Police suspect a woman, found burned to death in her crashed car, was murdered.

Aileen Conway

The car was found engulfed in flames

CASE DETAILS

The tub was full and the phone off the hook

On the morning of April 29th, 1986, a farmer working his fields near Lawton, Oklahoma,
noticed smoke rising from a nearby road. He called the authorities and twenty minutes later, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol arrived at the scene. They discovered a burning car embedded in a deserted bridge, the heat from which was so intense that the car had actually melted into the metal guardrail. Inside the car, officers noticed something disturbing. Lt. Larry Sallee of the Oklahoma Highway Patrol:

“When Highway Patrol arrived, a body was inside the car, but it was a futile exercise to try to get to the occupant, due to the fact that the car had already burned so badly.”

The body was burned beyond recognition. Skid marks indicated that the car’s speed at impact was 50 to 60 miles per hour. To the highway patrol, it seemed like just another senseless accident.

The car belonged to Pat Conway

A computer check revealed the car belonged to Pat Conway, who lived with his family in Lawton, 15 miles from the crash site. The next day, the victim was identified as Aileen Conway, Pat’s wife of 33 years. Authorities reported Aileen’s death as an accident. But soon, Pat noticed a number of conflicting facts that led him to doubt the official story. Pat Conway would eventually conclude that his wife had been murdered:

“There’s no doubt in my mind it was murder, and if I live to be a hundred years old, I’ll still be pushing to try to find the individual or possibly two individuals, whoever was involved.” 

Pat first became suspicious when he returned home a few hours after his wife’s death to find the patio door wide open. Aileen’s purse, which she always carried with her, had been left behind. Her driver’s license and glasses were inside. An ironing board was set up and the iron left on. Water from a garden hose was running into the backyard swimming pool. In the master bathroom, the tub was still full of water and the phone was off the hook. All of these clues seemed more than suspicious to Pat:

“The thing that really got my attention was the phone being off the hook, as though she’d attempted to make a phone call, possibly to the police department. We have no way of knowing to whom. Between me and the kids, one would see one thing, and one another, and we start putting it together and right away we found out, well, this was no accident at all.” 

A church bulletin was found in the grass

There was another disturbing detail that nagged at Pat: what would Aileen have been doing out on that lonely country road? Neither of them had ever been in the area. Nothing about his wife’s death made sense. Pat contacted Investigator Ray Anderson of the District Attorney’s office:

“The first impression that I had, of this case, when I met with Mr. Conway, was that of a spouse that was left alone, not expecting the tragedy that happened and looking for some reason why this happened, other than it just being an accident. However, when you start looking at the extenuating and surrounding circumstances, the way that she left her house, it leads you to believe that there is a possibility that there could have been foul play.” 

A few days later, Pat and Ray Anderson went to the crash site, looking for clues. Ray found a church bulletin in the grass, a considerable distance from the bridge. Pat recognized it as having formerly been on the dash of Aileen’s car. But Aileen always drove with the windows rolled up and the air conditioning turned on. The bulletin could not have flown out of a moving car. So the car would have to have been stopped. Ray Anderson began to come up with theories of his own:

“Someone else may have been with her, opened the door, set the accelerator, and slammed it into drive, hoping to run Mrs. Conway off into the creek, and to make it appear it was an accident.” 

Burn tests were performed on the car fabric

As a result of Anderson’s investigation, the Lawton DA changed the official cause of death from ‘accidental’ to ‘unexplained’. The D.A. then asked the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the state fire marshall to evaluate the possibility of arson. Sonny Sansome of the Oklahoma State Fire Marshall’s Office:

“What made me suspicious, at first, was looking at the photographs and seeing how much burn was in the vehicle. This thing was completely burnt and destroyed. The burn looked like gasoline or something along those lines was used in it. And another thing that brought my curiosity up was the fact that the gas cap was missing. Most arson cases, and this is documented, have a vehicle where the gas cap is removed, and that was the case here.” 

