Wayland woman, 18, found dead in woods

Recent graduate a victim of apparent homicide

By John M. Guilfoil and L. Finch
Globe Staff And Globe Correspondent / July 5, 2011

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WAYLAND - A recent high school graduate looking forward to college this fall was found dead yesterday in a wooded area 5 miles from her abandoned car, in what authorities have labeled an apparent homicide.

Lauren Astley, 18, never came home from work at the Natick Collection on Sunday evening, prompting family and friends to search the area. A group of friends found her Jeep later Sunday night in a Wayland town beach parking lot on Lake Cochituate.

A bicyclist found her body yesterday morning, several miles across town, off Water Row, a wooded roadway near the Sudbury line.

Her father, Wayland School Committee member Malcolm Astley, identified her body yesterday.

With graduation cards spread out over the living room table, Astley spoke of his daughter’s impending departure in the fall for Elon University in North Carolina, where she was planning to study business. He recalled Lauren as a popular teenager - a singer, an athlete, an aspiring fashion designer, and a passionate volunteer who made three trips to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

Speaking at the home on Boston Post Road where Lauren grew up, Astley said his daughter disappeared around 8 p.m. Sunday after working the closing shift at Shop344 at the Natick shopping center. She was believed to have gone to the Wayland town beach after ward, he said. But Lauren never called home to check in, and her father began reaching out to her friends to see if they knew where she was.

“The more time went on, the more worried I became,’’ he said.

Police and officials from the Middlesex district attorney’s office are investigating. No cause of death has been released pending an autopsy by the medical examiner.

“Wayland Police and State Police assigned to the Middlesex district attorney’s office are continuing to investigate the circumstances of the death,’’ officials said in a prepared statement. “While the circumstances of the death remain under investigation, it is believed that residents should not be in fear at this time.’’

Last night, WBZ-TV reported that a car, apparently belonging to a friend of Lauren Astley’s, was towed to the Wayland police station and that investigators were at the friend’s home.

Malcolm Astley declined to speculate about what might have happened to his daughter. Asked if she had a boyfriend, he said she had no current boyfriend, but had dated in the past. “There was nothing. Nothing I could predict,’’ he said.

The death stunned this small western suburb, which had not had a homicide since the 1985 slaying of 9-year-old Sarah Pryor, said Linda Segal, a former selectwoman who has lived in Wayland for about 35 years.

Susan Pope, vice chairwoman of the Wayland Board of Selectmen, said she has known Malcolm Astley for many years. When informed of the news, she had to stop and sit down.

“I’m speechless,’’ Pope said. “I don’t know what to say. This doesn’t normally happen in Wayland. Wayland doesn’t have much crime anyway, thank the good Lord, but a murder?’’

Her father said the last time he saw his daughter was Sunday afternoon, for lunch at a local restaurant before she went to work.

Astley said his daughter, who had no siblings, was bright and musically gifted. She was a onetime captain of the high school tennis team, but quit the team this past year to take a part-time job at the clothing boutique because she wanted to have a career in fashion.

At dusk yesterday, family and friends gathered at First Parish in Wayland Unitarian Universalist church for a private vigil. Cars filled the parking lot and spilled over into nearby lots. Just after 8 p.m. flickering candles could be seen through the windows of the darkened church. Afterward, a procession of people streamed out the door, hugging and crying.

Nour Sayeh, 13, leaving the vigil with her mother, said her sister had been friends with Lauren since elementary school. “She was always so sweet.’’

“She was very vivacious, very energetic,’’ said Mary Backman, 17, who said she too had known Lauren since elementary school.

“People who are not from a small town don’t understand,’’ said Backman. “We are all so tight here. . . . Stuff like this doesn’t happen here.’’

Lauren was passionate about “fixing up the world,’’ her father said. She was also active in her school’s a cappella group, which had recently released a CD.

“So often when someone leaves, we miss their voice,’’ he said. “But luckily we have that.’’

Globe correspondent Jenna Duncan contributed to this report. John M. Guilfoil can be reached at L. Finch can be reached at