Theresa Foster murder fact vs. fiction: Read the 1948 autopsy report
This week's cover story, "The Case of the Kidnapped Coed," revisits the wild press coverage surrounding the 1948 murder of eighteen-year-old college student Theresa Foster -- and explores how the Denver Post's rabid campaign to catch a killer tainted the subsequent trial. It's a cautionary tale about how pseudo-experts (in this case, the creator of Perry Mason and other "crime aces" hired by the paper to investigate the slaying) can mess up the case for the professionals.
Are you listening, Nancy Grace?
Many of the assertions made in the Post by author Erle Stanley Gardner and various reporters contradicted the official autopsy findings in the case. That report was readily available to the paper at the time of the trial -- and amazingly, at least a portion of it still survives today. A recent open records request to the Denver Office of the Medical Examiner yielded five fuzzy pages from the days of carbon paper. They're difficult to read online, but printing them out helps.
Those pages are available below. Note on the first page the "sand, gravel, and debris" ground into the victim's hands, which helped to tie the case to a crime scene twenty miles away from where the body was found. Note, too, the fracture of the hyoid bone (page three), a key indicator of strangulation.
Semen was recovered from the body (page four), but it was considered too deteriorated for testing under methods available at the time. These days, a DNA test could arguably have built a much more conclusive case against the killer.
For more about other historic Colorado crime cases, check out these two features about Denver in the Roaring Twenties: "Love Crazy," the epic trial of nurse Farice King for shooting her lover, a police officer; and "Scourge of the Underworld," the story of Phil Van Cise's crusade to bust a ring of con artists operating in the heart of Denver's financial district.
Here's the 1948 report:
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