A Valentine’s Day Twist: The Lovelace Death

Curtis (left) and Cory (right) Lovelace via Marty Didriksen, CBS News

Curtis (left) and Cory (right) Lovelace via Marty Didriksen, CBS News

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Cory Lovelace was found dead on February 14, 2006, Valentine’s Day. What killed her is the question.

Quincy, Illinois was a small town. Quincy was one of those communities so close-knit that everyone knew everyone who lived there.

Curtis Lovelace (#54) was the team captain of his football team and lead the University of Illinois to the Big Ten Championship his senior year via CBS

Some residents were more well known than others. Curtis Lovelace was the name all over the headlines of local newspapers. He was the hometown football star and scholar at Quincy High School.

In an interview with 48 Hours, local journalist Bob Gough said, “Curtis was a very hard working kid, smart kid. I mean Quincy, Illinois, doesn’t produce a ton of All-Big Ten players.”

Although Gough said that Curtis was getting “a look in free agent camp in the NFL with the Patriots,” he didn’t end up pursuing a career in football. Part of this decision was made for him when he sustained “a bad knee injury. But being a smart kid Curtis already had other goals in mind.”

While in high school, Curtis met a cheerleader named Cory Didriksen. The two liked each other, but they didn’t start dating until college. Curtis still played football in college, but he also attended law school, which enabled him to later become an assistant state’s attorney in Quincy, where he grew up.

It didn’t take long for Curtis and Cory’s long-distance relationship to become serious. According to an interview with 48 Hours, Cory’s mother remembers when Cory decided she loved Curtis. “It was Thanksgiving. We were sitting up on her bed. And we were just kinda talking about things and she said, ‘Oh, by the way, I’ve met the man I’m going to marry.” According to People, Cory’s mother told her, “If you love him, that’s all that matters.”

Cory was all about family. She had a great childhood growing up. She wanted the big family… The happy marriage.”

— Beth Dobrzynski

In 1991, just a year after they graduated from college, Curtis and Cory Lovelace were married. They had four children together, and the family settled into a house in their hometown of Quincy, Illinois.

Image result for cory lovelace

Curtis and Cory Lovelace with their four children, Lyndsay, Logan, Lincoln, and Larson via Marty Didriksen.

In a 48 Hours interview, Cory’s close friend and bridesmaid Beth Dobrzynski said, “they looked great together… they had a lot of similarities and they seemed to have fun together.”

However, over the years, their perfect marriage began to crack under pressure.

Over the years, Curtis began to spend more time at the office and less time with his family. He opened up his own law firm, he was elected president of the school board, he became captain in the Illinois National Guard, and he became an adjunct professor at Quincy University. Curtis’ busy work schedule meant that he was not home often, and this began to put a strain on his marriage.

Former neighbors of the Lovelace family also testified that Curtis could be heard yelling every day in the months leading up to Cory’s death. Many also knew that Curtis and Cory were heavy drinkers. KHQA reporter Jenny Dreasler said that Cory “suffered from bulimia. This is something her family has admitted. And the rumors started coming out. …Known alcoholism. The community knew that too… People knew that she had an alcohol problem, but I don’t think that they knew to the extent.” Even Curtis admitted that their marriage had its “good and bad times,” but he said that his former neighbors’ testimonies were exaggerations.

According to People, Cory’s mother noticed that there were some problems arising in Cory’s marriage, but she said Cory “did not talk about things that troubled her. I knew what was going on. But we didn’t talk much about it.”

Journalist Bob Gough said, “From what we learned now, and he eventually admitted, they had a volatile relationship.”

I just couldn’t believe it. No, that doesn’t happen. She’s my age. She’s healthy. This just doesn’t come from nowhere. Something’s wrong. There was no doubt something is terribly wrong.”

— Belko, a friend of Curtis and Cory

It was this volatile relationship that would lead to Cory’s death on Valentine’s Day in 2006.

According to The Chicago Tribune, Curtis’ story was that when he left to drop off his children to school the morning of February 14th, Cory “was absolutely alive.” However, when he looked at Cory, he did notice that something “wasn’t right.” Curtis recalled that she was very pale. Additionally, according to People, Curtis testified in the first public accounting of events that day that he “remember[s] her spending most of her time in bed that weekend” with flu-like symptoms.

The kids, according to Curtis, had also seen their mother alive that morning. Gough reports that all three of the oldest children were interviewed. “Those interviews were not recorded, video or audio. He just took notes and then turned in a report in which he spoke to the three oldest children individually, without their father being there. And they all told him they had seen their mother that morning.” However, all of the children were interviewed two days after Cory’s death instead of immediately after, so their memories cannot be completely trusted. In general, eyewitnesses are somewhat unreliable, and the more time that has passed since the incident, the less reliable their memory becomes.

According to 48 Hours interview, Curtis said that the whole family had breakfast together before Cory helped get the kids ready for school. By 8:15 AM, the kids were in Curtis’ car.

Gough said that “Curtis then took the three oldest children to school. They left the youngest, the 4-year-old, there.”

When 4-year-old Larson wondered upstairs to see his mother, however, she wouldn’t wake up. According to KHQA reporter Dreasler, Larson “said that he said her name and he thought he poked her. But she didn’t answer. So he… sat and waited for his dad to get home.”

