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Hillsborough man charged with murdering mother of his children, setting body on fire on I-75

TAMPA — On her birthday, deputies found Kristen Kelly dead inside a burning minivan on Interstate 75. On Thursday, authorities arrested a Riverview man they say murdered her.

Kelly, 34, was the mother of three of his children, according to the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office. Court records show he had a history of violence against her.

Michael Clark, 34, is charged with murder, arson, tampering with evidence and possession of cocaine. He is being held in Hillsborough county jail.

On Oct. 15, Sarasota deputies were called to the scene of a burning 2012 Chrysler minivan on I-75 near Osprey. Clark was the driver, deputies said, but Clark said he did not know how the van caught fire, how Kelly died or how he had come to be in Sarasota.

Medical examiners said Kelly died of blunt-force trauma. Detectives said Clark killed her and placed her body in the back of the van. The van was intentionally set on fire, state investigators with the Bureau of Fire and Arson said. A gas can was found inside the van, a lighter nearby, detectives said. Deputies said Clark had a small amount of cocaine on him.

Court records show that at least early in their relationship, Kelly and Clark had significant problems. On three occasions between 2000 and 2004, she obtained a court's domestic violence injunction against him.

Less than a month before Kelly's death, Clark was in Hillsborough County jail on a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He was released Oct. 1 on a $15,000 bond. In 2010, Clark pleaded guilty to aggravated battery with a deadly weapon and was placed on probation for three years.

Times senior news researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this report.