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Cold Case Spotlight

Plea for Answers in Massachusetts Teen Theresa Corley’s 1978 Murder

Theresa Corley was just 19-years-old when she was murdered. Corley Family

The story of Massachusetts teen Theresa Corley is one shrouded in questions.

"It's been 37 years, that's a long time for us to be in pain," Gerri Houde, Theresa's sister, told Dateline. "It's senseless, truly senseless what happened and is still happening to my sister."

Her Last Night

The final hours of Theresa's life began one night in December 1978. The brunette teen was working to put herself through college, dreaming of becoming a pediatrician. She was out celebrating a friend's birthday in the town of Franklin, not too far from her family's home in Bellingham, Massachusetts. The 19-year-old left the bar around 4:00 a.m.

Somewhere along her journey home, a group of men picked her up and brought her to a party at a nearby apartment complex. Three of them then allegedly sexually assaulted her, officials have said.

Theresa ran out of the apartment after the ordeal and started hitchhiking, most likely trying to get somewhere safe. Two different drivers reportedly gave her rides, with the last telling police he left her right in front of the Bellingham police station.

Several people spotted her in that same area, walking down the road in the direction of home. She never arrived.

"Right away, my mother knew something was wrong," Gerri explained. "Because of her age and how things were handled at that point in time, we were told we had to wait to report her missing."

It was several days later when a caller phoned police saying he spotted a naked body in a ditch along I-495. An autopsy report showed she had been strangled to death and her jeans and jacket were discard beside her.

"I think I've blocked most of it out since it really was traumatic for our family, but I just remember my mother's anguished scream," Gerri told Dateline. "Now her case has just gotten older and older. What are we to do?"

Decades Later, More Questions Than Answers

Nearly four decades have ticked by since that winter. Along the way, many questions have emerged but few answers have been found.

First, the person who called police to alert them of Theresa's body said his name was John Burlington and he was a businessm an from Connecticut. Police later learned a man named John Burlington didn't exist and the actual identity of the caller has not been found.

Second, shortly after the Burlington call, and before it was relayed to the department that a body had been found, a young man entered the police station asking if Theresa had been found along the highway.

That man has since passed away and authorities believe he must have know much more than he ever said.

And as for the men who officials say allegedly assaulted Theresa on her last night of life, they were questioned but never charged with any crime in relation to the case.

A renewed call for answers came just last summer, with Bellingham police joining once again with their counterparts from the Franklin Police Department to try and piece together the puzzle.

“It is believed that those involved are still out there,” Bellingham and Franklin authorities said in a joint statement in June 2015. “Someone knows just what happened to Theresa. Whatever the circumstances were or may have been, Theresa should not have perished in such a cruel and careless manner.”

The idea is that possibly with a new campaign spreading Theresa's story and name on social media, someone will come forward with information needed to move the case along. Technological advances, such as DNA testing, are also providing a hope for many that justice could be found for the teen decades later.

More To Be Done

Their call for answers is almost too late, at least to the Corely family. They remain frustrated with the progress, and at times dedication, to Theresa's case. "I've heard from many people that this case is truly solvable, but people just don't seem to want to extend more energy on it after this many years despite what is said at times," Gerri told Dateline. "Our family does feel like the ball was dropped."

According to Gerri, there are several key pieces of evidence in Theresa's case that have been lost or accidentally destroyed, and there is more officials could do to push the case forward.

"Our family simply wants no stone left unturned," Gerri said. "We just want everything done that can be done to find answers. And that has not happened we think."

Officials from the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office, the department overseeing Theresa's case now, could not be reached for comment, but have stated publicly they are doing everything they can to find those responsible for Theresa's murder.

Until justice is found, the Corley family has found solace in the love from strangers. The family started the Facebook page, "Justice for Theresa Corley," and say the support has made a difference. "We thought Theresa had been forgotten. But people still care and, to us, that means Theresa's story won't be forgotten," Gerri told Dateline.

If you have any information regarding Theresa's case, please contact the Norfolk County DA's tip line at (617) 593-8840.