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In the early morning hours of Sept. 29, 2012, University Police at SUNY Brockport stumbled upon a grisly scene while doing a standard welfare check at a college dorm room.
A young female college student, with long dark hair, was found facedown inside room 108 of McLean Hall, with blood spattered throughout the room suggesting she'd met a brutal end.
“It just seemed that something really bad happened there that night,” Brockport University Police officer Michael Johnson told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered.” “We don’t see that level of violence that often.”
Police immediately suspected the woman had been murdered as her fellow college students slept in nearby dorm rooms.
“It seemed very unnatural the way she fell, the blood splatter that was in the room, even the bloody footprints that were around her all indicated that something violent had happened in that room,” Johnson said.
Johnson had gone to the dorm just before 3 a.m. to do a simple welfare check on first-year student Alexandra “Alex” Kogut after her mom, Becky Kogut, became concerned she couldn’t reach her for several hours.
“They had gone off for a weekend vacation and they had been texting that evening and Becky was sending her pictures of the hotel room … and Alex didn’t respond. And she tried over and over again and she didn’t respond,” family friend Sandra Whitney would later tell “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered,” which airs Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
Police initially weren’t sure who had been killed in the dorm room. The victim had dark hair, but photos of Alex strewn throughout the room showed the 18-year-old with much lighter hair and police had seen her just hours earlier with her boyfriend Clayton Whittemore, who had come to campus for a visit.
Clayton had been ticketed by police just after midnight for having an open container on campus.
“He was actually very cooperative, so I gave him the ticket and they started to walk away right down the sidewalk right here,” University Police Lt. Daniel Vasile would later recall.
But Vasile and Johnson would have one final interaction with Clayton, an accomplished former high school hockey player, as he was walking away. Johnson recalled Clayton throwing the empty beer can on the ground.
He told the 21-year-old that he needed to pick it up or face another fine. Clayton complied, but rather than returning to walk away with his girlfriend, he crossed the street and walked apart from Alex.
Just minutes later, Alex posted her final tweet at 12:13 a.m., writing ominously “Should’ve known.”
Police discovered Alex had used her key card to enter her dorm building not long after—but it wasn’t clear what happened to her in the hours that followed, who was laying in the middle of her dorm room or where Clayton, her boyfriend of a year and a half, had gone.
“Maybe there was an altercation between roommates, maybe possibly Alex and Clayton were on the run and this was the roommate that was on the ground, maybe Alex was abducted by Clayton maybe Clayton had hurt the roommate,” Vasile said of the numerous theories police considered immediately after discovering the body.
But police wouldn’t have to wait long before a 911 call around 3 a.m. helped authorities piece together what had happened.
“Yes, uh, my name is Scott Whittemore, my son Clayton … just called me and told me he killed somebody,” the caller said. “He’s talking about killing himself too.”
Dispatchers spoke with Scott, as well as Clayton’s mom Sandra, as they tried to learn where Clayton was—but it was eventually a call from Clayton himself that would lead authorities to his location.
“I’m turning myself in,” Clayton told a dispatcher from a rest stop along the New York State Thruway around 3:44 a.m. “Um, I just, I did something that I can’t take back, and just gotta turn myself in.”
When New York State troopers arrived at the rest stop to take him into custody minutes later, they found Clayton had blood on his hands and was wearing bloody sneakers.
The victim, investigators would soon learn, was Alex Kogut—she had just dyed her hair darker not long before her death.
“I was shocked and all I could think was what could have happened to Alex in her dorm room?” Whitney told producers.
While those who had known the young couple believed they had been a loving and accomplished pair—the investigation would reveal a much darker picture of the romance.
In grisly detail, Clayton recounted for investigators during his interrogation how the couple had gone to dinner and then went to a party that night—but he said he soon began to feel disrespected by Alex.
“When I’d say anything to her, you know, she’d like raise her voice or something,” he said. “But if anybody else said anything to her, she’d be all smiley and giggly.”
Then, on their way back to Alex’s dorm, he had gotten that ticket, sending him further into a rage. Once back in the dorm room, Clayton told investigators the pair started to fight, bringing up old arguments like allegations of cheating, and he said Alex began to push him.
“All of a sudden I just snapped,” he said, according to footage of the interrogation. “I hit her back.”
He continued to savagely beat his girlfriend until he noticed her breathing had become labored and he decided that, much like “watching an animal suffer,” he needed to finish her off.
“Because, you know, I was—someone you love—I’m not going to watch them sit there and suffer,” he told investigators. “That’s why I did it.”
Clayton said he “didn’t even think” about getting help for his girlfriend.
Clayton was charged with second-degree murder and went on trial nearly two years after Alex's death.
His attorneys never disputed that he killed his girlfriend, but argued he should be convicted of the lesser charge of manslaughter because he had been under the influence of “extreme emotional disturbance” during the slaying after allegedly enduring years of abuse at the hands of his father—a claim he'd also made to the dispatcher on that 911 call.
“You know, I’m turning myself in for what I did. The man who called you is the man who should turn himself in,” Clayton told the dispatcher referring to his father, Scott.
He went on to say he'd witnessed and suffered abuse his “entire life.”
“I saw it all,” he told the dispatcher. “I watched my brother get beat with a baseball bat by my own father. I watched my own father break my sister’s nose, throw my own mother down to the ground. And beat her. I watched him try to shove a remote controller down the throats of all his children for fingerprints on his car.”
Clayton also referenced the abuse in a bizarre apology he had sent to Alex and her family after the killing.
“Sorry to the family and you, nothing will ever fix or undo what I did,” he wrote, in part. “I became my father.”
Clayton’s sister backed up his story of abuse on the stand and a defense expert testified that enduring years of abuse caused Clayton to be under the influence of an extreme emotional disturbance the early morning hours of Sept. 29, 2012, when he beat Alex to death.
Prosecutors never disputed Clayton’s claims of abuse, but argued they didn't excuse his actions. A jury agreed and convicted Clayton of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 25 years to life behind bars.
Although they were never allowed during the trial, Meredith Vacca, an assistant district attorney for Monroe County at the time, told “Dateline: Secrets Uncovered” that Alex had saved more than 30 voicemails from Clayton that “were all of that aggressive, controlling nature.”
After editing out the profanity, she read one to “Dateline.”
“I’ll kill you the next time I see you,” Clayton vowed. “You’re a slut and a skank so don’t call me. I am sick. I am sick of you.”
In the aftermath of Alex’s death, Whitney and her daughter Paige—who had been on the swim team with Alex—started the charitable foundation Purple Pinkies, to raise awareness about domestic violence and encourage women to show solidarity by painting their pinkie fingernail purple.
“For the rest of my life, whenever I see purple, I will think of her,” Paige said. “Whenever I hear a story of any type of domestic violence, I will think of her and I will not stop telling her story.”
“Dateline: Secrets Uncovered” airs Thursdays at 8/7c on Oxygen.
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