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Innocence lost: The rape of Cathleen Crowell

Posted 2 years ago

Was the sobbing girl a victim? And what of her alleged attacker?


It was mid-afternoon on a summer’s day when a 16-year-old girl stumbled up to a policeman, sobbing. Her clothes were torn and bloody. Schoolgirl Cathleen Crowell wept that she’d been dragged into a car by three men, brutally raped, and mutilated with a broken beer bottle.

Her attacker was soon arrested and it seemed an open-and-shut case. But could the police take the girl at her word?


On the morning of 9 July 1977, Cathleen Crowell said goodbye to her foster parents and left for her part-time cook’s job in local Long John Silver’s restaurant, in the Chicago suburb of Homewood.

Cathleen was a model pupil at school. Bright, popular and on the swimming team. But, at 4.30pm, a policeman found the young girl sobbing in a nearby street. She was bloody, dishevelled and traumatised.

Cathleen wept that, as she’d left work, a car had roared across the car park. Two men had leapt out and thrown her into the back seat. Another man was driving. One man raped the terrified teen, as the others, she said, laughed, ‘like it was a big joke’. He bit her breast, scored illegible letters onto her belly with a broken beer bottle.

‘I tried to fight him off but I couldn’t,’ she wept. Then she was flung, half-clothed, from the car.

In hospital, doctors took forensic swabs. There was a large semen stain on Cathleen’s pants, and a few pubic hairs. But back then, there were no DNA tests available. So Cathleen helped police make a sketch of her rapist. Young and white. Clean-shaven, and with long, stringy hair. Then, looking through a book of mugshot photos, Cathleen stopped.

She’d seen her attacker!

Gary Dotson was 22, a high-school dropout. Five days after the rape, the police arrested Dotson at his family home. And, once more, Cathleen identified him in a line-up.

But, in May 1979, tried for rape and aggravated kidnap at Markham Circuit Court, Gary Dotson insisted that he was innocent. He said he’d spent that day with four friends. They’d drunk beer and watched TV, and then gone to two local parties. All four friends testified, confirming Dotson’s alibi.

There was more.

Cathleen had described her rapist as clean-shaven. But he’d been arrested days after the attack with a fully-grown moustache.
And Cathleen had claimed she’d clawed her rapist’s chest. Dotson didn’t have a scratch on him. Yet, as Dotson stood in the dock, Cathleen pointed to him and said, ‘There’s no mistaking that face.’

Prosecutors also said that honest alibis invariably had inconsistencies. So the men’s perfectly matching stories made them unworthy of belief.

Now the jury had to decide.

Now go to page 2 for the verdict

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