Murder In The Library Stacks: A Penn State Cold Case

STATE COLLEGE, PA — On the afternoon of November 28, 1969, Penn State grad student Betsy Aardsma dropped by the campus library to research a project for class. At some point, Aardsma ventured into Row 51 of the “stacks,” a narrow alley in the basement of the library – and she was never seen alive again.

The murder of Betsy Aardsma has become the most notorious unsolved mystery in the university’s history, and continues to confound investigators 47 years later.

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Investigators were able to fill in some of the blanks of what transpired. They discovered that sometime between 4:45 and 4:55, Aardsma was stabbed a single time through the left breast with a knife.The wound severed her pulmonary artery and pierced the right ventricle of her heart.

Police later determined that Aardsma was most likely attacked from behind, given the lack of defensive wounds on her hands. 

Following the stabbing, Aardsma slumped to the ground and, a minute or so later, one or two men exited the central region of the library. Before leaving, one man told a desk clerk, “Somebody better help that girl”. Neither he or the other possible person of interest has ever been identified.

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Aardma’s wound produced only a small amount of visible blood, and it was further obscured by her wearing a red dress.

First responders, then, thought that perhaps Aardsma 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.

Bystanders rendered first aid and attempted mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to Aardsma and called the campus hospital at 5:01 PM. By 5:19 PM, an ambulance had transported Aardsma to the Health Center, where she was pronounced dead.

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Later, investigators spoke to a witness who had been near the row where Aardsma was last seen and claimed to hear two people, a man and a woman, having a conversation nearby. 

According to the witness, the voices were not raised – but soon afterwards, he said that he heard someone falling and hitting one of the metal bookshelves. 

The police went to the crime scene only to find that a janitor had thoroughly cleaned the area, destroying any possible evidence at the location of the attack.

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In the days and weeks following the crime, thousands of men were interviewed as the search for Betsy’s killer fanned out across the university’s campus and surrounding area. The desk clerk helped create a drawing of the man who had spoken briefly to her. Regardless, the trail went cold.

The murder has spawned at least two books, a website called “Who Killed Betsy Aardsma? Uncovering Penn State University’s Most Notorious Unsolved Crime” and an upcoming movie titled, simply, Betsy.

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Over the years, amateur sleuths have made a list of potential suspects. One of them who was geology student Rick Haefner, who died in 2002. Officers interviewed and dismissed Haefner as a suspect early on, but he continued to raise eyebrows as he had a criminal history that involved molestation of underage boys.

Still other experts believe that Gaefner was not Aardsma’s killer – and have named potential suspects including Ted Bundy and the Zodiac Killer. The murder investigation remains officially open.

Read more:
Penn Live
Lancaster Online
HistoricalMysteries.com
Crime Magazine

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Main photo: Betsy Aardsma (left) and the Stacks at Penn State (right) [Wikimedia Commons]