Crime

She vanished seven months ago. Police don’t believe her husband’s stories.

Stephanie Ray Clemons disappeared in May 2018.
Stephanie Ray Clemons disappeared in May 2018. Charles Rabin

More than seven months after a Miramar woman — a nurse and a mother of four — vanished on her way to work, police have named someone who they believe has information on what they’re now calling a homicide.

That person, the father of one of the missing woman’s children, has been charged repeatedly with domestic violence, but has always managed to avoid convictions. Jack Freeman Jr. also happens to be the husband of the missing woman, Stephanie Ray Clemons — though family members who claim to be close to Clemons didn’t even know the couple was married.

On Thursday, Miramar Detective Mark Moretti explained how the strange disappearance of Clemons morphed from a missing-person case to a homicide about three months after the woman disappeared. And family members told of the pain they’ve endured the past seven months and implored the public to help them find Clemons’ killer.

“We really want to bring her home. We miss her,” Clemons’ sister, Sylvia Ray, said during a briefing at Miramar police headquarters. “She really didn’t deserve what happened to her. She just wanted a better life.”

Copies of search warrants obtained by the Miami Herald show Miramar police pinned cellphone activity from Clemons to an area where they believe Freeman was staying near the time of her disappearance, even though Freeman told detectives he hadn’t contacted her in over a month. And police said Freeman took a polygraph test four days after Clemons went missing and that the test showed deception on all the answers.

According to police and family, Clemons, 55 at the time of her disappearance, was last spotted on May 20 just outside her home on Venetian Street in the eastern part of the city. Her sister said she was on her way to work at Jackson Memorial Hospital, but never showed up. Ray said detectives combed through video from the local transit she took to work in Miami every day, but found no trace of Clemons.

“She never got to the bus that day,” Ray said.

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Sylvia Ray and her daughter Tiffany speak about the disappearance of Ray’s sister, Stephanie Ray Clemons.

A day earlier, on Ray’s birthday, the sisters had lunch together. Then, Ray said, she spoke with her sister before she left for work on May 20. And though Clemons had near-perfect attendance at work, where she was a phlebotomist, the hospital didn’t call to say Clemons had not shown up for work for four days.

The story of the missing woman didn’t draw headlines until about a week later. Moretti, one of the lead detectives on the case, said that by then police had already spoken with Freeman, who lied to them and is no longer co-operating with police. Efforts to reach Freeman on Thursday failed.

Police also spoke with Freeman’s girlfriend, a woman who police and Clemons’ family said Freeman often spent time with even during his relationship with Clemons. Clemons and Freeman never lived together. And, Ray said, she didn’t learn Freeman and Clemons were married until after her sister went missing. The couple married in 2016.

Moretti said it was about three months into the investigation, some time in August, when police began working the case as a homicide. He said robbery was ruled out because Clemons’ belongings seemed to be in order and her 2018 red Volkswagen Jetta remained where it had been parked, her wallet under its seat with credit cards and $300 cash.

Investigators searched for forensic evidence in Clemons’ and Freeman’s vehicles, in nearby fields and apartments. No physical evidence has been uncovered that links Freeman to the crime, Moretti said.

The belief that she was killed is based on “irregular patterns,” Moretti said. “Miss [Clemons] never missed a day of work. She was always in contact with family. Cars were not moved or tampered with.”

Moretti said police began to focus on Freeman after uncovering 22 separate reports of domestic violence involving Clemons and other women. He wasn’t charged in any of the incidents, Moretti said. Florida Department of Law Enforcement records show that between 2001 and 2017 Freeman was arrested in Broward County on domestic violence charges five times and each case was dropped. In 2007, state records show, he was arrested on a charge of aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. That case was also dropped.

According to a search warrant obtained by Miramar police, records show Clemons’ phone was used near her husband’s girlfriend’s home on May 22, two days after she failed to show up for work. Police said Freeman at the time told them he hadn’t had contact with Clemons for over month.

But records show several texts between the two in which they were fighting, police said, including one at 11:30 p.m. on the day Clemons disappeared in which she told Freeman “...you hurt my mouth last night.”

Freeman agreed to talk to police on May 24. That day he also agreed to take a lie detector test. The polygrapher asked him three questions: Regarding Stephanie, are you going to lie to us today? Do you have any knowledge of Stephanie’s whereabouts? And, do you know where Stephanie is?

“Jack Freeman showed deception on all three questions,” the polygrapher wrote.

When he was asked about the discrepancy between the texts and his earlier statement that he hadn’t contacted Clemons in over a month, police said Freeman left the station for the hospital with stomach pains. He hasn’t spoken with police since.

Now, almost eight months later, Clemons’ sister just wants whatever peace comes with knowing what happened to her sister and where she’s been.

“The whole family is hurting because we don’t know what happened to her,” Ray said. “I want them to find my sister. I want them to bring her home. And if they find anyone who had anything to do with it, I want them to pay for it.”

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