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University Student Found Suffocated To Death In Cornfield

Donna Doll’s boyfriend attempted suicide hours after the authorities revealed they had a suspect.

By Cat LeighPublished 2 months ago 3 min read
University Student Found Suffocated To Death In Cornfield
Photo by Pascal Debrunner on Unsplash

Donna Susan Doll was a 21-year-old from Brookfield, Illinois. She was studying Russian at Northern Illinois University in hopes of becoming a teacher. Doll worked weeknights at the Swen Parson library while living at a rooming house along West Lincoln Highway.

Donna Chiarelott pulled up to the NIU library on Friday, October 2, 1970. Doll and Chiarelott were close friends but hadn’t seen each other since Chiarelott’s wedding in June. With some free time that evening, the two made plans to go for a walk and get a coffee.

Chiarelott waited about 20 minutes, but Doll did not show up. She wasn’t too worried, assuming something had come up.

Two days later, Doll’s friends became alarmed when they realized no one had seen her that weekend. She had clocked out of the library at 9:59 PM Friday but not returned to her rooming house. She was reported missing at 11:30 PM Sunday.

Authorities searched Doll’s room. Her clothes and suitcase were still there, along with her last uncashed paycheck. She wouldn’t have had more than $10 with her.

Despite her friends and family’s concern, authorities did not suspect foul play. They were told Doll had been seeing someone from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and assumed she’d gone to visit him.

Not only were Doll’s parents strict, but according to Chiarelott, this man was either married or recently separated. Because of this, authorities concluded that Doll had chosen not to tell others she was leaving for the weekend.

It would later be revealed that Doll’s boyfriend in Pittsburgh had not heard from her that weekend.

Around 8:30 PM on October 11, three teenagers were on their way to a party when they drove out to Nelson Road, a little over a mile west of the NIU campus. They were picking up a stash of beer that had been hidden in the area the week before.

While the girls waited by the car, the teenage boy walked through the tall grass along the road. About five feet away in the cornfield, something caught his eye. It was a body lying on its back.

He quickly returned to the car and drove to the police department.

Doll’s body was identified by Charles Burke, with whom she had a romantic relationship. Along with her friends, Charles had organized a search party. The group had walked in the vicinity where her body would later be found, ending the search merely a quarter of a mile short.

Doll was fully clothed, aside from shoes. She was wearing a different jacket than the one she had last been seen with. Doll’s trench coat, along with her shoes and purse, were never found.

According to a 1970 article in The Daily Chronicle, Doll had been alive for at least 48 hours after disappearing. Pathologists determined she had been suffocated with a pillow or plastic bag, even though no fibers were found in her lungs or airways, which is usually consistent with suffocation.

“Mystery substances” were found, but pathologists were unable to identify or explain their presence. Doll did not have any visible signs of violence, likely an indication she knew her attacker.

An observation made by officials was that Doll had eaten an abnormal amount of potatoes before her death, about five or six pounds.

Authorities had their eyes on a suspect since the evening Doll’s body was discovered — Charles Burke. According to Chiarelott, he was a “possessive jerk.” Charles, a graduate student at the NIU math department, lived alone in an apartment building near the spot Doll’s body was found.

Doll had spent the summer attending a foreign language program in Pennsylvania. While there, she sent Chiarelott letters in which she revealed her plans to break up with Charles. She wanted to pursue a relationship with the man from Pittsburgh. He was even planning on visiting her at NIU over Halloween.

After authorities made it public that they had a prime suspect, Charles tried to end his life by slitting his wrist. He hired a lawyer upon being released from medical care. Edward Dietrich claimed his client was “emotionally disturbed” over Doll’s death and was being “extremely” cooperative with the authorities. There was never enough evidence to charge anyone with Doll’s murder.

Nevertheless, Charles was a pallbearer at Doll’s funeral. She was buried wearing a pair of earrings he had given her.

Donna Doll’s murder remains unsolved 51 years later.


About the Creator

Cat Leigh

Visit my publication on Medium for more true crime cases.

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