The West Michigan Woman At the Heart of A Frightening Unsolved Murder You’ve Never Heard of Before
The Betsy Aardsma case is a frightening murder with a West Michigan connection that will likely remain forever unsolved. The Holland native is at the heart of the most notorious murder ever committed at Penn State University.
Aardsma was a graduate of Holland High School and attended the University of Michigan before transferring to Penn State. Ironically, there was an active serial killer on the campus of the University of Michigan, so with the move to State College, her family had felt relief that she's be safer away from Ann Arbor.
She was an English major as was working on a paper in the Penn State library on November 28, 1969, the day she was stabbed.
Here's the essence of the case from Wikipedia,
Aardsma was in the library on November 28, 1969, doing research for a paper. At some point between 4:45 p.m. and 4:55 p.m. she was stabbed a single time through the left breast with a knife, severing her pulmonary artery and piercing the right ventricle of her heart. Police believe Aardsma was most likely attacked from behind, as her hands bore no defensive wounds. Following the stabbing, Aardsma slumped to the ground. Approximately one or two minutes later, one or two men exited the central region of the library, telling a desk clerk that "Somebody better help that girl" as they left. The man or men who spoke to the desk clerk have never been identified....An ambulance...transported Aardsma to the Health Center, where she was pronounced dead a short time later.
After Aardsma was stabbed, the wound produced only a small amount of visible blood. Also, Aardsma was wearing a red dress at the time. As result of these two facts, the first responders thought that perhaps she had experienced a seizure or some other medical ailment. It was not until Aardsma was examined at the Health Center that anyone realized that she had been stabbed.
What's both frightening and intriguing about the case is the precision with which the murder took place. A single, seemingly perfectly-placed stab wound killed Betsy. The stab wound not only found the heart but also punctured a lung which likely caused it to fill with blood and prevented her from screaming.
Aardsma's killer approached, carrying a hunting-style knife with a one-edged blade 3½ to 4 inches long, according to the autopsy report. There was no scream, no apparent effort to ward off the blade. Aardsma's hands had no wounds.
The killer plunged the blade through her breastbone -- which doctors said requires real strength and force -- and deep into her chest, severing the pulmonary artery and hitting the heart.
"The findings also suggest that the wound was inflicted with considerable force at the time of a face-to-face confrontation of the victim and the assailant, and that this weapon was held in the right hand of the assailant," Centre County pathologist Dr. Thomas Magnani wrote in his autopsy report.
It was a perfect killing blow, investigators later said. Most state troopers involved in the investigation, however, believe the killer grabbed her from behind before plunging the knife into her chest. It remains unresolved.
The severe internal wound bled almost completely into her lungs. Aardsma's red dress camouflaged the tiny amount of blood that leaked to the outside.
Unsolved 20 Years Later
In November of 1989, twenty years after the murder, the Pittsburgh Press ran an article about the cold case. The reporter reached Betsy's mother, Ester, at home in Holland. She lamented, "it's such a cold trail, such a long time. I can't imagine what they [law enforcement] could do." She also noted that she would become depressed each November as the anniversary of the murder approached. She and her husband, Richard, became volunteers who helped in the healing of other parents of murdered children.
Still Unsolved 45 Years Later + Suspects
Similar to the Pittsburgh Press article, PennLive.com published an article to note the 45 years since Betsy Aardsma's murder. The article was written by David DeKok, who published a book, Murder in the Stacks, in 2008 in which he reveals the man he suspects got away with Betsy Aardsma's murder.
Another Pennsylvania newspaper, The Morning Call, reported the suspect named in the book was
Richard C. Haefner, who Aardsma had befriended briefly soon after arriving on campus.
Haefner was a geology graduate student from Lancaster and he and Aardsma lived in the same dorm. Aardsma saw him a few times socially before they had a falling out. DeKok says she had told members of her family that he was a creep and she was afraid of him.
DeKok says Haefner matched the physical description of the man seen running out of the library when Aardsma collapsed. Haefner also was known to carry a small homemade knife. He was investigated several times for molesting boys.
Police never arrested Haefner, who died in 2002, for Aardsma's murder. DeKok says a tainted crime scene hindered the collection of evidence.
Editors note: The PennLive.com article is a very good long read on the case.
Another theory, more of a wild hair, also postulated that Ted Bundy, a Philadelphia student at Temple University at the time, who was known to frequent college libraries was the killer.
Her Body Returns Home to Holland
Betsy Aardsma was laid to rest at the peacefully tree-filled Pilgrim Home Cemetery in her home town. She lies near her father who passed away in 1997 and her mother, Ester, who died in 2012 at the age of 93.
We're now approaching the 50th anniversary of the Aardsma murder. It's become an urban legend on the campus of Penn State and nearly lost to history perhaps remembered only by her remaining siblings and the investigators still hoping to close the case.
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