Terry Dolowy has never gotten justice.
If I had to pick one case that started my interest in true crime it would be the murder of Terry Dolowy. The details of her case have always stood out in my mind and as a small child, I had an image of the scene in my head. I wasn’t there but I’ve always been able to picture the scene in my head. And two details I cannot get out of my head and still wonder about.
It was Valentine’s Day 1985 in LaCrosse, Wisconsin. There’s snow on the ground from earlier in the week. It was colder than usual but the sun was out. Russell Lee arrives home to discover the door open and lights on but no sign of his fiance, Terry Dolowy or her little white dog Suzie. Her purse was left behind and there was no sign of a struggle at the home.
On February 18, a call comes in about something burning in a culvert on a rural road in Vernon County. The something was Terry Dolowy’s headless body. This scene has always been in my head. I can close my eyes and see the area and what a fire in a ditch would look like. To my knowledge, I have never been to the spot where she was found. Maybe I saw the newspaper clips from the time and can now see the road and the snow.
To this day, her head or dog have never been found. For some reason, these details have stuck with me. Where is her head? Did her dog run away or was she killed as well?
The autopsy found semen and several years later the DNA profile was completed. It did not match Lee. No other matches have been made. Lee has also not been eliminated as a suspect in her death. Also found in the sheet her body was wrapped in was a paint chip. It was glacier blue, a color used in late 70s cars. It is believed her body was transported in the trunk.
A neighbor believes he saw Terry leave with a man the day before or the day she went missing. He says the man arrived shortly after Lee left for work and Terry left with him about 10 minutes later. He could not tell the color of the car because it was dark at 4:30 am. The neighbor states the man was not Lee.
In 2011 Police looked into a 46-year-old sex offender after he assaulted another woman and threatened her by saying she would end up like Terry Dolowy. Nothing seems to have come from this lead but I am putting it in here, just in case, it turns out to be important.
Police interviewed friends and family. They have had five or six suspects over the years and believe they know who did it. Decapitation is not the cause of death. It is believed she was struck in the face before dying. The murder weapon has not been disclosed.
Growing up there were a lot of rumors about this case. The one I heard the most was it was the mob. I mean, who else would chop off a head and burn the body? It appears Russell Lee had some gambling debt. Did he owe someone and this was their way of collecting? Did he have other addictions besides gambling, like drugs?
Was it the fiance?
Terry had confided in others that she would not be marrying Lee. She was planning to break off the engagement and move to Chicago for work. According to her mother, Terry and Russell had a tumultuous relationship and had argued the night before she went missing. Did Lee hire someone to kill Terry? Did some kill her to send a message to Lee?
Another theory is someone followed her home from her job at Piggy’s restaurant. Was the car the neighbor saw someone that had been at Piggy’s, liked what he saw, and decided he had to have her? Did she know her killer or did she respond in kind when a stranger came to her door early in the morning?
Was it the sex offender? It doesn’t sound like the DNA matched to him but what if he didn’t have a chance to assault her? The semen could have been from earlier in the day/night. What about that semen? Was she having a relationship with someone else? Was she raped? I couldn’t find much more than that it was present and they made the DNA profile. There is nothing that says she was raped but that could be something the police aren’t releasing.
There seem to be more questions than answers
Despite these cases typically being the boyfriend/fiance/husband I am not so sure in this case. Growing up I believed the mob rumor. I guess as a 12-year old that just sounds so fascinating and big city. Now? I don’t feel it is the fiance. I think there was someone else she knew and felt comfortable enough to let in her house at 4:30 am. This could just be because there are very few people I would open my door to at 4:30 in the morning.
I hope someday the killer is brought to justice and Terry gets her day in court.