HELENA — On Friday, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said deputies have solved the 1968 homicide of Pamela Ann Dorrington.
"I was excited that we finally were able as a team to solve this and bring peace to the community," he said. "This is a big deal."
Deputies say Courtney Brooke Atlas, 79, confessed to the murder recently after being provided immunity from prosecution for the crime. Atlas is currently serving a life sentence for the murder of his wife in 1983 and an additional 20 years for burning their home down with his wife's body inside.
The family of Dorrington were consulted before the offer was made. Pamela's brother Jeff Dorrington said they were just thankful to have the truth out there.
"It's very emotional of course, but it has been a relief and there is a certain amount of closure," Jeff told MTN. "I've been thinking about Pam every day for 53 years and so it's hard to abruptly stop. But I woke up this morning sand went 'It's a new day, things are different.'"
It’s been more than 50 years since there was an update regarding the death of Pamela Ann Dorrington. Atlas had been a suspect since the beginning, but there was no evidence directly tying him to the crime.
Pamela Dorrington went missing on Feb. 17, 1968. The 19-year-old Helena High graduate was working as a surgical tech at St. Peter’s Hospital at the time. Jeff says she was quiet but popular with plenty of friends. She loved animals, including her dog and horse, and was interested in languages with the hope of studying to become an interpreter.
"She was a very pretty gal— you know as her brother I'd never would have said that in those days but now I look back and my memory of her is just a nice person," recalled Jeff.
The last time Pamela Dorrington was seen by others before her death was the evening of Feb. 16 at The Hofbrau, near where the Sunset Casino currently is on Euclid. Ave.
This week, sheriff's office Detectives Jess Metcalf and James Ward interviewed Atlas at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby. He confessed to deputies that on the morning of Feb. 17, 1968, he called Pamela and said there was a water leak in her apartment that needed to be fixed. He entered her apartment, strangled her to death and then sexually assaulted her.
For months law enforcement, family and friends looked for her, with flyers of her put up across the northwest of the country.
Atlas had stored the body in a barrel at a hanger where he taught flying lessons. After a period of time, he moved the body to the Lakeside area where he chopped up the body. He would then dispose of the remains by tossing them off the York bridge. Later, a knife had been found in the area believed to have been connected to the dismemberment.
On June 13, 1968, the custodian of the Gates of the Mountains marina discovered what appeared to be part of a human torso floating near the docks. At the time, then-Sheriff Dave Middlemas told the Independent Record the recovered portion of her body was from about the waist to the knees. The time of decomposition, gender, approximate age and suspected height fit the description of Dorrington.
The pathologist that inspected the recovered remains noted it has been extensively mutilated, with sexual overtones in the manner of mutilation.
Deputies say Atlas provided them detailed information about the murder and dismemberment of Dorrington that only the killer could have known, such as the sash and knife that were used.
Law enforcement and family members say it was important to finally find answers for Pamela Dorrington.
“It was traumatic and terrifying for the whole community, so it’s just nice being able to be part of some of that closure," said Ward.
"It's great, I must say, that the confession was given and now we know what happened and how it happened," noted Jeff Dorrington. "It is closure."
A gravestone for Pamela Dorrington rests in Resurrection Cemetery off North Montana Ave. in Helena.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to add additional quotes.