A False Police Report Leads to the Conviction, and Imprisonment of an Innocent Man

Cathleen Crowell accused a man of rape in 1977. She took twenty-five years away from an innocent man. He was the first person to be exonerated by DNA in the US.

Megan Ashley
4 min readAug 5, 2020


Gary Dotson (Image courtesy of The Innocence Project)

On July 9th, 1977, a police patrol officer saw a young girl standing on a curb near a shopping centre in Homewood, Chicago. Cathleen Crowell worked at the mall at a fast-food restaurant. She was dishevelled and told the officer that she had been walking through the parking lot, and a car with three young men in it stopped.

Two men jumped out and grabbed her, and threw her into the back seat. She described being assaulted in the vehicle and a man carving letters into her stomach with a broken beer bottle.

The officer took her to the hospital, her lacerations were treated, and a rape kit was performed, with DNA collected.

She later stated that that police pressured her to identify one of her attackers from a mugshot book. She selected a man who somewhat matched the composite sketch police had created, based on her description. His name was Gary Dotson.

Although she said the man who attacked her was clean-shaven, Dotson was arrested anyway, even though he had a mature moustache. There was no other evidence to connect him with this crime, and he had always maintained his innocence.

Gary Dotson was a high school dropout, living with his mother and sisters in Country Club Hills in Chicago. He was arrested based on Crowell’s identification, and charged with aggravated assault and kidnapping, and sentenced to 25–50 years in prison.

In 1982, Crowell married and became deeply religious and had relocated to New Hampshire. In 1985 she confessed to a pastor that when she was sixteen, she had relations with her then-boyfriend, and she was concerned she would get pregnant.

She was living with foster parents, and she needed contraceptives but thought they would kick her out if she told the truth. Using a scene from a romance novel, “Sweet Savage Love,” she came up with a plan to explain any unwanted pregnancy.



Megan Ashley

She/Her, content creator, writer, true crime, and history enthusiast https://linktr.ee/truecrimemysteries