Episode 110

Unsolved: Rita Curran and Marilee Burt

October 4, 2021   Tags: , ,
Apple Podcasts
This week Paul and Billy look into two separate unsolved murders from the 1970s. 24-year-old Rita Curran was killed in Burlington, Vermont, on the night of July 19th, 1971. 15-year-old Marilee Burt walked home from her friend's house on February 26th, 1970, in Littleton, Colorado. She was found murdered the next day. 

The Murder of Rita Curran:
24-year-old Rita Curran was a second grade teacher at Milton Elementary School in Milton, Vermont. During the summer of 1971, she enrolled in a graduate school summer program in Burlington. She went to reading and language arts classes while working part time at the South Burlington Colonial Motor Inn as a maid. 

She’d moved in with two roommates--Beverly and Kerry--in a ground floor apartment near the University of Vermonton on Brookes Street. But even while creating this life in Burlington, she often went home to Milton to spend time with her family and friends. 

On July 19th, Rita went to work at the motor inn. She left around 3 PM. After work she went to a singing rehearsal with a barbershop quartet she’d joined. Finally making her way home about 10 PM. Beverly and Kerry were home. The two roommates were getting ready to go out and grab a bite to eat. The women asked Rita to join them, but she declined the offer. They left around 11 PM.

Beverly and Kerry returned to the apartment close to 12:30 AM. A friend--Paul was with them. The three hung out in the living room and tried to be quiet because they thought Rita was asleep in the bedroom. About an hour later the group called it a night. Beverly went into the bedroom she shared with Rita. 

When Beverly opened the door, she saw Rita on the floor just inside the door. Rita was nude with her curlers still in her hair. Her head and face had been beaten. She had been manually strangled. Near her body was a torn pair of underwear. 

The apartment showed no signs of forced entry. But the women never locked their doors. Next to the back door there was a “small patch” of blood. Rita’s purse and the twenty dollars in her wallet was still there--ruling robbery out as a motive.

Possibly Related Attacks:
After the news broke, reports started flooding in of a night prowler. One of the reports said that a man was peeking in the windows of apartments on Loomis Street--just a block from Rita’s murder. The apartment building had multiple, young career women living inside. 

The women said the man tried to get in the front door of the ground level apartments. One woman checked the chain lock on the door. Once it was secure she opened it the few inches with the chain still on to look out. She saw a man jump over the railing and run behind the house next door.

The night of Rita’s murder, a woman answered her door. A man with a dog was standing in front of her, and the man let his dog run into the apartment. The woman had a guest over. Once the man saw the guest, he picked up his dog and left. 

The women also said someone had been calling them between 1 and 3 AM. When they answered, there was always silence. Then the caller hung up. 

Aside from the peeping tom in the area, there had also been a string of assaults beginning in 1968. On October 19th, a 21-year-old University of Vermont student was attacked. She was asleep in her sorority house when someone struck her several times with a blunt instrument. The attack occurred around 4:30 AM. The man had entered the house through an unlocked cellar door. 

On October 22nd, 1970 there was another attack. A 23-year-old lab technician was slashed with a knife. She lived three blocks from Rita in an apartment on Pearl Street. The attacker cut her three times in the abdomen. He ran when the lab tech screamed.

There were two more incidents before Rita’s murder. On May 13th around 10 PM, a 20-year-old woman was in a parking lot when a man in his twenties threw her to the pavement. It’s not clear if it’s the same attacker. But he fled when the woman screamed. 

The most recent attack was just eight days before Rita was killed. At around 4 AM, a 20-year-old in a Pine Street apartment awoke to find a man in her room. She thought the attacker was between 16 and 17-years-old. He sexually assaulted her, then left her apartment. 

The attacks didn’t stop after Rita murder. In September there were five more. One woman woke up to a man on top of her. The man hit her multiple times. She screamed and her roommates came to help her. Two University of Vermont students were then attacked in Burlington. One was grabbed by a man. The other was assaulted in a karate fashion. Another woman woke up to a man standing next to her bed. 

The final attack of the month was an abduction. This woman was taken by a group of men while she was out walking. She was able to get out of the car at a traffic light.

The Murder of Marilee Burt:

15-year-old Marilee Burt’s family lived at the Columbine Country Club enclave near Littleton, Colorado. Her family owned car dealerships in the area. Marilee was in ninth grade at Goddard Middle School and a member of the cheerleading team. 