Informal burn tests on dashboard and upholstery samples from a car similar to Aileen’s suggest the inside of her car may have been doused with gasoline. Sonny Sansome was among those who conducted the test:

“We took the material and we applied a blow torch to it, set the material on fire, then removed the blow torch and the fire went out, which is consistent with a flame retardant-type of material. Next, we took some gasoline and soaked the material, and then, of course, the thing was completely destroyed. Without some type of an accelerant like gasoline, the fire would not burn that badly.” 

If Aileen Conway was murdered on the bridge, that raises two questions: Who killed her, and why? Paul Renfrow of the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation:

“We don’t really have an answer. There are a lot of theories floating around. Perhaps she interrupted a burglary. We backtracked a little bit into the neighborhood and apparently there had been reports of burglaries in the weeks and months preceding this situation. So, the possibility of an interrupted burglary is there.”

Aileen’s husband Pat refuses to give up:

“Even though you’re discouraged, you keep pushing it every day. It’s on your mind all the time. But, somehow, it needs to be solved. I’ll never quit, as far as trying to solve the case.” 


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season one with Robert Stack and season seven with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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35 Comments

  1. Renee

    I worked as a sub contractor for the Conway’s when this happened! You will never convince me Pat had anything to do with this.
    The Conway’s had many contractors working with them, and many of them did work in their home. I believe it’s possible one off those contractors or their helpers came to rob their house not expecting Mrs. Conway to be there. She probably recognized who ever it was and they had to get “rid” of her. They had to take her out to the country to make it look like an accident. As far as someone following her, the police dept. or the flooring company was just a few minutes away, why would she drive way out in the middle of nowhere? They lived in the center of town? Possibly a disgruntled contractor? RIP Mr and Mrs Conway

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  2. thinkingoutloud

    I feel like whoever killed her must have known her. It seems like she peacefully got into that car. Even if she walked in on a burglary or anything, there would have been some sort of a struggle or more evidence of a burglary happening. I wouldn’t be surprised if the husband or a family member or a close friend staged everything. To have the phone off the hook, bath drawn, iron on, and water in pool, etc. doesn’t necessarily mean she was doing all these things before she left the house. Maybe someone made it look like she was doing these things before she left. Her husband was the only one who came home and claimed he found all these things. Yes i understand if the husband had anything to do with it, why would he ‘willingly’ give up evidence. But when you reread the case…there isn’t much evidence to go off of, except the fact that the car was doused in gasoline. No other significant pieces of evidence have surfaced.

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  3. Angie

    So many questions…where was everyone else on this Saturday…why top off a pool in April…was anything stolen/missing from home…why drive 15 miles for help…was the bridge on a road that dead ended into another street and she couldn’t see it soon enough to adequately break…how long did it burn…couldnt have burned long if bubbles still in the tub and pool not topped off…was DNA ever done…were the skid marks already there/or maybe from car chasing her?

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    • Anonymous

      April 29, 1986 was a Tuesday so the kids were at school which is about a block away from the Conway home (Pat worked at Lawton High for some time while he owned their flooring company). Pat was at work according to the family.

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    • Unanamous

      We lived in Tennessee and we opened our swimming up in March. Therefore, April doesn’t surprise me.

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  4. Micah Tookes

    Sorry for your loss. What is the name amd location of the bridge where she was found?? If I may ask??

