Murder of 15-year-old Mary Lou Arruda by James Kater spotlighted

Family photo of Mary-Lou Arruda
Mary-Lou Arruda was only 15 when her life was violently cut short by James Kater. Pic credit: Family photo

This week Predator at Large examines the case of Mary Lou Arruda from Raynham, Massachusetts, who was brutally murdered by James Kater.

Mary Lou was only 15-years-old when she disappeared after she was last seen riding her bicycle on a dirt road not far from her home on September 8, 1978.

Her body was found over a month later tied to a tree in the Freetown State Forest in November. She had been decapitated.

The Freetown State Forest was well-known for the supernatural and spooky stories that surrounded the wooded area, and rumors of satanic rituals increased after the discovery of Mary Lou’s remains.

However, tales of the supernatural were quickly dismissed by law enforcement, who began to focus on several eyewitnesses who all testified to seeing a green compact automobile, which was driven by a man with dark curly hair and dark-rimmed glasses near where she disappeared.

The police created a composite sketch of this individual, which appeared to match 21-year-old James Kater. He also drove a 1976 green Opel, which also matched the witnesses’ descriptions.

The evidence mounted against James Kater

Other evidence included a tire mark that matched Kater’s vehicle and a Benson and Hedges cigarette butt that was found at the crime scene, which was the same brand that Kater smoked.

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Kater was also known to have washed his car in the morning before Mary Lou disappeared, and it was discovered that he’d then rewashed it shortly after her murder.

A day after he decapitated Mary Lou, Kater had married his 18-year-old fiance and gone on a week’s honeymoon. He was arrested shortly after his return.

Kater was initially convicted of murder in 1979 but had the conviction thrown out because the prosecution had relied too heavily on witness hypnosis. A retrial in 1985 saw him convicted again; however, that verdict was also thrown out.

A 1992 retrial then ended in a mistrial. Finally, a 1996 trial again resulted in a conviction, and this one stuck. Kater maintained his innocence and continued to file appeals but died in prison in January 2016, 38-years after he took the life of Mary Lou Arruda.

Kater had already committed a similar crime. A decade before murdering Mary Lou, he had kidnapped a 13-year-old girl from her bicycle and tied her to a tree. At the time, he pleaded guilty to the crime and served a prison sentence. Shortly after being released, he abducted Mary Lou.

More from Predator at Large

Also profiled on Predator at Large was the case of Gary Troutman, who raped and murdered two women in Florida in the 1980s, one of whom he had gone to high school with and knew very well. He had attacked while she held her infant son.

Jose Ferriera was 16-years-old when he murdered 13-year-old Carrie Jopek and hid her remains under a porch just because she rejected his sexual advances. The guilt ate away at him for 30-years before he cracked and finally took responsibility for his actions by confessing to the police.

Predator at Large airs Thursday at 10/9c on Investigation Discovery.

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Jill Lamb
Jill Lamb
3 years ago

James Kater was 31 when he kill Mary Lou arruda, not 21. He was 21 when he abducted the first girl.

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