The Unsolved Murder of Terry Dolowy

Terry Dolowy, 24, was reported missing from her home in Barre Mills, WI on February 14, 1985. Her dog was also noted as missing. Her beheaded and burned remains were found in a culvert on Mohawk Valley Road in Vernon County, WI. Her dog, Suzie, has never been found. Terry Dolowy’s murder remains unsolved.

The Night that Terry Dolowy Disappeared

Terry Dolowy was a student in her senior year at University-La Crosse and working as a bar manager for Piggy’s Restaurant. On February 14, 1985, she left her job at approximately 1:00 a.m. and drove to her home in the Bostwick Valley Trailer Court, a mobile home park in Barre Mills, Wisconsin.

At approximately 8:00 a.m. that same morning, Dolowy’s fiancé, Russell Lee, arrived at the home after finishing his overnight shift at the Radisson La Crosse Hotel. When he arrived, he discovered the front door was slightly ajar. He found all of her personal items still in her residence, yet Dolowy and her poodle, Suzie, were gone. Russell immediately contacted the police and reported her missing.

The Discovery of Terry Dolowy

Four days following her missing person’s report, the body of Terry Dolowy was discovered burning in a culvert on Mohawk Valley Road, in the town of Bergen, Vernon County, WI. Two men had been driving down Mohawk Valley Road when they noticed a small fire on the side of the road. They approached the scene and discovered Dolowy. The fire had not yet burned her remains completely, which investigators took to mean that the men who discovered her had just missed the perpetrator. They had found evidence of gasoline being used as an accelerant. One hand remained unburned, so investigators fingerprinted her and confirmed her identity. The killer had beheaded her. Investigators did not discover her head in the area. They did not find her poodle either.

Investigators Have a Theory

Investigators developed a theory early in their investigation. Vernon County Sheriff Geoffrey Banta stated he believed that someone followed Dolowy home from work. They believe the person entered Dolowy’s home and kidnapped her. They surmised Dolowy was held for three or four days before being murdered and left in the culvert. Banta also stated that he believed they may find further evidence by triangulating the known locations of Dolowy’s home, her work location, and the site where her body was discovered. Investigators believed the killer had beheaded and burned her body, trying to prevent police from identifying her. Investigators discovered a miniscule amount of DNA and preserved it, hoping one day, DNA technological advances could identify the owner. A vehicle paint chip was also discovered on Dolowy’s remains, but investigators could not identify the vehicle it belonged to. found.

For a brief time, Russell Lee was considered a potential suspect but ultimately ruled out through DNA comparison. In December 2007, the body of Terry Dolowy was exhumed, hoping to discover additional DNA or evidence because DNA was limited during the time of her death in 1985. Investigators made no further statements.

A Confession Is Made 40 Years Later

In September 2023, an unnamed patient at a mental health facility confessed to a staff nurse. The unnamed man stated that he had murdered a woman 40 years prior. The staff immediately contacted the authorities. A Vernon County Sheriff’s Officer, who has been in charge of Dolowy’s case, is following up on the lead. They have stated that the man is a local farmer and was a friend of Russell Lee at the time of Dolowy’s death.

The Aftermath

Terry Dolowy was laid to rest in the Dolowy family cemetery plot at the Calvary Cemetery in Steger, Cook County, Illinois.

Investigators are asking the public that if anyone has any further information regarding the death of Terry Dolowy to please contact the Vernon County Sheriff’s Office at 1-800-637-2123 or (608) 637-2123. You can reach Vernon County Crimestoppers at 1-800-657-6868.

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