Af­ter 39 years, po­lice have new piece of ev­i­dence in the killing of Belling­ham’s Theresa Cor­ley

Woonsocket Call - - Front Page - By JOSEPH FITZGER­ALD jfitzger­ald@woonsock­et­

BELLING­HAM – A case that has haunted a Belling­ham fam­ily for decades took a dra­matic turn late last week when the fam­ily of Theresa Cor­ley was told by the Nor­folk County District At­tor­ney’s Of­fice that State Po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tors have been able to pro­duce a full sus­pect DNA pro­file from a tiny sam­ple of se­men col­lected from the jeans Cor­ley was wear­ing the night she was mur­dered 39 years ago yes­ter­day.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have had the DNA sam­ple ever since Cor­ley’s mur­der, but were wait­ing for DNA tech­nol­ogy to im­prove be­fore test­ing it. The sam­ple will now be sent to a na­tional DNA crime data­base. If there’s a match, a sus­pect could be iden­ti­fied and the case could fi­nally be solved.

“It’s amaz­ing that af­ter 39 years they were able to come up with a com­plete DNA pro­file,” Cor­ley’s sis­ter, Gerri Houde of Belling­ham, said on Mon­day, which was the 39th an­niver­sary of Cor­ley’s death on Dec. 4, 1978.

“When (the DA) called us in on Fri­day we were ex­pect­ing them to tell us that they hit a wall, but to our amaze­ment we were told that the crime lab was able to get a com­plete DNA pro­file,” she said.

In De­cem­ber of 1978, 19-year-old Theresa left a party at a bar when

po­lice say she was picked up by a group of men and al­legedly sex­u­ally as­saulted. Cor­ley was ap­par­ently seen hitch hik­ing but she never re­turned home. Her naked body was found in a ditch along In­ter­state 495 sev­eral days later.

The iden­tity of her killer or killers re­mains a mys­tery 39 years later.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors have had the DNA sam­ple from Cor­ley’s jeans since 1978, but it was small and de­graded and there was con­cern over the years that it if it was tested too early it would be de­stroyed.

Now that DNA and molec­u­lar bi­ol­ogy has ad­vanced by leaps and bounds, a de­ci­sion was made to test the sam­ple.

“They wanted to wait be­cause they new bet­ter tech­nol­ogy was on the hori­zon,” Houde said.

The sam­ple will now be sent to the fed­eral govern­ment’s ge­netic in­for­ma­tion data­base, the Com­bined DNA In­dex Sys­tem or “CODIS.” Us­ing CODIS, po­lice can run a search to see if the DNA matches that of a con­victed of­fender or ar­restee pro­file in the data­base.

In May, Cor­ley’s re­mains were ex­humed from St. Mary’s Ceme­tery in Mil­ford for DNA test- ing. The ex­huma­tion was con­ducted un­der the su­per­vi­sion of the Of­fice of Nor­folk County District At­tor­ney Michael W. Mor­ris­sey, which sent sev­eral Massachusetts State Po­lice de­tec­tives and a team of foren­sic ex­perts to col­lect pos­si­ble DNA sam­ples in hopes of dis­cov­er­ing new ev­i­dence that could shed light on Cor­ley’s case.

Those sam­ples, un­for­tu­nately, did not yield any­thing, Houde said Mon­day.

She said the de­ci­sion to ex­hume Theresa’s body was a dif­fi­cult one for the fam­ily, but it was the right one.

“We still think it was worth do­ing be­cause if there was DNA ev­i­dence we wouldn’t have known oth­er­wise,” she said.

The un­solved mur­der of Theresa Cor­ley has haunted in­ves­ti­ga­tors in Belling­ham and Franklin for more than three decades.

On the night of Dec. 4, 1978, 19-year-old Theresa and some com­pan­ions went to a bar, the for­mer Train Stop in Franklin, to cel­e­brate a friend’s birthday. Af­ter get­ting into an al­ter­ca­tion with one of those friends, Cor­ley left the bar and hitch­hiked home.

She was picked up by three men who drove her back to an apart­ment com­plex on West Cen­tral Street in Franklin where they at­tempted to sex­u­ally as­sault her. Cor­ley es­caped from the apart­ment and made her way down Route 140 to get back to her home in Belling­ham. She was re­port­edly last seen by a truck driver in the early morn­ing hours walk­ing in the area of Belling­ham Cen­ter, less than a mile from her home.

A few days later, her body was found in a ditch on the north­bound side of Route 495 in Belling­ham. She had been stran­gled and was nude. Her jeans and jacket were found be­side her.

Houde, who has been work­ing with Franklin and Belling­ham po­lice over the past two years, has cre­ated a Face­book com­mu­nity page called “Jus­tice for Theresa Cor­ley Belling­ham MA 1978,” as a way to keep the cold case alive and a way to up­date the pub­lic on new de­vel­op­ments.

Any­one with in­for­ma­tion about the Theresa Cor­ley case is asked to con­tact the:

Belling­ham Po­lice tip line at (508) 657-2863; Franklin Po­lice tip line at (508) 4402780 or by email at tips@franklin­po­; Nor­folk County District At­tor­ney’s tip line at (617) 5938840; all calls and in­for­ma­tion will be kept in the strictest con­fi­dence.

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