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The Unsolved Murder of Betsy Aardsma

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Case File Overview

Betsy Aardsma was brutally murdered on the afternoon of November 28th, 1969.

22-year-old Betsy returned to Penn State early from Thanksgiving break to do research for an English paper. She walked to the library around 4pm with her roommate, Sharon.

Once at the library, they went their separate ways; Betsy headed to the basement to the chief bibliographer’s office and then went back up to the second floor.

During Betsy’s time in the isolated library stacks, she was stabbed in the left breast with “a hunting-style knife.” This punctured her pulmonary artery and the right ventricle of her heart. The killer pulled the knife out of Betsy’s chest and walked away.

Betsy didn’t scream, and she had no defensive wounds. Either she knew her killer or didn’t see the attack coming. Some investigators believed that Betsy was grabbed from behind before she was stabbed. She was not sexually assaulted. Doctors stated that Betsy’s stab wound would’ve required significant strength.

15-25 minutes after the attack, a student spotted Betsy amongst a pile of scattered books on the floor.

First responders didn’t notice that Betsy had been stabbed. Her red dress camouflaged the blood from the wound. At first, it was believed that Betsy had bitten her tongue during a seizure. Once she arrived at the campus medical centre, however, doctors noticed the one-inch wide, three-inch deep stab wound. It was determined that Betsy was dead within 5-10 minutes of the attack.

Betsy Aardsma

Image of murder victim Betsy Aardsma
Image source: Centre Daily Times

Betsy’s family and friends say that she was artistic, poetic, bright, gutsy, and empathetic. Her brutal murder has remained unsolved for decades.

Case File Theories

Was Betsy killed by a stranger?

Authorities estimated that approximately 90 students were in the library at the time of Betsy’s murder. Due to it being the day after Thanksgiving, many students hadn’t returned to campus yet.

Unidentified person of interest

Suspect in Betsy Aardsma murder
Image source: Websleuths

In Murder in the Stacks, David DeKok argues that Betsy’s case is ultimately unsolved due to mistakes made at the crime scene. The campus patrol didn’t secure the crime scene. As a result, students and faculty contaminated the area. A janitor even cleaned up urine found near the scene and moved evidence around. When the police arrived, the crime scene was already compromised.

Given all of this, it’s possible that an opportunistic killer spotted Betsy in the quiet library, killed her, and fled. However, I think that this is an unlikely scenario.

Was Betsy killed by her boyfriend?

Betsy was primarily attending Penn State because she followed her boyfriend, David L. Wright, to the area. He was a pre-med student at the Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey at time of Betsy’s murder.

David L. Wright

Image of Dr. David L. Wright
Image source: The Patriot-News
he and Betsy weren’t engaged, he probably would’ve given her an engagement ring during the Christmas of 1969.

The last time David claims he saw Betsy was on the evening of November 27th. After enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner with a group of medical students, David drove Betsy to the bus depot so that she could return to school to work on her English paper and he could tackle his growing pile of school work.

Seeing as women are often killed by their partner, it makes sense that David was a person of interest in Betsy’s murder. David, though, seemed genuinely distraught about her death. David explained, “I always wonder if she had stayed down that weekend what would have happened.” He has always regretfully wondered what kind of life they could’ve built together.

After intensive interrogation and offering a solid alibi, David was cleared by the police of any involvement in Betsy’s murder. I think that it’s extremely improbable that he had anything to do with her death.

Was Betsy killed by an alleged child molester?

Today, numerous armchair detectives and various members of the police think that the alleged child molester Richard Haefner murdered Betsy. Richard attended Penn State at the same time as Betsy, lived in the same campus residence, and was said to have a hot temper and act violently towards women. He was investigated numerous times for sexually assaulting young boys.

Richard Haefner

Image of child molester Richard Haefner
Image source: Historic Mysteries

The story goes that either Betsy befriended Richard or that they went on a few dates. Either way, before long Betsy stopped seeing Richard and told her family and friends that he was frightening. The theory goes that he felt jilted and killed Betsy.

Richard was said to have visited his academic advisor very soon after Betsy’s murder. He was extremely upset about Betsy’s death before the murder was even reported in the papers. For some reason, his supervisor waited seven years to report the visit. On top of this, university officials failed to contact the state police with the information.

Richard has always been a primary person of interest in this case. Officials believed that there was a resemblance between Richard and the unidentified man seen fleeing the scene of the crime. Also, Richard’s relationship with Betsy and his violent tendencies pointed suspicion his way. However, the police lacked enough evidence to charge him with Betsy’s murder. Also, with the contamination of the crime scene, there was little chance of finding physical evidence linking him to the crime.

Richard died of a heart attack in 2002. Sadly, I think that he likely got away with murder. Even though Richard’s dead, I’m holding out hope that he told someone about his involvement and that they’re brave enough come forward.

Who do you think murdered Betsy Aardsma?

Betsy’s case remains unsolved. Her murder haunts the police who worked the case and her remaining loved ones should be able to attain at least some sense of closure. No matter how much time has passed, Betsy deserves justice.

To learn more about this case, you should check out the Cold Case Murder Mysteries podcast; it offers a minisode covering Betsy’s unsolved murder. It’s available on Apple Podcasts, Otto Radio, and likely wherever else you enjoy your true crime podcasts.

Anyone with information about Betsy’s murder should contact the Pennsylvania State Police at (717) 783-5599.

Related Reading

Murder in the Stacks: Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away – book by David DeKok 

“Penn State Cold Case: The Unsolved Murder of Betsy Aardsma” article

“A decades-old mystery: The murder of Betsy Aardsma” article

Interested in unsolved murders? Check out the violent murder of Anthony Manning and the mysterious case of the Nation River Lady.

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Published inTrue CrimeUnsolved Murder Files


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