Thomas Small: Diane Small, Headless Body In River, 40-Year-Murder Case Solved

Traciy Reyes - Author

Mar. 7 2017, Updated 5:50 a.m. ET

It’s been almost 40 years since the headless body of Diane Small, a young wife and mother of a small child, was found dead in a river in Illinois. Authorities say someone who didn’t know the area dumped it there. Police found the body of the woman just days after she was murdered. However, no one knew who the woman was since she was missing a head, hands, and her feet. Her identity wasn’t known for more than a decade. Now, Fox News is reporting that her killer is finally being brought to justice, and the cold case has been solved. Police have arrested Thomas Small, also known as Thomas A. Small, a 70-year-old elderly man who has been living Scott-free since the body was round 37 years ago.

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Woman With No Head Found In River Under Airtight Bridge

The body of the headless woman made headlines in October 1980. According to an extensive report by Daily Journal, hunters found the body under the Airtight Bridge in Coles County. The remains were that of a female who had given birth. Death had occurred rather recently. The coroner ruled that death occurred by homicide and the body had been dismembered.

Police were baffled because they were unable to make an identification since the head and hands were missing, which meant that no dental records or fingerprints could be obtained.

Investigators canvassed the area, asking neighbors if they had seen or heard anything. The remains were located in a rural area. The case went ice cold.

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Miles away, 26-year-old Diane Marie Riordan Small had been living with her husband and child at her Bradley, Illinois, home located on North Michigan Avenue. But then, authorities say she vanished. Thomas Small reported his wife missing. It is unclear why the connection was not initially made between the missing persons case and the body found in the Embarras River.

At some point, Thomas Small became a suspect, most likely in 1992, when DNA was able to confirm the victim’s identity. The 1992 match came about after one of Diane Small’s sisters filed another missing persons report. However, with no evidence, an arrest couldn’t be made. And the case went cold–again.

Diane Small left behind a beautiful two-year-old little girl, named Vanessa, who was left for decades without knowing what really happened to her mother. Today, that little girl is all grown up. She goes by the name Vanessa Small Lagesse McClellan.

When the case was reopened in 2012, investigators interviewed Thomas Small, which led to him confessing to the killing. As of yet, a motive for the murder and the exact location where the murder was committed, has not been made known.

Diane Small Timeline, according to the Daily Journal

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  • Oct. 15, 1980–Diane Small vanishes
  • Oct. 19, 1980–The dismembered remains of a woman are found under the Airtight Bridge. A search ensues to find out the woman’s identity.
  • Jan. 2, 1981–The unidentified woman is buried as ‘Jane Doe.’
  • Jan. 24, 1992–A sister files another report
  • November, 1992–DNA confirms the victim’s identity
  • March 2017–Thomas Small is arrested for the murder and is placed in the Kankakee County Jail, the Daily Mail reports.

Some claim that the Airtight Bridge is haunted. It’s old and creepy appearance makes it particularly charming. The story of the dismembered torso has been passed down to different generations through the years. Listverse’s article, Top 10 Creepy Haunted Bridges, describes the following about the Airtight Bridge’s history.

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“While most haunted bridges base their tales on rumor and secondhand storytelling, Airtight Bridge in Ashmore, Illinois, has a very real and very bloody origin for its many ghost stories. Many people who visit the bridge today report an uneasy sense of stillness (hence “Airtight”) that lingers around the entire area. Others claim that the person responsible for Riordan-Small’s murder occasionally returns to the bridge in order to relive his terrible deed. Although teenagers have been known to use the bridge as a hard-to-find place for late-night parties, others avoid the bridge because so many believe it to be haunted.”

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Check back as we continue to follow this story. In 2015, Inquisitr brought you the Janet Walsh, Catherine Walsh cold case out of Pennsylvania. Her death went unsolved for 30 years. Read about it here.

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[Featured Image by Gorshkov Igor/Shutterstock]


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