Iowa woman claims her father killed 50 to 70 women, says she helped bury bodies

An Iowa woman has accused her now-deceased father of being a serial killer. She claimed to have helped dispose up "up to 70 bodies." . THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graeme Roy

For 45 years, Lucy Studey tried to tell people that her father was a serial killer.

Now, a collaborative local, state and federal investigation is underway to determine the validity of Studey’s claims that her father, since-deceased Donald Dean Studey, murdered dozens in Thurman, Iowa during a killing spree that spanned many years.

Fremont County Sheriff Kevin Aistrope told CNN affiliate KETV that authorities are “actively investigating” the claims. He said this month cadaver dogs indicated the presence of human remains in the area where Studey alleged she helped her father dispose of “50 to 70” bodies.

Aistrope claimed the dogs’ indication is not a definitive sign of the presence of evidence.

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“We have a scene, but we don’t know whether it’s a crime scene,” Aistrope told KETV. “We don’t have victims, bodies. Nothing.”

The sheriff said authorities are going to do “everything we can to prove or disprove there may be a crime scene.”

The search involving local police, the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and the FBI began after a Newsweek article was published outlining Studey’s claims about her father’s secret criminal behaviour.

Studey said her father — who died in 2013 at the age of 75 — buried the bodies of numerous young women and at least two men in a 100-foot deep (about 30 metres) well.

KETV reported that Freemont County has no reports of any missing people.

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Studey told Newsweek most of the victims were sex workers or transients in their 20s to 30s, though she claimed one was a 15-year-old runaway. Studey said her siblings also helped dispose of the bodies.

“He would just tell us we had to go to the well, and I knew what that meant,” Studey told Newsweek. “Every time I went to the well or into the hills, I didn’t think I was coming down. I thought he would kill me because I wouldn’t keep my mouth shut.”

In another Newsweek article, Studey’s older sister vehemently denied the claims.

“My father was not the man she makes him out to be. He was strict, but he was a protective parent who loved his children,” Susan Studey said. “I think I would know if my father murdered. I would know if my dad was a serial killer. He was not, and I want my father’s name restored.”

She told the outlet the cadaver dogs must have falsely signalled the presence of animal bones, or the remains of her father’s stillborn sister, who was buried in a shoebox on the property.

DCI assistant director Mitch Mortvedt told CNN the investigation is in its “infancy” and could take several months to complete.

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Fremont County police are currently planning to excavate the site where the cadaver dogs indicated. The well no longer exists and was filled “some time ago,” reported KETV.

“The initial excavation of the area was a little over US$300,000,” Deputy Sheriff of Fremont County Tim Bothwell told NBC affiliate WHO-13. He claimed that to simply dig up the well and its surrounding area would be too expensive. “And with a county with a $1.8-million law enforcement budget, that would just devastate our budget,” he said.

Drilling or other forms of ground testing are currently being considered by authorities.

The investigation is ongoing.

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