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Unsolved Murder: Karen Lee Ann Caughlin

No child killer should take solace in the passage of time.

The Unsolved Homicide of Karen Lee Ann Caughlin

Karen Lee Ann Caughlin of Sarnia, Ontario was brutally murdered on March 16, 1974. Karen Caughlin was a 14 year old, 9th grade student, described as being about 167cm (5 foot, 5 inches) tall, and weighing about 46kg (101lbs). Karen had long dark brown hair, and hazel eyes. On the day of her murder, Karen was wearing a white V-neck sweater with a tie in the back, a pair of GWG blue jeans, a short jacket with gold buttons and sheep skin sleeves and collar, red socks, and a Mickey Mouse wristwatch.  

As per usual, Karen attended Sarnia Collegiate Institute and Technical School (S.C.I.T.S.) located at 275 Wellington Street, on Friday, March 15, 1974. This was the last school day before the March Break. After school, Karen went with a female friend from her friend's home at 108 Martha Street. Later that evening, the girls left for the Rose Gardens roller skating rink.  Karen spent early Friday evening at 108 Martha Street. Karen and her friend were allegedly picked up hitch hiking near the intersection of Mitton Street South and Divine Street at about 19:00 (7:00 pm). The lone unidentified male driver is described as being white, and of approximately 30 to 35 years of age. The vehicle is described as being a four door sedan type vehicle of an unknown colour. Karen and her friend were driven to the Rose Gardens roller skating rink by this unidentified male, and were dropped off in front of the roller rink. The unidentified male is claimed to have mentioned to the girls he had children their age. (Source: Caughlin Family Press Conference, May 31. 2011.)  

Karen and her friend stayed at Rose Gardens until closing time at about 23:00 (11:00 pm).During Karen's time at Rose Gardens, Karen made tentative plans to stay the night at another female friend's home. As Karen and her Martha street friend made their way from Rose Gardens at closing time, they accepted a ride in a pick-up truck from two teenage boys they knew. A short time later, Karen's friend was dropped off at her home at 108 Martha Street. Karen remained in the truck, and she and the boys continued to drive around, picking up another teenage boy. The three boys and Karen cruised the city, made a purchase at a local A&W restaurant, and visited other friends.

On early Saturday, March 16, 1974, at approximately 01:00 (1:00 am),Karen was dropped off at her request in front of her other friend's home at 238 Brock Street South where Karen indicated she was going to spend the night. Karen lived at 171 Brock Street South. Karen apparently never entered the 238 Brock Street South residence. Karen's movements for the next 9 hours are unknown to investigators.  

At around 9:50 to 10:00 (9:50 am to 10:00 am), on Saturday, March 16, 1974, Karen's lifeless body was discovered in a small ditch about 1 metre from the west side of Plowing Match Road (known as Clare Freer Side Road and Enniskillen Side Road 6-7 at the time), approximately 1.6 km south of Churchill Line (Highway 14), by Fred Bygrove, an area farmer, who was driving northbound. Karen was found laid in a face up position on the ground. There was noticeable amounts of blood at the scene. Cuts and bruises covered Karen's body. Karen had injuries that were consistent with being struck and run down by a motor vehicle.  

Evidence indicates Karen was severely beaten before being run over by her killer. The postmortem examination of Karen's body confirmed internal hemorrhaging as the cause of Karen's death. Karen's fatal injuries were a direct result of being struck and run over with a motor vehicle. Police investigators believe Karen's body was left at the side of the road after she had been murdered at an unknown location, and Karen's killer(s) attempted to make Karen's death appear as a hit and run to cover-up her murder. Not far from Karen's body, the coat and shoes Karen had been wearing that night were located partially concealed in some branches. Apart from her coat and shoes being removed, Karen was fully clothed. Karen's purse was found days later in a roadside ditch by a young citizen along Oil Heritage Road (Highway 21), approximately 5 km south of Wyoming, Ontario.  

Karen was the victim of a vicious assault, and identification was difficult. A description of Karen was broadcast over area radio stations in an effort to identify her. It took police nearly two days to notify the Caughlin family after Karen's body was found, the school ring Karen was wearing was the clue to her identity. School staff and students at S.C.I.T.S. looked over student photographs until Karen was identified. At the morgue, a birth mark on Karen's leg was all that Karen's two young sisters could positively identify Karen by. Karen's parents were unable to bring themselves to visually identify the battered and broken body of their murdered young daughter.

Evidence found on Karen's body included paint chips that police investigators traced to the factory paint used on Chrysler/Dodge/Plymouth high performance type vehicles manufactured in the years 1970 and 1971. The paint colour is a metallic purple called, "Plum Crazy" by the manufacture.  Karen's murder was actively investigated from 1974 to 1976 without closure. Karen's killer(s) was not found.

Karen's murder case was shelved by the O.P.P. until Karen's family unexpectedly received contact from the O.P.P. in 2003. Investigators had remained silent for almost three decades despite the Caughlin family requesting to be kept informed of the progress of Karen's murder case. Evidence suggests Karen fought for her life against her killer(s) before she was murdered. This brave act may have left key evidence to solving the case, and finally knowing the identity of Karen's killer(s). Some blood found by police investigators was determined not to belong to Karen. It is the blood of her killer. During her fight for her life with her attacker, Karen injured him enough to make him bleed. Decades later, O.P.P. investigators conducted a review examination of the physical evidence in Karen's murder case and discovered this inexplicably overlooked blood evidence. In 2005, this newly found blood evidence from 1974 was used to create a D.N.A. profile that can be matched to a particular male. This particular male is the person wanted for the murder of Karen Lee Ann Caughlin on March 16, 1974.  

To this day, Karen's killer(s) is unknown. The killer(s) who ended Karen's life in an act of violence and brutality, who forever destroyed the lives of her family, and then callously got on with his life. It is certain someone knows the identity of the criminal(s) who murdered Karen. It is certain someone knows the details of Karen's murder, and who was involved. It is certain someone holds the one piece of the puzzle that will solve this case once and for all. Someone has crucial information, no matter how insignificant he or she may think it is, that will bring a close to a chapter in this nightmare for Karen's family, and will see that justice might finally be done. This person must step forward now.

© Trevor Dailey  

The OPP Criminal Investigation Branch and the Lambton County OPP Crime Unit are reminding the public that this is still an ongoing investigation and anyone with any information is urged to contact the OPP. A $50,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person(s) responsible for this murder. 

 Any person having information regarding the person(s) responsible for the murder of Karen Caughlin should click here and submit a message directly to investigators, or telephone the O.P.P. at: 1-888-310-1122. The O.P.P. File Number for Karen Caughlin's unsolved murder is: 04-11. You may also contact your nearest police authority, or your local Crime Stoppers at: 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or submit information to Crime Stoppers online D.N.A. evidence in this case can allow a witness to identify the person(s) responsible for the murder of Karen Caughlin and remain anonymous.  


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