Law Enforcement Investigating Claims Of Serial Killings In Fremont County
Law enforcement agencies have launched an investigation into the accounts of a woman who alleges her father murdered between 50 and 70 women and buried them in a rural area in Fremont County over a period of three decades.
In a report first published on Newsweek.com last week, Lucy Studey detailed her claims that her father, Donald Dean Studey murdered dozens of women and disposed of the bodies in and around an abandoned well on a property north of Thurman. Lucy Studey said she and her siblings were often compelled by their father to help dispose of the bodies out of fear for their own lives.
“I know where the bodies are buried,” Studey told Newsweek. In the story she described in detail, her father directing the transporting of the bodies “using a wheelbarrow in the warmer months and a toboggan in the winter.” She described the female victims as sex workers or transients picked up in Omaha and mostly as being young with dark hair.
“He would just tell us we had to go to the well, and I knew what that meant,” Studey went on to say in the lengthy article, alleging her father shot, stabbed and beat his victims to death. “Every time I went to the well or into the hills, I didn’t think I was coming down. I thought he would kill me because I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut.”
Donald Studey died in 2013 at age 75.
Lucy Studey, now 53, claims in the article that she had repeatedly told school officials and law enforcement “for years” about her father’s crimes, but nothing was ever followed up on.
On Oct. 21, a cadaver dog team brought in by Fremont County Sheriff Kevin Aistrope indicated the presence of suspected human remains at spots Lucy Studey identified in a heavily wooded and bluff area called “Green Hollow.”
Studey and a reporter from Newsweek were on hand at the site along with Aistrope and a pair of deputies as the cadaver dogs did their work.
Cadaver dogs are trained to detect even the most microscopic of human remains decades old. While the dogs did signal human remains at multiple locations in the area, no bodies or other forensic evidence has yet been recovered, according to Tim Bothwell, Chief Deputy for the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office.
Bothwell said the Fremont County Sheriff’s Department, along with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the FBI are planning an “operational press conference” to update the public on the case in the coming days. He declined to elaborate on the specifics of what would be discussed at that meeting.
For the time being, Fremont County remains the lead investigative unit on the case. It’s unclear what role the FBI will play but Bothwell did confirm that agency made at least one trip to the site back in August. He did not know what spurred the visit, what they were looking for or what might have been recovered.
Further interviews of Studey to help corroborate her claims, a forensic excavation of the site and pouring through both missing persons reports and Donald Studey’s activities dating as far as back as the 1960s are all on the table, according to Mitch Mortvedt of the DCI.
“We’re in the very beginning stages but the Fremont County sheriff’s office has requested our assistance in this after they got the information,” Mortvedt said. “There’s a lot of work to be done yet. We are looking into this with those other two agencies, and we’ll see where it goes.”
This is not the first time Bothwell has heard of Studey’s accusations against her father. In 2007 he was called to the scene of a domestic dispute at the Studey residence. It was then that Lucy Studey told him her father had killed someone and buried them.
“Her dad let me search the property, but we didn’t realize this was off his property at that time,” Bothwell said. “It was hard because it was a family dispute at the time over some money and he told me to ‘Just go look.’”
He said his search 15 years ago yielded nothing suspicious.
“Green Hollow kept to themselves,” Bothwell said of the heavily wooded and remote area where the Studey family lived, and the bodies are alleged to be buried.
“They were our ‘bad’ neighborhood of the county back then. It used to be known as a lot of people that didn’t like other people. They were kind of known as separatists. Now it’s changed. There are people with some really nice houses up in there. The trailer houses and the campers are almost all gone now.”
Donald Dean Studey has a long history of interactions with law enforcement including jail time in Missouri in the 1950s and DUI offense in Nebraska in the 1980s, according to Newsweek’s reporting. However, his Iowa criminal record is sparse. He shows a 1994 arrest for misdemeanor assault and a few minor traffic violations.
While Mortvedt said cadaver dogs are generally reliable in these types of investigations, they aren’t infallible.
“We’ve had luck with them, and we’ve had no luck with them,” Mortvedt said. “We’ve had cases where dogs have hit (on a body) and there wasn’t one there and times when they didn’t hit and there was a body there. I can’t put a percentage on it, but they’ve been right, and they’ve been wrong in the past, in my experience.”
When asked if he thought it was possible one individual could have murdered and buried dozens of women in rural Thurman for decades without raising suspicion, the DCI agent replied: “That’s the same question I have.”
“You’re talking all the way back into the 60s,” Mortvedt went on to say. “That’s a lot of people to go missing and not one red flag is raised. Those are all questions we don’t have answers to.”
If remains are found and further investigation confirms Lucy Studey’s story, it could indicate that her father killed undetected for decades as one of the most prolific known serial killers in American history.