Penn State remembers…Betsy Aardsma (1969)

I am very glad to report that this cold case is warming up again!

Police are waiting for DNA test results of Betsy‘s red dress, the same dress she wore the afternoon that she was killed. Betsy was stabbed in her heart and nobody heard her scream. She died on November 28, 1969.

Betsy was a lively young lady, a reader, a great cook, and a good friend. She did not use drugs, was not involved in crime or gang activity, or any other activity that might have given police ample leads. She did have many plans and most involved her boyfriend, David Wright.

David had invited her over for Thanksgiving in 1969. Betsy came but was worried all the time about the amount of studying she still had to do. She chose to leave early. David drove her to the bus station. It would be the last time he ever saw her. David was later cleared by police. Betsy’s death would ultimately lead to the creation of the Penn State Police. 

Please read more here in the Daily Collegian and make sure you check out this report by Penn State English Professor Sascha Skucek. Professor Skucek has made Betsy’s case a priority in his life. His research and digging into the case are a fascinating read and prove that yes, one person can make a difference.

 To be continued!

Comments

  1. You can also check out more of Sascha’s work at http://www.whokilledbetsy.org, where all of the latest news and information is posted.

  2. Thanks for the link! I have added it to the article.

  3. @ Who Killed Betsy?:

    I think that it’s pretty likely that the death was an accident. I don’t think that the facts support intentional murder.

    For one thing, if you’re going to murder somebody, you’d probably be able to do it in a much more ideal setting than a public library.

    For another, it is widely noted that nobody who attended to Aardsma could tell she was even stabbed. If the killer’s intention was to murder her, why wouldn’t he stab her more than once? There is no way that the killer could have known that the wound would have been fatal.

    Along those same lines, if the killer was indeed the individual who said “Someone should help that girl” (as has been widely speculated), why would he bring attention to the crime before he could get away? Not only would that action potentially incriminate himself, but it would also improve the chances of Aardsma surviving and identifying him.

    Although I have not been privy to all of the evidence, from what has been made publicly available, I believe that an argument can be made for the following scenario:

    Aardsma and another individual were both in the stacks searching for books and concentrating more on their books than the sorroundings. The individual might have had a pen knife or a letter opener in their hand and was walking with it unsafely pointed outward. Perhaps the two both turned the corner at the same time. The two collided and Aardsma was fatally wounded. The individual, scared of how things looked but probably not aware of how bad it really was, hurries away. Before he left though, his concern for Aardsma caused him to draw attention to her in hopes that somebody would help her.

    I think that this explains all of the weird circumstances including the unknown individual, the odd choice of location/timing and the single stab wound. There is very little probability that the murderer happened to be a master assassin who could murder somebody in broad daylight utilizing a single, expertly placed knife incision.

  4. Interesting take on the case! Definitely worthwhile to ponder.

    Thank you for stopping by and please let me know other thoughts you have about the case, V

  5. Except that the knife went into her sternum above her breast at a @ 40 degree angle to the sternum, meaning that it came down from above with considerable force.

    It is most likely that someone who was angry with her, and got into an explosive rage, stabbed her, then immediately realized what he had done and tried to get help or otherwise deflect blame from himself.

  6. Thanks for stopping by! I agree, the angle and the intensity are not indicative of an accident but it looks like a sudden outburst, maybe a crime passionelle?

    I am hoping that by keeping these cases in the spotlight people are reminded of them again. Relationships have changed, life did go on for those involved and maybe, someone not willing to talk ali those years ago, is willing to talk now.

  7. @ Who Killed Betsy:

    Well the 40 degree angle piece of information only proves that the object was pointed downwards. My theory would work if the other individual was taller.

    The depth of the wound is not necessarily indicative of a powerful arm blow. It depends on how sharp the killing instrument was. With a reasonably sharp instrument, I believe that sufficient force could could easily be attained to pierce the breastplate with just two people colliding.

    I’m not saying it’s a perfect theory. I just think it makes more sense than many of the other speculative theories. I certainly can’t envision a murderer drawing attention to his crime. In the end, however, only two people really know what happened there: Aardsma and the killer. I’m just saying that without the presence of defensive wounds, a second blow or, witnesses, an accidental death cannot be ruled out.

