What we know about the alleged Iowa serial killer Donald Studey, investigation in Thurman

The Iowa Department of Criminal Investigation said Thursday that after an extensive search in conjunction with sheriff's deputies in Fremont County in southwest Iowa and the FBI that it had turned up no evidence to back a claim by woman there that her late father had killed scores of people and buried them around his property in a remote area near the town of Thurman.

Daughter's allegations set off search

Lucey Studey McKiddy claimed her late father, Donald "Don" Dean Studey, was a serial killer and had buried bodies of victims in and around a well on her land. Her allegations gained the attention of Fremont County authorities, who banded with the DCI and FBI to investigate. Investigators descended on the site to excavate, but the DCI said in a news release that they had found nothing.

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Daughter describes how her father allegedly preyed on women

In McKiddy’s first interview with the Des Moines Register since her story became international news via a Newsweek article in late October, she said her father victimized women “who wouldn’t be missed” and found them on the Iowa-Nebraska border, away from his hometown of Thurman. Most were women in their late 20s to early 30s, not skinny, not overweight, McKiddy told Register investigative reporter Lee Rood. They would have had black, dark brown or dirty blond hair, mostly shoulder length, and were plain dressers; not a lot of makeup or jewelry, she said. “He was a gas station attendant, mechanic and tow-truck driver at many gas stations and truck stops,” she told Rood. “He picked up down-and-out women with no place to stay the night or to live. He picked up truck-stop prostitutes. He picked up lonely, drunk women at bars.”

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Relatives of missing persons reach out for information

McKiddy said numerous families with missing relatives had reached out to her to see if there’s any connection between their loved ones’ disappearances and her father. Studey didn’t have a criminal record in Iowa. But McKiddy, 53, of Lakeland, Florida, told Rood her father was a crook and a gambler. “He stole from every job he ever had,” she said. “He ran drugs, guns and in stolen property. He got jobs only when he needed to.”

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Who was Donald Studey?

Studey was a troubled man who lived in remote, wooded Green Hollow north of Thurman, a hamlet of about 170 people where his family's history goes back more than 100 years. He died in March 2013 at age 75. Some 20 incident reports that the Des Moines Register obtained from the Fremont County Sheriff's Office, dating to the late 1990s, show a history of violent and erratic behavior by Studey. They include threats to kill the son of the second of the two wives he lived with there over the years and, according to Sheriff Kevin Aistrope, an incident in which a suicidal Studey, in the presence of deputies, shot himself in the arm. Chief Deputy Timothy Bothwell told the Register that any time deputies were dispatched to Green Hollow, "It was a two-car call."

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What Lucy Studey McKiddy told authorities

A photo of Anna Studey with her husband, Donald Studey, on her gravestone near Thurman, Iowa, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. According to his daughter, Donald Studey murdered "five or six" women a year and buried them in and around an abandoned well on his property.
A photo of Anna Studey with her husband, Donald Studey, on her gravestone near Thurman, Iowa, Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2022. According to his daughter, Donald Studey murdered "five or six" women a year and buried them in and around an abandoned well on his property.

At least twice before, McKiddy had told authorities her father had killed people and buried their bodies at an old, 90-foot-deep well on land that had been the site of a county-run home for the poor. The first time, according to Bothwell, was in 2007, when her father accused her of stealing money from him. Bothwell said he tried to check out her allegation, but couldn't find the well. Also, he said, “We thought she was just trying to get dad in trouble or have us look at him because she stole his money." The second time was in 2021. Among recollections she shared with deputies: Seeing her father in 1976 or 1977 with two other men taking a body out of a car trunk and hauling it to the well in a wheelbarrow. She also said that around 1979, she had seen a dead body near an old cellar on her father's property, and that her father had taken it to the well, where she saw another body.

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How many victims did Donald Studey allegedly kill?

According to a sheriff's 2021 investigative report, McKiddy told deputies she knew of five bodies in the well and had heard stories that there were up to 15. But Newsweek reported in an online story Oct. 22 that in a subsequent interview with reporters from the magazine, she said there were 50 to 70. If true, Studey would be among the most prolific serial killers in U.S. history. Newsweek has since reported that a sister of McKiddy, Susan Studey, has accused her of lying. The Register has been unable to reach another sister who lives in Wisconsin.

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What we know about the victims

Newsweek reported that most of the victims "were sex workers or transients picked up in nearby Omaha, Nebraska," but didn't directly attribute the information to McKiddy. Aistrope, the sheriff, told the Register he doubts that if there were as many victims as McKiddy claims, they would all have been from Omaha. That many disappearances would not go unnoticed, he said.

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What's drew so much interest?

McKiddy went to the site of the alleged burials with Newsweek reportersto investigate allegations by, and Aistrop and deputies also were there. Newsweek reported cadaver dogs had been brought to the scene and alerted on at least four locations, one of them multiple times, indicating the possible presence of human remains.

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Where is Thurman, Iowa, on a map?

Thurman is in Fremont County in Iowa's most southwestern corner, bordered on the south by Missouri and the west by Nebraska, across the Missouri River. The county is in Iowa's Loess Hills and is among the state's most impoverished counties. Thurman also was in the news after sustaining heavy damage in a 2012 tornado.

Correction: An earlier version of this article gave an incorrect city for the county seat of Fremont County, which is Sidney.

This article originally appeared on Des Moines Register: Updates on possible Iowa serial killer investigation, Donald Studey