Mary Lou Arruda was born on September 8, 1963 to Joanne and Adrian Arruda, and she was the oldest of the Arruda children, with 2 brothers Joseph and Tony; and a sister, Karen. They lived in Raynham, MA – a small, suburban town on the outskirts of the City of Taunton, about 32 miles south of Boston.
On her Birthday – September 8, 1978, late in the afternoon, fifteen year old Mary Lou Arruda was abducted while riding her bike in her neighborhood, near Church Street. Her bike was found a short time later by a neighborhood boy and returned it to her mother, who called the police.
The call touched off a search with police, dogs and volunteers that lasted for days but there was no sign of the 15 year old cheerleader. It seemed as if she simply disappeared. There were witnesses that placed an unfamiliar green vehicle in the area, and the police worked with the witnesses and even developed a sketch.
A full two months later, November 11, 1978, Arruda’s body was found in Freetown State Forest by a dirt bike rider. She was fully dressed and tied to the tree in a standing position. Experts believe that she was alive when she was tied to the tree, head to foot, and cause of death was ruled by the medical examiner as strangulation by ligature or positional asphyxia. There were several reports as I was researching indicating decapitation in this case – I did not see that in the official records that I went through – but due to the body being out in nature for 2 months, it’s safe to say that she was likely in advanced decomposition.
James Kater, 31, who worked at doughnut store in Brockton, quickly became the main suspect in this case. He was apparently married the day after Mary Lou was kidnapped to his 18 year old fiance and left the country for his honeymoon.
Kater’s alibi was that he was running errands all over town when Mary Lou went missing, which the police were able to summarily dismiss his alibi throughout their investigations by proving he wasn’t where he stated, or he wasn’t there at the stated time. Kater was also seen by witnesses driving his green car in the neighborhood where Mary Lou went missing from and also in the vicinity where Mary Lou Arruda’s body was found shortly after the kidnapping. He was arrested in December of 1978.
In February of 1969, Kater pled guilty to a amazingly similar crime, the 1968 abduction of Jacalyn Bussiere. The afternoon of June 22, 1968, the thirteen year old was walking her bike in her neighborhood when she was kidnapped. She was forced into a car and driven 20 minutes away into some woods. Kater hit her on the back of the head with an iron bar while making her to kneel at a stream, forcing her face into the shallow water. Jacalyn resisted and knocked his glasses off. It’s unclear if he was attempting to torture her or drown her. She tried to escape, but Kater forced her back into the car and drove further into the woods. He tied her to a tree at the ankles, knees and torso and then waited. After about twenty minutes where Kater reportedly did nothing but pace, he pulled a last tie tight around her neck and then strangled her with his hands. When she awoke, Jacalyn managed to untie herself. Kater was convicted and spent most of the years in between this attack and Mary Lou’s abduction in prison, having been released in January of 1976.
Kater fought hard to fight the Arruda murder conviction, having four separate trials, and many, many appeals on this crime. He was serving his life sentence at MCI Shirley when on January 9th he was transferred to Shattuck Hospital for treatment . Fortunately, He died of cancer on January 23rd, 2016, 38 years after the murder. Finally, giving the family a small peace.
Mary Lou was laid to rest in St Joseph’s Cemetery in Taunton, MA .
Movie about the case ” Predator at Large” https://www.imdb.com/title/tt12343384/