True Crime

Murdered by her first love

When Mary's daughter ended a relationship, it was the beginning of a nightmare.

Mary Dunne, 57, Wayland, USA

‘This time I’ve finished with him,’ my teenage daughter sobbed. My heart broke for Lauren. Her boyfriend, Nate, had let her down on her 18th birthday. Now, she’d had enough.

Nate was Lauren’s first love. They’d met at high school and for 18 months everything had seemed blissful. But after that, the relationship became rocky. Lauren confided in me that there was a lot of drama and they were constantly fighting. Nate wasn’t giving my girl the freedom she needed. I wanted her to spend time with her friends and travel, but he preferred her to hang around at his house with him instead.

‘You deserve better,’ I said to Lauren. My daughter was beautiful, intelligent, loving…

But because of her caring nature, she just didn’t seem to be able to walk away from their relationship.

Lauren had her whole future ahead of her.

That was until her 18th birthday, when Nate let her down once again. ‘He wrecked it by showing up with a bunch of guys,’ she told me. ‘And he was high as well.’ I felt a stab of disappointment for my girl. She and Nate were meant to have a romantic lunch together that day. Angry and exhausted, Lauren finally decided enough was enough. So, she ended the relationship.

It was very upsetting, but after a little while she seemed relieved by her decision. She started getting excited about her plans to go to university and make some new friends. I was pleased to see that her spark was back. Lauren had her whole future ahead of her.

But Nate was unhappy. Lauren told me that despite winning a scholarship to play football at college, he seemed very emotionless and withdrawn. ‘Do you think I should go and talk to him to see if I can help?’ Lauren asked me. I knew she hated seeing him that way. But by the time their high school graduation party came along, things had changed.

‘Mum, Nate won’t leave me alone,’ Lauren told me. ‘He’s harassing me. He doesn’t want me to dance with anybody.’ As Nate’s behaviour worsened, his mum, Beth, was concerned too. One day, in desperation, she asked Lauren if she might consider reaching out to her son.

And Lauren, caring as always, agreed. Except she didn’t tell any of us. Maybe if she had, things would have turned out differently…

I knew instantly something was very wrong.

On July 3, 2011, Lauren headed off to her job at a clothing store. She was due to stay with her dad Malcolm that night. But later, he called me to say she hadn’t arrived. I thought she was probably just shopping. I knew she had plans with friends that night, so I wasn’t really worried. But by 8pm her friends still hadn’t heard from her. One mate said she’d seen Lauren’s car parked at the beach.

When Malcolm called to tell me that, I knew instantly something was very wrong. I knew my daughter. She never went there. So Malcolm called the police while I rushed to the beach, my heart pounding in my chest. I stayed there all night searching, but I couldn’t find a trace of my girl.

Hours passed, and the police spoke to Nate. He revealed that Lauren had called by earlier in the day. He said she had stayed for five minutes and never got out of her car. Where was she?

Evidence was found at a local marsh. (Credit: Boston Globe)

Finally, 12 long hours after my daughter disappeared, I was at home when the police arrived. What they told me will haunt me forever. A cyclist had reported seeing two human knees and a fist sticking out of a local marsh.

They belonged to a young woman whose throat had been cut. Please no, I prayed. It wasn’t my Lauren. It couldn’t be. But it was, and now Nate – her first love – was the prime suspect.

‘No,’ I remember howling. ‘Don’t let it be him.’ But a day later, the 19-year-old was arrested and charged with murder. Investigators began piecing together the last moments of Lauren’s life.

CCTV footage showed her leaving the shopping centre after work at 6.45pm, chatting away on her mobile phone. Records showed she was talking to Nate, and it turned out that they had been texting earlier. I truly think there’s part of you that still loves me, Nate had written in one message. You just have to let me find it.

The pair of them had agreed to meet and Lauren drove over to Nate’s house at about 7.45pm on July 3. When she got there, she texted him one word. Here. That was the last message she ever sent.

Nineteen months later, in February 2013, instead of going to uni, Nathaniel Fujita, then 20, went on trial for Lauren’s murder. Sitting there at Middlesex County Superior Court it felt like I was living out a terrible nightmare.

The court heard that after Lauren had sent that final text message, Nate savagely strangled her with a bungee cord in his garage before slitting her throat. He then drove Lauren’s Jeep to a nearby carpark, and dumped her keys down a storm drain before running home. Back at the garage, he put my girl’s lifeless body into his car then drove eight kilometres to a secluded marsh, where he dumped her.

Mary and Malcolm, Lauren’s parents. (Credit: Boston Globe)

In less than an hour he was back home and cleaning up. But investigators found blood stains in the garage, and a gym bag in the basement containing a pair of wet and muddy shoes. I sobbed as I heard all the terrible details of my beautiful daughter’s murder. What was Nate thinking as he did it? I couldn’t help wondering.

Was Lauren calling out my name? I’d never know. Nate denied premeditated murder. His defence team argued that he killed Lauren in a ‘brief psychotic episode’. But the jury took just 24 hours to find him guilty.

‘Lauren was my only child. I treasure and miss her voice desperately,’ I said, reading my statement to the court. Nate was sentenced to life in jail without parole.

Nate was sentenced to life in prison without parole. (Credit: Boston Globe)

After the verdict, Malcolm walked over to the area where Nate’s family sat and embraced them. We were all grieving and I have compassion for them. But Lauren isn’t coming back, and it seems fair that her killer shouldn’t be free to live his life either.

I want my girl’s story to help others though, and that’s why I have helped set up the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund to promote healthy teen relationships. I still miss my precious daughter every minute of every day.

Life was much more fun when she was in it.

This story first appeared in published in that’s life! Issue 29, 2014

To support the Lauren Dunne Astley Memorial Fund, please visit laurendunneastleymemorialfund.org

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