On February 26th, 1970, Marilee met with her guidance counselor to plan her schedule for the following year, when she was going to move up to high school. 

After school, she cheered at the middle school basketball game. Then she went over to her friend's house. She called her mom from her friend’s house and asked her to pick her up. But Marilee and her mother Sherry had a miscommunication. Sherry thought Marilee was still at the school. So, she headed there to pick her up.

Marilee waited for her mom, but when she didn’t show up; she decided to walk home. It was only two miles. She set out for the walk, still in her cheerleading uniform.

A few people spotted Marilee on her walk home. She was seen on Barry Drive, Bowles Avenue and Middlefield Road. Her older brother Raymond was driving home around that time. Raymond saw Marilee near the 6000 block on South Middlefield Road. But Raymond initially didn’t realize it was Marilee. She’d worn her hair in pigtails and it was a style he wasn’t used to seeing his sister wear.

Shortly after he saw his sister, Raymond saw a man in a truck. The truck was traveling in the opposite direction and flashed their brights. He looked in his rearview and saw the truck pull over--the driver was talking to the girl.

Within minutes, Raymond thought the girl he saw could’ve been his sister. He turned around to go get her. But she was gone.

When she didn’t turn up at the house, Marilee’s family began searching for her. They reported her missing to the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office. 

Law enforcement continued to search into the next day. At noon, a Jefferson County road crew discovered Marliee’s body. She was nude. Her body had been partly submerged under a bridge in Deer Creek Canyon. The area was over 10 miles away, roughly a 20 minute drive from where Marilee was last seen. 

The killer had struck her in the head with a heavy object, most likely to render her unconscious. A 10-foot piece of rope was found around her neck. She had been raped and strangled. Her clothes, notebooks and school books were not with her body. 

The Investigation:
Police began to focus on the truck Raymond saw. He described the driver as a man between 30 to 40 years old. He was white with dark brown hair, a receding hairline and long square sideburns. By March 2nd, there were over 50 tips about the truck. Some witnesses said they saw it at 6:50 PM in the Columbine Valley. 

One witness said they saw the truck driver talking to Marilee at 6:45 PM on Middlefield Road. Moments later the truck sped away and almost ran a stop sign. The truck was a late-model, 1968-1970, light colored with a dark bottom. Investigators also tried to find Marilee’s belongings. The truck, mystery man and the items were never found. 

The rope found around Marilee’s neck was sent to the FBI to be processed. A black hair was discovered on it. It was tested but no match was made. Tissue scrapings were taken from under her fingernails. Pieces of wood were in her fingers. Her hair was tangled with metal shavings.

Law enforcement looked into known sex offenders in the area. One of those they talked to was a gymnastics instructor who had taught Marilee. He had been convicted of cases dating back to 1955. The teacher would pick up underage girls in his van and sexually assault them. According to reports in the Denver Post, he told police he “probably had feelings of wanting to have sex with her.” 

But despite being on the top of the suspect list, law enforcement couldn’t tie him to Marilee’s case. There were no leads.

It would be nearly thirty years before law enforcement thought they caught another break. Detectives reviewed Marilee’s case. In one of the evidence lockers, a viable DNA sample from the case was discovered. 

The DNA was enough to create a profile. From the profile, law enforcement was able to exclude over 20 different people--including all of the Burt family. The profile also ruled out the gymnastics instructor. 

In February 2002, Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office spoke to the press. They felt because of the age of the case this was probably their last chance to solve it. It was during this time, Investigator Bruce Isaacson told Rocky Mountain News they hadn’t ruled out the possibility there was more than one perpetrator. 

The sheriffs received more than 40 new tips, but still were no closer to finding Marilee’s killer. In 2020, news broke that a “top priority” tip came in. The DNA from the case runs in the national database daily. But even with the tip and the DNA running, the case remains unsolved today. 

24-year-old Rita Curran was home alone in her apartment on Brookes Street in Burlington, Vermont from 11 PM to 12:30 AM on the night of July 19th, 1971. At 1:30 AM one of her roommates discovered her nude body on the floor of their bedroom. She’d been raped, beaten and strangled. Her case remains unsolved today. 

On February 26th, 1970, 15-year-old Marilee Burt walked home from her friend's house in the evening. She was seen by witnesses around 6:45 PM on Middlefield Road in Littleton, Colorado.  Her body was found the next day. She had been strangled and raped. DNA was recovered from the scene and is still run through the database. Her killer or killers are still unknown.

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