Montana inmate confesses to 1968 slaying, dismemberment

Dec 3, 2021, 5:10 PM | Updated: 5:17 pm

HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana prison inmate serving a 100-year sentence for killing his wife in 1983 has confessed to strangling, sexually assaulting and dismembering a 19-year-old Helena woman 15 years earlier, authorities said Friday.

Courtney Brooke Atlas, 79, confessed to killing Pamela Ann Dorrington, who disappeared in 1968. Part of her torso was found near the boat dock at Gates of the Mountains Marina on Holter Lake four months later.

Atlas, who was 26 at the time, was Dorrington’s landlord. He had always been a suspect, officials said, but there was no forensic evidence tying him to the crime.

Atlas confessed on Wednesday, in detail, after being given immunity from prosecution for the crimes, Lewis and Clark County Sheriff Leo Dutton said. Dorrington’s family was consulted before the immunity offer was made.

Atlas said he called Dorrington on the morning of Feb. 17, 1968, and said there was a water leak in her apartment. He went into her apartment, strangled her to death and sexually assaulted her, Detective Jess Metcalf said.

Atlas reported he put her body in a barrel, put it in his car and drove to a hangar where he taught flying lessons. After teaching his lessons, he said he drove the barrel out to the Lakeside area on Hauser Lake, where he used a knife and hatchet to dismember her body before putting her remains back in the barrel.

He left the barrel in the area while he went to meeting and then returned later that night, disposing of her body by throwing the barrel off the York Bridge into the Missouri River northeast of Helena.

Atlas said he believed the barrel broke open when it hit a bridge support, Metcalf said.

“This was cold, this was calculated, and we’re not giving all the details of this gruesome homicide,” Dutton said. “It is difficult hearing what was done. He fantasized about her and acted upon it.”

Atlas told investigators he “found God,” in prison, Dutton said, and “he wanted to clear that off his conscience.”

Atlas is in prison after being convicted of deliberate homicide and arson in the death of his wife, Donna, in a July 1983 house fire north of Helena.

He had filed for bankruptcy in early 1983 and was the beneficiary of homeowners’ insurance and his wife’s life insurance, which totaled $250,000, according to Montana Supreme Court records.

During his trial, experts testified that Donna Atlas was dead before the fire started, likely due to strangulation, and that an accelerant may have been poured on her body, court records said.

Atlas had denied killing his wife, even appealing his conviction, but admitted to it during his confession at the Crossroads Correctional Center in Shelby, Detective James Ward said.

“He never went into detail about it, but he took responsibility for that,” Ward said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


The U.S. Supreme Court is seen, Thursday, Feb. 8, 2024, in Washington. The U.S. Supreme Court has h...

Associated Press

Supreme Court decision on Trump’s election status could come Monday morning

A SCOTUS decision could come Monday in the case about whether Trump can be kicked off the ballot over his efforts to undo his 2020 defeat.

4 hours ago

Republican presidential candidate former UN Ambassador Nikki Haley poses for a selfie after speakin...

Associated Press

Nikki Haley wins D.C. Republican primary, her first 2024 victory

Nikki Haley has won the Republican primary in the District of Columbia, notching her first victory of the 2024 campaign.

4 hours ago

An Apache group that has fought to protect land it considers sacred from a copper mining project in...

Associated Press

A US appeals court ruling could allow mine development in central Arizona on land sacred to Apaches

An Apache group that has fought to protect land from a copper mining project in central Arizona suffered a significant blow.

9 hours ago

On Friday, March 1, 2024, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said yogurt sold in the U.S. can ma...

Associated Press

Eating yogurt may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes, FDA says

Eating at least two cups of yogurt a week might reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said.

11 hours ago

Arizona will not approve new housing construction on the fast-growing edges of metro Phoenix that r...

Associated Press

Arizona Senate passes plan to manage rural groundwater, but final success is uncertain

A plan to manage rural groundwater passed the Arizona Senate amid concerns about the availability of sufficient water for future generations.

2 days ago

A woman pauses while shopping at a Kohl's store in Clifton, N.J., Jan. 26, 2024. On Thursday, Feb. ...

Associated Press

Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge picked up last month in sign of still-elevated prices

An inflation gauge favored by the Federal Reserve increased in January, the latest sign that the slowdown in U.S. consumer price increases is occurring unevenly from month to month.

3 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 


Sanderson Ford

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.

Montana inmate confesses to 1968 slaying, dismemberment