Catherine "Catrina" Mowrey sitting on the hood of a car

The Unexplained Death of Catherine “Catrina” Mowrey

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EARLY LIFE:

Catherine Diane Mowrey was born on February 5, 1961 to James and Catherine Mowrey. She grew up in Kansas alongside her five siblings: Jim, Michael, Mark, Joann and Deborah.

When she was a young adult, Catherine changed her name to “Catrina”. This was because she was working at a country club where many of the ladies kept calling her by that name.

In 1985, Catrina was 24 years old and living on her own in Dallas, Dallas County, Texas. She’d left Kansas when she turned 18. According to her niece, Catrina Marshall, she was semi-involved in the local drug scene.

LEAD UP TO MURDER:

In mid-June 1985, Catrina was planning to drive to Kansas to visit Deborah. Prior to the trip, the pair had gotten into an argument over the phone, causing Deborah to hang up on her sister. Despite the anger between the two, Deborah assumed they’d patch things up when Catrina arrived in Kansas.

When Catrina didn’t arrive, Deborah assumed she was still upset and had decided to cancel her trip without telling anyone.

MURDER & AUTOPSY:

On June 25, 1985, the manager of the Casa III apartments at 200 South Marsalis Avenue (some reports say she was a resident) was walking by an alley when she noticed a strong odour coming from a 1978 Ford LTD parked nearby. She contacted the Southwest station of the Dallas Police Department, and when officers arrived, they too smelled something coming from the vehicle’s trunk.

When they popped open the trunk, they discovered the decomposing nude body of a White female. She’d been wrapped in a stained white bedsheet.

The body was brought to the medical examiner, who through dental records identified the deceased as Catrina Mowrey. Given the level of decomposition, they were unable to note any superficial marks or wounds on the body. However, they were able to conclude Catrina had not been sexually assaulted prior to her death.

A toxicology report found no drugs or alcohol in her system.

Police initially tried to put Catrina’s death down as a suicide. However, it was later deemed to be an “unexplained death”. It was estimated it had occurred two days prior to her body being found, on June 23, 1985.

According to Deborah, there was a one-to-two week span between her final phone call with Catrina and the family learning of her death. Her body was eventually released and the burial done in Lawrence, Kansas.

INVESTIGATION:

Catrina’s death was never publicized to the wider Dallas population, with little in the way of media coverage. At the time it occurred, it was reported to be the cause of an overdose, as the toxicology report had yet to be complete. Speaking with the media, one of the sergeants working homicide claimed there was evidence she’d taken cocaine prior to her death.

Investigators went to Catrina’s apartment and found nothing out of the ordinary. There was no evidence of forced entry and nothing was missing. In fact, her glasses and contacts, which she was legally blind without, were found on her nightstand. Her travel bags were also found by the front door, indicating she had planned to make the trip to Kansas to visit her sister.

The authorities also spoke with Catrina’s boyfriend, after discovering the vehicle in which her body was found belonged to him. He claimed to have no knowledge she was still in Dallas, as he’d assumed she’d already left for Kansas, and had an alibi for the time of her death. He was also unaware his car was missing, which was not unusual, as Catrina was known to borrow it whenever she made trips back home.

According to Deborah, the last person to see her sister was a man known as “PeeWee”. The pair were close friends, to the point where it’s alleged PeeWee had a crush on Catrina. She was also his drug dealer. Knowing how the pair interacted with each other, Deborah always felt PeeWee was responsible for Catrina’s death. However, authorities were never able to locate and question him, and his whereabouts remain unknown.

It’s widely believed Catrina’s death wasn’t taken seriously by the Dallas Police Department due to her involvement in the local drug scene. According to Catrina’s niece, investigators misled the family into believing they were actively looking into the case, when in actuality it was left untouched. This caused a divide within the family, along with unresolved anger and resentment. It was also considered a “taboo” topic and thus was rarely spoken about.

Catrina’s niece has had minimal contact with law enforcement, and what contact she has had has resulted in their conversations going around in circles. At one point, the investigator she was speaking to was unable to locate Catrina in their database and accused the family of passing down stories “that are not completely accurate”.

As for what she believes happened to her aunt, Catrina Marshall said:

“I never consider any theory ‘off the table’ completely. However, it’s possible it was somehow a situation where someone did panic and needed to hide her body. I’m also equally considerate to the fact that this was a homicide. I say that because of how she was found – naked, wrapped up like a burrito in a bedsheet – along with the fact that she was found across town from where she lived and couldn’t have driven herself there because, legally, she was blind without glasses or contacts and both were still on her nightstand, next to her bed, across town.

“Regardless, law enforcement failed to investigate, failed to bring justice or bring closure to my family, and, sadly, not only did they possibly let her killer escape, but they also sentenced her sisters to a life of misery.”

THEORIES:

1) The primary theory in the case is that Catrina was the victim of foul play. This is due to the fact she was found deceased in the trunk of a car, across town from where she lived. As well, she was naked and her body had been wrapped in a bedsheet. It seems unlikely someone would strip, wrap themselves in a sheet and lock themselves in the trunk of the car if they were intending on harming themselves, as police first theorized. As well, Catrina would have had to be transported to the alley by another party, as she was legally blind without her glasses or contacts, both of which had been left at her apartment.

Unfortunately, the state of her remains made it difficult-to-impossible for the medical examiner to determine if she had any superficial marks on her body that could have been caused by a weapon.

2) A second theory is that Catrina died of an accidental overdose and whoever she was with – likely “PeeWee” – panicked and tried to hide her body. In an attempt to distance themselves from her death, the person or persons involved drove the body across Dallas and hid the car in an alley.

However, this goes against the findings of the toxicology report, which stated she had no illicit drugs in her system at the time of her death. If she had died of an overdose, there would have been some indications of drugs in her system, especially as she was found just two days after her death.

AFTERMATH:

In 2021, Catrina’s niece set up a Change.org petition to help gain the case more attention, in the hopes of prompting the Dallas Police Department to restart their investigation. On the webpage, she expressed her frustration over how her aunt’s death has been handled, writing:

“After numerous attempts to contact, communicate, request information, give information and investigating this case on my own with minimal to no response, communication or contact from any of the departments within the Dallas Law Enforcement Divisions/Departments or governing offices, I’m now forced to make this matter public in hopes of gaining the attention of the higher courts/officials to assist with getting some answers, justice and most importantly – closure.”

Catrina’s parents have since passed away, as have her two sisters. Joann was the victim of a homicide in Dallas in April 1993, for which there were criminal proceedings. Deborah sadly took her own life in November 2020, due to the pain caused by her sister’s unexplained death.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Those with information regarding the case can forward their information to the Homicide Unit of the Dallas Police Department at 214-671-3661 or its General Investigations line at 214-671-3503. Tips can also be sent to Catrina Marshall on Twitter at @catrinamarsh91.

Image Credit: Change.org

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