Woman still searching for justice in sister Corinne Perry's murder nearly 40 years after she was killed after leaving Iowa laundromat

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By Andrea Cavallier

Corinne Elaine Perry had a bright future ahead of her. Just a month away from graduation, the 17-year-old high school senior had just earned a scholarship to Simpson College in Iowa and planned to double major in psychology and acting.

“She had everything going for her,” Corinne’s sister Letitia Perry DenHartog told Dateline. “She was this vivacious, smart girl with long strawberry-blonde hair who loved being on the stage. That was her thing.”

Corinne PerryCreston High School Senior Photo

Letitia said her little sister belonged to Creston High School’s mime troupe, acted in several plays and competed in Speech contests. She was popular in school and loved to spend time with her family and friends.

Letitia, Corinne, and their two older sisters, were very close growing up. They never lived in one place very long. Their father, Donald Perry, was in the Air Force and the family traveled with him for years until he finally retired, and they moved to Creston, Iowa.

On April 17, 1983, tragedy shattered the family.

Letitia, who was 19 years old at the time, had moved out of the house and was taking classes at Southwestern Community College in Creston. Her sister, Corinne, was living at home with their mother, Barbara. Their mother and father had divorced years earlier.

That Sunday evening, Corinne took the car she shared with her mother and drove to the local coin-operated laundromat in Creston where she did laundry. Witnesses later told authorities that Corinne left the laundromat between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. and that a man walked out behind her, but he was not identified.

“I was at the house that day and when Corinne didn’t come home that night, we started to worry,” Letitia said. “It got late so we started calling her friends.”

But no one had seen or heard from Corinne.

Letitia told Dateline they called Creston Police, but said authorities told them they believed she was a runaway.

“It was really frustrating,” Letitia said. “I just remember getting really upset with each question they asked. We were wasting time and I just wanted to find my sister.”

Corinne PerryCreston High School Senior Photo

A day after Corinne disappeared, her car was found. It was still parked outside the laundromat in Creston. A pile of freshly-laundered clothes was neatly folded on the seat.

Later that week, police called Corinne’s family with news. They had found Corinne’s purse.

“My heart sank,” Letitia said. “My little sister was all about the way she looked. She loved makeup and she never left the house without makeup. And her purse… well, it was filled with her makeup. To find that purse with her makeup just proves that she didn’t run away.”

The purse was found on a highway bridge about seven miles from the laundromatbetween the towns of Kent and Lenox, Iowa.

Corinne and Letitia’s fatherlived in Kent, but Letitia said Corinne would have no reason to be on the highway bridge in that area, especially without the car.

Over the next few weeks, family and friends conducted searches, handed out flyers and raised money for a reward.

Three weeks after Corinne disappeared, Gerald Shanahan, then the Chief of the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI), announced a $2,500 reward. But nothing led authorities to Corinne.

One month after Corinne’s disappearance, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad approved a proposal to remove the 72-hour hold that some law enforcement agencies were required to wait before asking the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) for help in missing persons cases with suspected foul play.

Letitia told Dateline their family was frustrated because while authorities believed Corinne was just a runaway, precious time was wasted by not searching for her immediately.

On November 3, 1984 -- nearly two years after Corinne vanished -- the family received heartbreaking news. Her remains had been found.

“I was in another part of Iowa at a friend’s house when my mom called,” Letitia said. “She told me Corinne’s body had been found. I--I hit the floor. I dropped the phone. I couldn’t breathe or think. My sister was gone.”

Authorities confirmed to Dateline that hunters discovered Corrine’s remains near a creek bed in a shallow grave just south of Creston between Kent and Lenox. The location was close to the bridge where Corinne’s purse had been foundshortly after she disappeared.

“The hunters called the police right away,” Letitia said. “Everyone in this area knew about Corinne and I think they knew right away it was her.”

Letitia told Dateline she believes her sister was killed and that her body was placed in the shallow grave.

“We searched near that bridge, but we searched down the river,” Letitia said. “In case she fell, or something, into the water and moved downstream. But this was up river from the bridge. I don’t think that area was searched.”

Authorities said the remains, now just bones, had been there for such a long time that Corinne had to be identified bydental records. The coroner could not establish a cause of death.

Following Corinne’s death, Creston High School started a Drama scholarship in her name. Family and friends continued to search for answers. The town of Creston never forgot about her.

But years passed and Corinne’s killer was never found.

In 2009, the DCI established a Cold Case Unit and Corinne’s murder was one of approximtaly 150 cases listedthat investigators were hoping to solve using advancements in DNA technology.

DCI Assistant Director Mitch Mortvedt told Dateline Corinne’s case remains unsolved to this day, but they continue to investigate as new leads develop and as technology advances for forensic testing of original evidence.

“In Ms. Perry’s investigation, just like any other unresolved investigation, we strongly urge anyone with information to contact us with any information they may have,” Mortvedt told Dateline in an email. “Oftentimes people feel that the information they have is not worthy of law enforcement attention or it is not relevant. My statement to them is let law enforcement be the judge of that and no piece of information is ever ‘not worthy or irrelevant’ in an investigation and especially a cold case investigation.”

Corinne’s father died in 2001 and her mother died in 2017, without getting answers in their daughter’s unsolved murder.

Corinne’s sisters have moved on with their lives, starting families of their own in Missouri and Nebraska.

Letitia, who is now a librarian in Missouri, has two daughters, and says the youngest is a mirror image of her sister Corinne.

“She looks exactly like my little sister,” she said. “We’ve done a side by side with their pictures and it’s absolutely incredible. I see my sister in her every day.”

Letitia told Dateline that even after all these years, she still hopes to find justice for her sister and closure for their family.

“At the 30-year mark of her death, I sort of quit having expectations,” Letitia said. “But I can’t give up. She was my little sister and I’m not going to give up.”

Anyone with information about the murder of Corinne Perry is asked to contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, email dciinfo@dps.state.ia.us, or contact the Creston Police Department at (641) 782-8402.