Why The 1969 Library Murder Of A Penn State University Student Remains Unsolved

There are thousands of cold cases in the files of police forces across America, but some unsolved murders remain grimly memorable in the minds of local people even decades after the crime first came to light. One of these was the notorious murder of a 22-year-old graduate student Betsy Aardsma, which shockingly took place between the book stacks in Penn State University's Pattee Library, where she was studying, on November 28, 1969.

Now, more than 50 years later, the murder remains one of the most disturbing tales in the history of the prestigious Pennsylvania university, with outlets such as NBC News returning to the case to try to find out why such an audacious killing — which took place in the afternoon when the library was full of students and employees — has never been solved. Investigators and amateur sleuths have come up with several theories over the years, but even to this day, no one has been able to say who perpetrated the seemingly random attack.

A quiet killing

The details of the killing of Betsy Aardsma have unsettled generations of Penn State University students since she was discovered mortally wounded that afternoon in November 1969. NBC News recalls that Aardsma had recently spent Thanksgiving with her boyfriend at his home in Hershey, Pennsylvania, but had returned to Penn State to continue studying before Christmas break. She lived in a dorm on campus, and on the day of the murder had walked with her roommate across campus before parting ways and heading to the library.

Aardsma was browsing books in the darkened stacks at the back of the library when at around 4:45 p.m. witnesses said they heard books falling among the stacks. The student was discovered by library staff in a pool of blood under a stack of books, after which she was rushed to hospital. She had been stabbed once in the chest.

But despite the horrifying attack taking place in a populated library at close quarters with numerous witnesses within earshot, the realization of what happened dawned slowly on those nearby, as the knife severed her pulmonary artery which released blood into Aardsma's lungs and prevented her from screaming for help. She died in the campus hospital at 5:19 p.m.

A lost suspect

After the Penn State University campus community learned that the incident that had befallen Betsy Aardsma was a brutal yet clinical murder, police investigators got to work chasing up leads as to who might be responsible for the killing of the 22-year-old. The attack on Betsy Aardsma took place in a dark corner of the library, with no direct eye witness. According to Oxygen, one witness gave investigators a description of a man they claimed they saw running from the scene of the crime in the moments after the attack. Still, despite the publication of a police sketch of the suspect no one was found to match the description (via NBC News).

However, the sighting — of a young man who looked like a fellow student — chimed with theories that Aardsma knew her killer. There was no sign of a struggle, and the attack took place at close quarters, suggesting that Aardsma was comfortable being near the person who stabbed her.

Unsubstantiated theories

In the years that followed several theories as to the identity of the killer, but more than 50 years later no one explanation has ever stuck. In 2008, Penn Live's Patriot-News published an article in which the interviewed investigators involved in the case — which by then had grown cold — about some of those theories. One suspect was a student named Richard Haefner, who was said to have dated Aardsma and been hurt that she didn't want a relationship and had another boyfriend at the time of her death (via Oxygen).

Others have claimed that rather than another student, Betsy Aardsma may have been killed by a professor at Penn State. Suspicion has fallen on an English lecturer named Robert G. Durgy, who transferred to Penn State from Michigan around the same time as the victim and may have been in previous contact with her. However, Durgy died in a car crash three weeks after the murder, his wife told investigators that the family went out of town the day before Aardsma's death.

It has also been speculated that Betsy Aardsma had stumbled across something in the library that she was not meant to see, such as a drug deal or a romantic tryst, which led to her killing. Searches with an ultraviolent light found semen at the scene, though analysis suggested it was old, while a small smatter of blood located near the spot Aardsma was killed was too small to be properly tested. Though there were rumors that the serial killer Ted Bundy was behind the student's murder, these were never seriously entertained by investigators.