The Lonely Death of Mary Lou Arruda

“She still stays in St. Joseph’s Cemetery. Nobody overturns that verdict.”

Joanne Arruda knew something was terribly wrong. It was late afternoon on Friday, September 8th, 1978: two days after her daughter’s 15th birthday. But Mary Lou still wasn’t home. She had been out riding her bike in her Raynham, MA neighborhood, about 32 miles south of Boston. The orange ten-speed bike turned up on a dirt road near her home, but Mary Lou would not be found for two months. On November 11th, kids riding dirt-bikes came across her standing body tied to a tree 18 miles away from the Arruda home, in Freetown State Forest. Her possessions had been arranged in a semi-circle in front of her, and most gruesomely: her head was near them. She had been strangled and abandoned.

James Kater, a 31-year-old who worked in a Brockton MA doughnut shop, soon emerged as a suspect. He had been released from prison in January 1976 for a shockingly similar crime. In that case, the 13-year-old girl had survived the strangulation, and after Kater left her was able to untie herself. His lime green car had been seen in Mary Lou’s neighborhood, physical evidence was found, and his alibi soon fell apart. Kater’s sentence for kidnapping and murder sent him to prison for the rest of his life, but he continued to fight the verdict.

Her bitter comment about her daughter buried in St. Joseph’s Cemetery came after she heard of the third retrial having been ordered. I worked on the fourth and final Kater trial and will discuss the case, conviction, appeals, and retrials.