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  5. Anonymous

    I would ask, where were her keys to the car before she left? I think went out and turned on the hose to the pool to fill it. Went back inside and drew a bath. Set up her ironing board and iron. Then someone came to her front door. Since there were no signs of forced entry or any signs that anyone attempted to enter the residence, I believe that she must have known the person that was there. They could have been calling to her, “Aileen, open this door and come out here!” At that time she could have gone into the bathroom and took the phone off the hook then said, “I’m calling the police!” In an attempt to scare whoever it was away. When they wouldn’t go away, she grabbed her keys and went out the patio door and got into her vehicle. They must have saw her and chased her. They chased her 15 miles away from her home and she attempted to lose them by going down a road she had never been down. This would explain why she lost control of her car and was going 50-60 miles per hour. At such a high rate of speed and not knowing what was ahead, she would not have foreseen the bridge ahead and when she saw it, she probably hit her break attempting to make the curve in the road and go over the bridge, but because dirt can be unpredictable and slippery, she lost control of her car and slammed into the bridge. Now, whoever was following her took advantage of the fact that she was either injured or unconscious and took the gas cap off and siphoned the gas out of her tank, dousing her before lighting it with either a match, or more likely a lighter, if they used a lighter they may have wanted to use the church bulletin to ignite the flames, but maybe found something else tossing it aside, only to have it be carried by the wind to another location near the crash sight. Now the police who arrive on the scene determine almost immediately that this is an accident, and not thinking it’s a homicide commence to taint the crime scene. They aren’t looking for footprints, only tire marks and maybe by then the footprints of the officers are now merged with the footprints of others and being a dirt road, footprints can be easily erased, so can tire marks. Now the whole idea of murder/kidnapping is ridiculous. Most robbers knock on your door or ring your doorbell to see if you are home first. They usually don’t bring weapons with them, because all they are interested in is getting the loot and getting out. People at home are ignored houses. They usually stake out their targeted house and know the schedule of the people who live there and know if they are home or not and when they will be back, so they don’t get caught. Also, to see if they have dogs or security systems. They want the easiest possible in and out as fast as they can scenario. That is probably why her house was not a target of burglars that were in the area, because possibly they had already staked out that home and decided that it wouldn’t be easy with someone at home most of the time and couldn’t risk it if she went on an errand, not knowing when she’d be back. Suicide isn’t plausible here either, there is no indication that she was depressed. The patio door is the biggest clue. The second is no signs of forced entry or signs that anyone tried to force entry. The fact that she left her purse with her drivers license and her glasses is another clue. Shows she left in a hurry. IF you were going to an emergency, would you leave out your back door? No you’d go out the front door. Would you leave your home unlocked? No you’d lock it up tight, especially if you knew that there were burglars in the area.

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  6. Anonymous

    My condolences, Joseph, on the loss of your Papaw as well.

    I’m curious about the results of the investigation into the “reports of burglaries in the weeks and months preceding this situation.” (Paul Renfrow, OBI)
    Were any perpetrators of the burglaries identified as possible suspects?

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  7. Anonymous

    So sorry for your loss, and in such a awful way.
    The case is going to have to be looked at by cold case detectives or a larger organization with access to much more crime solving methods.
    The possibility exists that
    A: she was topping off the pool, which can take over an hour;
    B: she ran a bath, again that takes several minutes;
    C: knowing it will only take a few minutes to iron the shirt ( or whatever) she took the phone off the hook, knowing she was fixing to get in the tub. (Just 10 minutes of peace in the tub, PLEASE!)
    Just as she was finishing her ironing, she is startled, interrupted, or heard a noise in another part of the house, forgetting to turn the iron off.
    Seems like she confronted whomever and her being there threw their whole burglary plan out the window, so it turns into a kidnapping/murder.
    They forced her into her car, drove her where they forced the accelerator to stay down, large rock perhaps? After it crashed, they doused it with gas.
    Cannot believe they haven’t found who did it!!! They CANNOT be THAT smart!!!!!

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  8. Anonymous

    I think it was the husband, but he is dead now.

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    • Anonym

      If that had been the husband he would not have run to the police with the pieces of evidence he had found. It doesn’t make any sense. He would have been happy case was closed as an accident.

