A smart, good-natured 22-year old with a loving family, a steady boyfriend and promising undergraduate degrees in Art and English from the University of Michigan, Betsy Aardsma had her whole life ahead of her. At the time of her death, she was attending Penn State University for grad school and gathering resources for a research paper in the campus library. The killer snuck up behind her and stabbed her once in the heart.
Out of thousands of students, why did the killer pick her? Was she in the wrong place at the wrong time? Or was she stalked and targeted?
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie look into the still active case to try to answer these questions.
Three Penn State students share the school’s urban legends before their conversation turns to Betsy Aardsma, a grad student who was murdered in the basement of Pattee Library back in the 60s. One student says Betsy was Ted Bundy’s first murder victim. She also tells her friends that Betsy’s body rotted for two days before she was found and that her ghost still haunts the place.
The episode then cuts to a flashback of Betsy’s graduation from the University of Michigan. She takes photos with her good friend Jan and her boyfriend David Wright. Jan shows Betsy her engagement ring and asks her to be a bridesmaid. Betsy apologetically turns her down, saying she’ll already have gone to Africa for the Peace Corps at the time of the wedding. Betsy’s father expresses his eagerness to get out of Ann Arbor, afraid that the person killing college girls in the area will prey upon Betsy next.
When they are by themselves, David tries talking Betsy out of enlisting in the Peace Corps, saying that he won’t wait for her. Betsy is unsure of what she wants to do, at first, but eventually opts for graduate school at Penn State – one hundred miles away from the medical school David will attend.
Betsy and David travel to see each other every weekend, which between work and studying, puts a strain on their relationship. On one occasion, David oversleeps after a late shift and Betsy is left to stand outside in the cold, knocking on his door for half an hour before he wakes up to let her in.
During her time at Penn State, Betsy becomes involved in activism efforts against the Vietnam War and forms friendships with her roommate Sharon Brandt and neighbor Richard Haefner.
Sharon teases Betsy for seeing David every weekend and comments on her coming to Penn State for him. Betsy defensively replies that she applied for Penn State’s grad program to get away from the murder spree in Ann Arbor. Her roommate then suggests that she bring David to their next friend gathering, but Betsy says she won’t if Richard is there. She doesn’t believe David will get along with him, but Sharon thinks it’s because Betsy has feelings for Richard.
On a phone call home to her parents, Betsy tells them that she feels uneasy being at Penn State but does not elaborate. Then she talks about transferring to a school in Harrisburg to be closer to David. Her parents are supportive of the move and mention that a suspect is on trial for the murders of seven young women in Ann Arbor.
That Thanksgiving, Betsy spends the holiday with David and a group of his classmates. She has uncomfortable conversations with the attendees and quickly finds that they have no common interests. David’s friends know and care very little about horrific current events such as the My Lai Massacre and do not understand Betsy’s desire to help the people of Sierra Leone. Some are surprised that she doesn’t cook and one of the girls talks about the colleges Medical Student’s Wives Club and having babies – none of which Betsy is ready for.
David asks Betsy to stay the weekend and keep him company while he studies, but she has a big research paper to write and needs access to the rare book collection at her school. While they don’t have an argument, there is tension between them when Betsy realizes she and David don’t want the same things. That night, David drops her off at the bus stop to return to Penn State – it’s the last time he reported seeing her.
The next morning, Betsy and Sharon go to the library. They separate briefly so Betsy can attend an appointment with Professor Meserole to discuss her paper topic, and he recommends she look in the stacks on the second floor of the library basement for her resources.
She is pulling a book down from one of the shelves when someone sneaks up and buries a knife in her heart. The assailant walks away with the murder weapon as Betsy falls to the ground, drowning in her own blood. She is dead within five minutes.