Deputies: Man beats girlfriend to death, sets minivan on fire with her body inside to cover it up

SARASOTA COUNTY, Fla. - A Hillsborough County man was charged with murder after detectives connected him to the suspicious death of his girlfriend.

The investigation began October 15 when Sarasota County deputies were called to a vehicle fire along I-75 in Osprey. When deputies arrived, they found a minivan with a deceased female inside.

The driver, 34-year-old Michael Clark, told deputies he didn’t know how the fire began, how the female died or how he got to Sarasota.

State investigators with the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations determined the minivan was intentionally set on fire. They found a gas can inside the minivan and a lighter nearby.

Further investigation by the Medical Examiner’s Office determined the victim’s cause of death was homicide caused by blunt force trauma.

The investigation revealed that Clark drove his minivan to meet the victim at work on October 14. A witness saw the two get into an argument. During which time, Clark was seen confronting the victim and the victim pushed him away. Clark then put the victim in a headlock, according to the arrest affidavit. The victim was last seen alive walking with Clark towards his minivan, her car never left the parking lot.

Detectives determined Clark beat the victim to death before placing her in the back of the minivan, driving southbound along I-75, and eventually setting the vehicle on fire with the intent of destroying all evidence of his crimes. 

At the time of the incident, personnel seized Clark’s clothing for investigation and recovered a small amount of cocaine. He was transported to the hospital and later released while the investigation continued.

On Thursday, Sarasota County detectives working in partnership with the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office executed an arrest warrant and search warrant at Clark’s home.

He was taken into custody and booked into the Orient Road Jail in Tampa. Sarasota County detectives charged Clark with Murder, Arson, Tampering with Evidence, and Possession of Cocaine. He remains in custody without bond.

The victim was 34-year-old Kristen Kelley, Clark’s girlfriend of several years. The couple had three children in common.

Mary Stringini is a digital reporter for ABC Action News. Follow her on Twitter @MaryWFTS.

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