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  9. Anonymous

    I live in Lawton, OK, where she was from. There are so many theories about her case here: Burglary gone wrong, Pat Conway and his alleged mistress doing the crime, the family being involved, suicide. Just so many theories. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about this case. Sadly, Pat Conway passed away last year. I’m not optimistic about this case ever finding its way to being solved. There’s not enough of the right people interested in resurrecting this case. No justice for Aileen. No justice at all.

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    • Kenny

      If Pat had anything to do with it he would have kept his mouth shut and let people believe it was a car accident. He’s the one that got the investigation back open.

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  10. Andrew

    I was hoping for an update to this case. Feel bad for the family left behind without answers.

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  11. Nathan Shorter

    Shame on the ones who think my Uncle Patt Conway would do such a thing he was hurt to the day he passed away about this. And his now wife my aunt is still to this day investigationg it as well as most of our family.

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  12. Justice

    There will be justice some way some how.

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  13. Daryl

    K this hole case is odd but thats cuz ur taking in todays way of living not 1986 no one at that would be filling a pool up to cold an wet so that is staged seen to look like she lost her mind next u c that bathtub that has calgone take me way wrighten all over it an no female with take a phone in the bathroom where she going to relax at that time so that is a staged seen also so only thing make sense is the ironing clothing for work so…. next the hole car thing only one thing there she was dead before car accident thats y the fire

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  14. KJ

    Im from Lawton and just saw the episode on TV. That is so crazy that they never found the person responsible.

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  15. Joseph

    Aileen was my great grandmother. Still to this day it is a mystery as to what actually took place that day. My grandfather didn’t do this and there was no mistress. I wish that her case would have been solved before papaw passed but sadly it remains unsolved.

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    • Unsolved Guy

      Sorry Joseph for your Great Grandmother. I just again watched this episode of Unsolved Mysteries and thought I’d look it up to see if it has been solved. Sorry to hear that it has not. I hope they catch the murderers responsible someday.

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      • Martha

        I just was watching Robert Stacks Unsolved Mysteries (March 2018).
        I looked it up to see if it had been solved. I feel sorry for the husband and I see now he passed.
        A long time to live not knowing! How sad!!
        I doubt anyone will spend the money nor the time to figure it out neither!

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    • Tony

      I’m so sorry for your loss years ago. I was about 10 years old when the case was aired on Unsolved Mysteries and I thought about it so many times. If I was in your position, I would never rest until the case is solved. To the Conway family, please be brave and never give up on hope. God be with you Joseph.

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    • TaTalitha

      My husband’s a cousin of the family up until Pat passed his Aunt and parents often went to breakfast with Pat after Mass. My husband was 4 when it happened.

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  16. Anonymous

    The weirdest part of this is the evidence, though. Who takes a bath while a hose is running AND the iron is on? No one does that many things at once.

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    • Family member

      That’s just how my grandmother was

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    • Rich

      Do you own a pool?
      If she was filling the pool/topping off the pool it can take a long time. I have a small above ground pool and it takes at least 30 minutes to fill in just an inch of depth. An in ground pool like that would take more than a hour. She likely filled the bath tub and turned the iron on. Ironing a shirt or two takes 10 minutes. That gives the bath water time to cool a bit before getting in. At the moment I have the washing machine going, my sink is filling with hot water, I’m folding laundry, and I have a pot of sauce on the stove. People can do multiple things at once.

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    • Unanamous

      I’m a multi-taskerI easily sounds like me – start filling swimming pool, drawing bathtub, did some quick ironing.

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  17. Rebecca

    What a horrifying way for someone to die. Whoever committed that crime is heartless, so inhumane, no regards to human life. So sad, it seems this case will not be solve too many unanswered questions and theories nothing much to go on. Rest in peace Aileen

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  18. Kathy Evans

    I lived out in the area of this crash. I have been to the crash sight. And have hoped all these years that this would be solved. I check this sight from time to time, always hoping to see there has been some new information. Has a psychic ever been taken to this bridge? It would be worth a try.

    Reply