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Home » Major Crimes in History » Betsy Aardsma: The Unsolved Penn State Library Murder

Betsy Aardsma: The Unsolved Penn State Library Murder

by Doug MacGowan

On the afternoon of November 28, 1969, Betsy Aardsma went to Pattee library on the campus of Penn State. She was an English graduate student researching a project she was working on. First, she spoke to a professor in his office within the library building. Then between 4:45 and 4:55, she went down to Row 51. This area consisted of narrow stacks in the basement of the library. One witness in the area later claimed that he heard two people. It was a man and a woman having a conversation in one of the rows near him. He said they weren’t raising their voices. There didn’t seem to be an argument going on. The witness claimed that, soon after, he heard the sounds of books falling and something hitting one of the metal bookshelves.

Betsy Aardsma at Pattee Library Penn State

Betsy Aardsma was in Pattee Library at Penn State when she was stabbed.

What Happened to Betsy Aardsma?

At some time before 5 pm, a man walked out of the library and told the desk clerk, “Somebody better help that girl.” The desk clerk didn’t know what that meant, so she stayed at her post. Then soon after, fellow students found Betsy on the floor. It appeared that she had fainted or had had some kind of seizure. Several students tried to revive her, one even giving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. However, nobody suspected foul play. Later, some witnesses said it seemed to be two men who left the library together, not just one.

Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?

Betsy was taken to the campus hospital, the Ritenour Health Center. A doctor discovered that Betsy had a stab wound that went through her right breast. The object severed the right ventricle of her heart, but there was very little blood. The red dress Betsy was wearing disguised what little blood there was. This is likely the reason why the students who found her didn’t suspect that someone had assaulted her. There were no defensive wounds on her hands, and this led authorities to believe that her killer attacked her from behind.

The police went to the crime scene and found that a janitor had thoroughly cleaned the area. Unfortunately, this destroyed any potential evidence at the location of the crime.

In the days and weeks following the crime, police interviewed thousands of men. The search for Betsy Aardsma’s killer fanned out across the university’s campus and the surrounding area. The desk clerk helped an artist create a drawing of the man who had spoken briefly to her. However, it did not lead to any suspects.

Renewed Interest in the Aardsma Murder

The case remained quietly unsolved until the age of the Internet. An amateur sleuth introduced a website entitled, Who Killed Betsy Aardsma? Uncovering Penn State University’s Most Notorious Unsolved Crime. The site features official reports, contemporary and later newspaper articles, and a photo gallery of the crime scene and possible suspects.

Additionally, the 21st century brought forth two full-length books about the murder of Betsy Aardsma and the investigation. Both books named the same suspect. Derek Sherwood’s “Who Killed Betsy?: Uncovering Penn State University’s Most Notorious Unsolved Crime” and David Dekok’s “Murder in the Stacks: Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away” both name geology student Rick Haefner as the murderer.

Haefner was one of the men the police interviewed and dismissed just after the crime. In later years, Haefner’s only known criminal activity involved molestation of underage boys. This was different enough from the murder of a full-grown woman that several theorists believe Haefner was not Aardsma’s killer after all. Haefner died in 2002. Meanwhile, investigators have not identified any other viable suspects. Some far-fetched amateur investigations put forth Ted Bundy or the Zodiac Killer as the culprit.

richard haefner

Newspaper file photo of Richard Haefner from the 1970s.

Betsy Aardsma’s murder remains unsolved, and now, after 46 years, the case has grown cold. However, the investigation remains officially open, waiting for the unlikely chance law enforcement might finally bring closure to Penn State’s most infamous crime.

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