COLD CASE WARMING?
After 39 years, police have new piece of evidence in the killing of Bellingham’s Theresa Corley
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; Norfolk County District Attorney’s tip line at (617) 5938840; all calls and information will be kept in the strictest confidence.