According to Gough, when Curtis arrived back home at around 9 AM, Larson was saying “that he couldn’t wake his mom up.” Belko recalls that Curtis then “went upstairs to use the restroom and glanced back in the bedroom and saw something wasn’t right. Went in to see Cory, tried to shake her. And nothing.” According to People, Curtis testified, “I think I shook her. I think I yelled at her. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.'”

From this point on, Curtis’ behavior is questionable. To begin with, according to Gough, Curtis “took the youngest to Cory’s mother’s house. Gave the youngest child to Cory’s mother and said, ‘Cory’s dead’ and left. The first call was not to 911. The first call was not to the paramedics. The first call was his boss, the state’s attorney.”

“The whole scenario was bizarre,” Gough commented. “People do process grief differently, sure. If it was my wife, I think I’d have called 911 screaming and ranting and trying to perform CPR, which he didn’t do.”

Sketch of Cory to show the odd position of her arms, bent at the elbows and frozen in the air via Bill Beard

E.M.T. Cole Miller was one of the first on the scene. Miller said that by the time he arrived on the scene, Cory had “been dead long enough that there was no need to start CPR. It wouldn’t do any good.” She “was laying in the bed and her arms were drawn up by her chest. And I went in there to check for signs of life, checked her carotid pulse in her neck, and then checked her wrist and saw that it was cold and stiff.” This stiff position of her arms would become one of the most crucial pieces of evidence the prosecution would use to support the idea that Cory had actually been murdered the night before Valentine’s Day.

The prosecution alleged that Cory was intentionally suffocated and had actually died the night before Valentine’s Day. According to 48 Hours, Deputy Coroner James Keller explained that when he saw Cory’s body that it was already “in the state of full rigor,” or “fully stiff,” a process that usually takes about 12 hours after death. Keller used this evidence to come to the conclusion that Cory “had passed earlier that prior evening or day.”

Additionally, the unnatural position Cory’s arms were stiffened into suggested that she might have been forcefully smothered with a pillow. An unexplained cut on her lip also could have resulted from a struggle or pressure on her face.

Cory’s cause of death was declared undetermined, and she was cremated by her mother’s request before anymore investigations on Cory’s body could be held. The police officially closed the investigation.

It would be eight years before the case was opened up again and Curtis was arrested for the murder of Cory Lovelace.

According to 48 Hours, Detective Gibson reopened the case because it appeared to him that it could not have been “a natural death,” mainly due to the position of Cory’s arms. After contacting a couple of credible sources for opinions, Detective Gibson was told by Dr. Jane Turner, an assistant medical examiner in St. Louis, that “the presence of rigor mortis and the position of the hands is unusual … the hands weren’t resting on a surface. They were almost suspended in air, which tells me that there was … an object that had been there previously that had been removed.”

Dr. Turner continued that if Cory’s body had been in full rigor, she had to have been dead for “10 to 12 hours. And with her arms in that position, which — with the — the emergency responders coming in, they were still in that position, suggests to me that she was in full rigor.”

Dr. Turner believes that the evidence also supports the idea that Cory was smothered with a pillow. “Well, with the position of the hands, it suggests that there was an object between her hands and her body… And it appears that there is a pillow missing. So I suppose that a pillow was used to suffocate her.” As for the cut on her lip, Dr. Turner said, “there’s a bruise on the inside of the lip and — and with it a laceration. And that’s from blunt force trauma. So some forceful pressure was applied to the mouth.”

When Curtis was brought to court, his defense team maintained that Cory had died from natural causes related to an enlarged liver as a result of her drinking and bulimia.

Dr. George Nicholas supported the defense, claiming there was “no proof that this woman was murdered.” According to Dr. Nicholas, “rigor mortis does not occur at a specific, fixed time. There’s huge variability from person to person,” so it could not be assumed that Cory was dead earlier than Curtis reported. Dr. Nicholas believed the cut on Cory’s mouth was too small to be significant as well. Dr. Nicholas also argued that Dr. Turner’s observations could not be accurate, as she was working from photographs for evidence rather than an actual body.

“The one thing I do know is, the science of Cory Lovelace doesn’t match that story,” Detective Gibson pointed out. Although the physical evidence suggests that Cory was dead before that morning, Curtis and all of his children maintain that they saw Cory alive that morning. However, as mentioned earlier, the children’s memories are not necessarily accurate. Even the oldest child, Lyndsay, changed her mind at the most recent trial. She said, “I’ve had a long time to think about that and it’s almost frustrating not to remember, because you want to,” but in the end, she testified that she could not be sure as to what happened that day.

When Curtis’ attorney asked him, “Did you have anything to do with your wife’s death?”, Curtis simply answered, “No.”

In the end, the verdict agreed and found Curtis Lovelace not guilty.

Lovelace family post verdict

Curtis Lovelace, his current wife, and his three sons leaving court after Curtis was found not guilty via CBS

Is the answer to what happened really that simple, though?

Maybe the only person who really knows what happened is Cory Lovelace, who will never be able to tell us. Or maybe her husband really does know what happened after all.

Cory Lovelace’s gravestone via The Daily Mail

What do you think happened to Cory Lovelace?

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