owns now is her only horse, and the horse was purchased for less than $50,000 after John’s arrest.

“I can’t put myself in his brain. I don’t know what his motivations were,” Mandy Clarke says. “And I think, what about our lives wasn’t good enough?”

John and Mandy Clarke were high school sweethearts. “He was my first kiss. The only man I’d ever been with. He was my whole world,” Mandy Clarke says. She says the two married young, had two kids and built a life together in Creswell running the RV dealership. 

Mandy Clarke says that John had never shown signs of aggression and had “never so much as called me a bitch.” She adds that they rarely fought or argued. 

She says she did notice a shift in his demeanor after she fell into the river near their house in fall 2022. John Clarke was the only witness to this incident. 

The incident left Mandy Clarke in the ICU on a ventilator. She suffered a traumatic brain injury, which erased a period of four months from her memory, leaving her with no recollection of the incident, only unexplained bruising on her arms. She was also left with severe damage to her olfactory nerve, the cranial nerve that enables people with their sense of smell. This has left Mandy unable to even pick up the strongest odors around her. 

Three months after the incident where Mandy mysteriously fell into the river, John was arrested for trying to hire a hitman to kill her. 

According to Mandy Clarke and her attorney Willow Hillman, police weren’t able to gather enough evidence for the prosecutor to charge John with first degree attempted murder. This resulted in his accepting a deal in which he pleaded guilty to second degree solicitation of murder.

Mandy Clarke says she refused to touch any of John’s belongings, including his guns, after he was arrested, assuming detectives would look at them. She says they never came. She says she found the guns hidden in his closet, along with bullets in empty coffee canisters.

Eugene Weekly reached out to prosecutor Robert Lane to ask about the evidence and plea deal but did not receive a response. EW also reached out to John Clarke’s attorney, Bryan Boender, with no response by press time. 

“Ultimately, with the way the sentence works, on one charge, the attempted murder charge, he would have been facing a lot more time but that got dismissed,” Hillman says. Hillman and Mandy Clarke, however, say they believe there was plenty of evidence that wasn’t pursued or even looked at before the negotiations happened. 

In Oregon, attempted murder and solicitation of murder are both Class A felonies punishable by up to 20 years in prison. John Clarke’s light sentence was also affected by his lack of previous criminal history. 

“Most of the people I’ve dealt with are in survival mode, trying to get through their day,” Mandy Clarke says. “And the reality of it is, the concept of justice is lost in that environment.” 

Mandy Clarke says that when John gets out of prison next year, he plans on living three miles away from her RV dealership. While her restraining order is supposed to protect her for at least two years, she says the close proximity between the two of them worries her. 

“I’m selling my house because there is no way for me to feel safe there anymore,” she says.

In the divorce, John Clarke was able to obtain partial ownership of an RV park that they co-owned with another couple, as well as a number of vehicles that the couple once owned together.

“There is nothing I can do about it. Any of it,” Mandy Clarke says. “And I have very little faith in restraining orders because if he had any respect for the law he wouldn’t have done what he did in the first place.”

Since John was arrested, Mandy Clarke has been the sole owner of Oregon West Enterprises with her two adult children assisting with operations. She says that the scandal of the case has made her have to fight to keep partnerships with inventory companies. Despite this all, she says she hasn’t lost a single employee since John left. 

As Mandy Clarke moves forward with her life she wants to make something clear: “The worst part of this is being perceived as a victim,” Clarke says. “I am not a weak person, quite the contrary, actually.”

A longtime, accomplished equestrian, she says she has mantras she lives by that come from her worst moments in life: “You never give up, and it’s about forward motion. The thing that riding teaches you is that when you’re on a nervous 2,000-pound animal, you have to have self-control, to relax your body and kick them in the gut and say, ‘Get up and get forward.’”