The Unsolved Murder of Theresa Corley

Theresa Corley, 19, went missing in December 1978. She was missing for days before her body was found, nude and surrounded by her own clothing, in a ditch off Route I-495 in Bellingham, MA. From the state of the body, police concluded that Corley must have been carried to the site by one or more individuals and not dragged. Preliminary cause of death has been stated as strangulation, possibly using a ligature (Pasqualini 2019).

            The night Theresa disappeared, she had reportedly been out with friends celebrating her boyfriend’s birthday at the Train Stop lounge on Depot Street in Franklin, MA (Pasualini 2018). Another report indicates that the celebration could have been for a coworker and her boyfriend also attended with her (Croteau 2016). After drinking, Theresa was said to have left the bar after getting into an argument with her boyfriend. While Theresa asked a friend for a ride, the friend was not ready to leave, so she began to hitchhike home. According to witnesses, three young men were seen asking her if she needed a ride, but she turned them down (Pasqualini 2019). The men may have been at the Train Stop lounge and followed her out before either picking her up or taking her (Ward 2018).

            In her intoxicated state, Theresa supposedly agreed to join the three men at another party in the Presidential Arms Apartments in Franklin, MA. At the apartments, police theorize that at least one of the men who picked her up began to sexually assault her, and that the other men may have tried to join in. Theresa was able to fight back and escape, and left the apartment wearing one of the men’s shoes and one shoe of her own (Pasqualini 2019).  These men were questioned in relation to her death, but were never charged with anything (Trost 2016).

            Reports indicate that Theresa was spotted hitchhiking down Route 140, where she was picked up by a Garelick Farm truck driver, who dropped her off at the Bellingham Police Station. The driver does not know if she ever went inside the police station, as he dropped her off outside (Ward 2018). He indicated that she was clearly intoxicated, slurring her words, and had told him she had been sexually assaulted. Reportedly, the truck driver said, “She was mad as fire.” She was next seen at approximately 5:30 AM, hitchhiking once again by a Dairy Queen on North Main Street, not far from the police station. At 7:00 AM, Theresa’s sister, Linda, received a call from her mother about Theresa not coming home. This was out of character for the teenager, and her mother was understandably upset and worried that something may have happened to her. Unfortunately, her mother was correct (Pasqualini 2019).

            The discovery of her body was called into the general police department number instead of 911 by a man going by John Burlington, who claimed to be a businessman from Connecticut (Pasqualini 2019), on December 8, 1978 (Ward 2018). According to the phone call, he had stopped along the side of the road to relieve himself when he saw her remains. Police were unable to find John Burlington, and believe there was never an actual John Burlington (Pasqualini 2019). On the same day that her body was recovered, a man showed up to the police department to ask if the body found belonged to Theresa Corley, though he never gave his name. He, perhaps, should have been detained, as nothing had been released yet on a body being found. Police believe he was likely John Burlington, but he reportedly was never to be found again (Pasqualini 2019) or was identified but has since passed away (Trost 2016). If the man who passed away was the one who showed up at the police station that day, it is possible he was John Burlington or may have known who he was (Trost 2016).

            Bob Ward, of New England’s Unsolved, knew Theresa Corley and in a report in 2018 wrote about the last time he remembers seeing her. He was working his job at the Star Market in Franklin, MA when he saw her likely leaving for the day. She said a quick hello before leaving for the day; shortly after she began a new job. Months later, she was gone (Ward 2018).

            In 2016, Theresa’s remains were exhumed and fingernails were collected for DNA testing. The hope was that there would be DNA evidence that could lead to the killer under her fingernails, but DNA degrades over time and unfortunately for the family of Theresa Corley, the DNA did not result in a full profile. However, a sample taken from her jeans has yielded a DNA profile possibly belonging to her killer or someone who may have seen her that night, marking a major break in her case (Staff 2017). According to Bob Ward’s 2018 article, witnesses were also being approached at the time for DNA samples. A digital billboard was donated by Clear Channel Outdoor Boston on Route 140 in Franklin, MA in 2018 (Pasqualini 2019).

            According to one of Theresa’s sisters, evidence has been lost or destroyed in the decades since her death. There is understandable frustration from the family of Theresa Corley, as justice has been delayed in her death for far too long. Her family has set up a Facebook page, “Justice for Theresa Corley” to continue bringing attention to her case and hopefully encourage someone who may know something to come forward (Trost 2016).

            If you believe you saw something on the night of Theresa Corley’s disappearance, or that someone you know may know something, please contact either the Bellingham Police at 508-657-2863 or the Franklin Police at 508-440-2780. You can also email both departments, Bellingham at detectives@bellinghamma.org or Franklin at tips@franklinpolice.com (Pasqualini 2019).

Pasqualini, Kym L. “Unlocking Secrets: The 40-Year-Old Murder of Theresa Corley.” Medium, Medium, 21 Dec. 2019, medium.com/@kympasqualini/unlocking-secrets-the-40-year-old-murder-of-theresa-corley-5778ae773659.

Ward, Bob. “New England’s Unsolved: New Push for Evidence on 40th Anniversary of Teen’s Murder.” WFXT, 6 Dec. 2018, www.boston25news.com/news/new-englands-unsolved-new-push-for-evidence-on-40th-anniversary-of-teens-murder/883806185/.

Trost, Rachael. “Plea for Answers in Massachusetts Teen Theresa Corley’s 1978 Murder.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 21 Feb. 2016, www.nbcnews.com/feature/cold-case-spotlight/plea-answers-massachusetts-teen-theresa-corley-s-1978-murder-n521916.

Croteau, Scott J. “Theresa Corley’s Murder Remains Unsolved Almost 40 Years Later.” Masslive, 13 Apr. 2016, www.masslive.com/news/worcester/2016/04/still_searching_for_answers_th.html.

Staff, Christopher Gavin Daily News. “DNA Gives New Hope in 1978 Corley Case.” Milford Daily News, Milford Daily News, 5 Dec. 2017, http://www.milforddailynews.com/news/20171204/dna-gives-new-hope-in-1978-corley-case.

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