Was This Southwest Iowa Town Home To A Serial Killer?

Thurman, Iowa/(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Cadaver dogs have apparently somewhat vindicated an Iowa-raised woman who told Newsweek her late father was a serial killer, a claim she has made for decades.

On Oct. 21, two cadaver dogs were taken to a property in Fremont County, near Thurman, Iowa,  where they got multiple “hits” at various places on the site. Investigators said the dogs are trained to ignore animal remains, so the dogs’ handler and Fremont County Sheriff Kevin Aistrope said they believe there are human remains.

Now, sheriff’s deputies, state officials, and local FBI agents are investigating. The Fremont County Sheriff’s Office is still the lead on the investigation.

Lucy Studey says her father, Donald Dean Studey, murdered “five or six” women a year over several decades and buried the bodies in and around an abandoned well on his property in Fremont County. Lucy Studey started telling people—teachers, principals, priests—when she was in second or third grade, she said. As she got older, she started reporting it to police in Iowa and Nebraska.

But no one believed her. And authorities haven’t given a reason for why the claim has never been investigated.

Fremont County Deputy Mike Wake got a call last year, and that was when investigators started listening. He especially got interested when Studey, who asked not to use her married name she now goes by, was able to pinpoint the well, despite the fact the area looks completely different than it did then.

“She walked right to it,” he told Newsweek, which first reported the story. “She said, ‘It should be right here somewhere,’ and I went out and found it.”

The dogs aren’t conclusive evidence, but Aistrope said the fact they went directly to places Studey indicated, without being led, makes him think further investigation is warranted.

“I believe her 100% that there’s bodies in there,” he told Newsweek.

If Studey’s claims are true, Donald would be one of the most prolific serial killers in American history, with 50-70 potential victims. Donald died in 2013, at the age of 75.

Studey said the victims were generally sex workers or transients Donald picked up in Omaha. She also said he forced her and her siblings to help with the burials and she never imagined living past high school. She did, by escaping into the US Army, and now lives in the South.

Aistrope, however, doubted whether they all could have been Omaha-area residents.

“If we had had 70 missing persons from Omaha-Council Bluffs we would have picked up on that. So if there is 70 people they’re not all from here,” he told the Des Moines Register.

Donald had repeatedly been in trouble with the police, according to the sheriff. One of Lucy Studey’s sisters has denied all of the claims, another sister couldn’t be reached, and Studey’s brother died by suicide at 39.

The next steps will be to use sonar where possible and dig the sites to look for remains. The well, 90 feet deep and filled in, where Studey said many of the bodies were buried, will be harder to excavate.

Studey said she just wants to have the sites unearthed and for the victims to have a proper burial, and for any family to be notified.

As Studey proved she could find the abandoned well, despite the dogs getting hits on the areas she named, and her story hasn’t changed in the decades she’s told it, authorities are more willing to listen to her.

“No one would listen to me,” Studey said to Newsweek. “The teacher said family matters should be handled as a family, and law enforcement has said they couldn’t trust the memory of a child. I was just a kid then, but I remember it all.”


Nikoel Hytrek

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2 Comments on "Was This Southwest Iowa Town Home To A Serial Killer?"

  • I hope it is easier now than it used to be for children to reach out for adult help and get it. And whatever the reality turns out to be at the Studey land, I hope that it will enable Lucy Studey to find some peace.

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