    To be honest though, it’s difficult to foresee this ever being solved. There was really no evidence left at the scene. Even if a witness or a perpetrator were to come forward, it’d be impossible to corroborate any statements that they’d offer.

  8. @ A:
    Other problems with this patently unbelievable accident scenario are that Aardsma was found at the end of an aisle, not at a corner — so someone about 12′ tall would have had to go 3/4 of the way down the aisle with his or her letter opener pointed unsafely downward, bumped his head on the lights, and fallen on to her, as evidenced by the angle of the knife, for this to be possible.

    The fact that the killer fled, attempting to deflect attention from himself by asking for help for the girl, and sending everyone going the opposite direction that he was headed, is because he didn’t know she was dead.

    I’m sure he had a quite fitful night wondering if she would come to in the hospital and be able to identify him. It must have been somewhat of a relief, but also somewhat of an even worse feeling, when he heard the next day that she was dead.

    Also, I think we can safely assume that if you stab someone in the heart, there’s a good chance they will die. No master assassin…just someone with anger and a good aim.

  9. @ A:
    You have a point there. I didn’t mean for my other comment to come off as snide, or condescending, BTW. I realized after I posted it that it might come across poorly.

    Based on the person who has been identified as a probable suspect, I’d say that it was a moment of rage, an explosive attack, followed by regret at the realization of what had been done — not necessarily of the fact that it had been done, but at the realization of what it would mean to him, if he was caught — and he had every expectation that he would be caught, based on the fact that he’d blown his top in the library and attacked a woman who knew him personally.

    There are a number of other incidents in his life that would indicate capability for this type of attack.

  10. No worries! I often type an email quickly only to realize later that it may not sound the way I intended.

    I agree with the explosive attack and that being caught was foremost on this person’s mind.

  11. Being found at the end of the aisle has troubled me since I started reading about Betsy’s case. Any chance that she saw him approaching and not being able to make a sound, walked backwards towards the end of the aisle?

  12. Well the issue I have with the “fit of rage” theory is that crimes of passion usually involve overkill. A husband who kills his wife in a fit of rage will stab multiple times. This lack of extreme violence casts doubt on the “crime of passion/fit of rage” theory.

    If it wasn’t an accident, then I lean more towards the “crime of opportunity” scenarios in which the assailant was random. I don’t see and deep seated resentment towards the girl in the crime.

    In terms of the accuracy of the stabbing, I’ve never heard of someone being murdered with one well place knife blow to the heart. I’ve read about murders in which the heart was pierce in one of multiple stab wounds. The odds of dealing a killing blow obviously increase with the amount of overall stabs. But I’ve never heard of a killer taking one stab and then walking away confident in the lethality of the blow. If murder was the intent, then I agree with you, there is no way the killer could have been confident of the outcome as he walked away.

    In terms of the suspect, has there been new evidence identified? The web-site only mentions the name and the overall background of the guy. Is there anything tying him to this particular murder?

  13. Miriam Said says:

    It seems very strange to me the her English Professor knew exactly where she would be in the last hour of her life.

    I presume he would know the exact location of the stack of shelves that the book would be on in the library and it also worries me that his office overlooks that library and he could have watched her walk around from his office. He would most likely have been able to see her too.

    A man could stab a woman from behind with his right hand whilst covering her mouth with his left hand with enough force to puncture her chest and with a single blow, and locate the heart with one stab. No noise, done quickly and without drawing attention to the assailant.

    This was a pre-meditated murder. Planned and timed with precision and thought. An assasin type crime. I suspect that he stabbed her from behind and then swung her around to face the book shelves before removing the weapon. There would have been no blood on the assailant, perhaps some on his right hand, but I doubt it. When he removed the weapon the blood spray would have been caught by the books and he propped her against the book shelf and left quickly.

    Shouting that someone needs help and pointing in a direction away from you is a classic diversionary tactic. Every one remembers the horror and looking in the direction they were diverted to and no one remembers the person shouting the call. This was planned to the smallest detail. It also has the air of hand to hand military combat training or martial arts training. Does the autopsy determine the weapon or what kind of wound there was?

    A pencil, pen or protractor is as effective as a knife to stab and can be hidden neatley in a jacket pocket and would not raise eyebrows if you were walking along with them in a library. I am also curious to know who persuaded her to join the Peace Core? Where was the English Professor? Was he watching? How did her assailant know where she would be and that she would go to that aisle? Did anyone notice a man following her from the moment she left the English Professor?

  14. A,

    There is plenty of information linking Richard Haefner to Betsy, as well as to her murder. I would suggest you check out the October, 2010 State College Magazine article, entitled “Case Closed?” It is linked from the articles page of the website.

    This lays out a lot of what we have uncovered about Haefner and Aardsma, but there is still much that we haven’t been able to release out of deference to the State Police and because of time constraints.

  15. @ Miriam Said:
    Several problems with the English professor theory.

    1. Her English professors both had meetings at that time.

    2. One of the witnesses, in fact, the girl who was told “someone better help that girl,” was from her English class — and would have recognized either professor easily.

    3. Neither of her professors match the description of the killer. One weighed over 300 lbs and walked with a special leg brace because of diabetes and poor circulation.

  16. @ Vidocq:
    The working theory has always been that she knew her killer, and was at least comfortable enough to allow them to corner her as she was.

    I.E., it wasn’t Ted Kaczynski in an Afro wig, as one poster on another website keeps insisting. It was someone she knew and was familiar and on speaking terms with.

  17. Miriam Said says:

    I pondered that her English Professor could have seen her killer or seen Betsy as she walked into the library, not that either English Professor murdered Betsy.

    What I am saying is that the murderer knew where she was and either followed her from her meeting with her English Professor or had learned from one of her Professors where she would be within the next hour.

    I would still like to know who persuaded her to join the Peace Corps.

    Her ex, who visited her Professor at his home hours after Betsy was stabbed, could have learned about it on campus as news gets around really quickly on campus and he may be innocent.

    However, Betsy previously studied to be a doctor and there could be someone else involved too.

    I don’t know why but I keep coming back to the question about, who persuaded her to join the Peace Corps.

    Who was she involved with in that area of her life?

  18. @ Miriam Said:
    Neither English professor could have seen her once she entered the library core. Joukovsky’s office was in a separate building, and Meserole was on the bottom floor of the library, but in a different area, outside of the core.

    It is my understanding she wanted to join the Peace Corps herself, because of an interest in seeing the world. I’ve never heard anything about anyone persuading her to join the Peace Corps.

    Haefner, who lived across the courtyard from her and could have observed her being there during Thanksgiving break (unusual, but he was there too), appeared at his professor’s house at approximately 6:00 PM the night of the murder.

    She was not pronounced dead until 5:20 PM, and that was in Bellefonte, about a 30 minute drive from there.

    The earliest anyone on campus has reported knowing the name and circumstances of Betsy’s death, was around 8:00 PM that night, when one of the librarians was called by the police to ask what he had seen before he left that day.

    There had been speculation that one of the professors was involved.

  19. @ Miriam Said:

    Also, there is no evidence that she was followed, nor did either of her professors report anyone asking about her, etc.

    The odds are more likely that someone outside her immediate circle of friends and classmates was involved — someone who had experience in stalking women without being observed.

  20. David '68 says:

    It is unlikely that Haefner would have used Pattee Library on a regular basis as the geology books were kept elsewhere. I suspect he did follow Betsy. Otherwise she would have lost him once inside the stacks as he would not know what books she was using. Even in its smaller state in 1969, searching the whole library would have taken some time.

    As they both lived in the same residence hall, I think it is possible that Haefner noticed her leaving and surmised she was headed to the library. He might have arrived at the library before her and waited in an area she would have passed. He then could follow her movements. Once she was seen going downstairs, there was little question to what level she was going. While there is a core stacks level below the murder site, this contained storage for little used items.

    The killer could have followed her down the old core stairs, or more likely to me, taken the stairs in the new stacks. He could then survey the area for other people and enter the core without the sound of footsteps on the core stairs.

    I do not know if Betsy was standing upright at the time of the attack or bent over looking at the bookshelves. She may well have had her back to the approach of the killer.

  21. I am in the process of releasing a book on the Aardsma murder. You can find out more about the book at http://www.whokilledbetsy.org.

  22. @ A:
    An accident? Surely you must be kidding. This was obviously a crime of passion. You don’t plunge a knife through someone’s chest and later call it an accident.

  23. @Jay: I agree this was not an accident. I just don’t know to what extent we can call this premeditated either.

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