Who murdered Betsy Aardsma? The list of suspects ranged from professors to jilted lovers and the infamous serial killers Ted Bundy and the Co-Ed Killer. Yet, despite this intriguing catalogue of possible culprits and the large law enforcement presence on campus in 1969, Betsy’s case was knocked from the national spotlight when news broke about the Manson family murders.
But her story remains well known to the Penn State community – with current students claiming to have encountered her ghost – and is still an open case.
Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts Carter Roy and Wenndy Mackenzie conclude their investigation with a hunch of their own.
Just minutes after the stabbing of Betsy Aardsma, a mysterious man approaches a clerk at the front desk of the library to say that a girl needs help before quickly walking away. Another man runs by. The clerk gets up and yells after them about the girl in trouble. The first doesn’t respond but the running man, Joao Uafinda, says he’s going to get help.
Down in the basement amongst the stacks, Marilee Erdely finds Betsy shaking and coughing on the floor, and thinks Betsy is having a seizure. One member of the library staff runs to call 911 and another performs CPR until Betsy is transported to Penn State's Ritenour Health Center.
The doctors treat Betsy for a seizure, but it’s only after she is dead that they discover what truly killed her. With no blood found at the crime scene, police Lieutenant William Kimmel is surprised when the coroner tells him that Betsy had been stabbed in the chest with a knife. The killer struck quickly and the wound was small – only one inch wide and three inches deep. Had the knife plunged in a little to the left and a little shallower, she would have lived, but instead Betsy was suffocated by her own blood.
This leads the coroner to believe that she was killed by someone with medical knowledge. Lt. Kimmel suggests that it might have been a medical student. One cop thinks Betsy’s boyfriend David is the perpetrator, but Lt. Kimmel is convinced he isn’t.
Over thirty state troopers are brought onto the case and Lt. Kimmel discusses the case with them in the library. It’s mentioned that a janitor came by to clean up the scene soon after Betsy was taken to Ritenour Health Center. One state trooper finds him mopping the floor and questions him. The janitor deduces the officer suspects him of murder and destroying evidence but swears that he was only doing his job.
Lacking evidence, state troopers soon rule out the janitor as a suspect and find Betsy’s blood spattered on a stairway light switch. However, this and other evidence at the crime scene had already been contaminated by the hundreds of students passing through. Troopers rely on eyewitness accounts for new leads.
Just minutes before Betsy’s murder, after returning a borrowed pen to the victim, one student bumped into a man with a moustache wearing a big brown overcoat. The assistant stacks supervisor, Dean Brungart, reports having seen two men quietly conversing with each other a few aisles away from Betsy, but can’t recall if either one of them had a mustache. Marilee Erdely and Joao Uafinda each give differing descriptions of the mysterious man leaving the library.
State troopers have their first real suspect when a local sculptor named Bill Spencer brags about killing Betsy. However, they quickly conclude that there is no evidence to support his ramblings.
Investigators consider the possibility that the Co-Ed Killer followed Betsy from Ann Arbor to State College. However, the suspect for the Co-Ed murders sat in jail during the time of Betsy’s murder and no new victims ever emerged, so it’s unlikely.
In later years, Ted Bundy is also considered for the crime, because he attended a nearby college in 1969. Known for spending time in libraries and killing young, beautiful women, Bundy seems to be a likely suspect, but the Unsolved Murders: True Crime Stories show hosts mention that Betsy’s murder wasn’t violent enough to fit his style.
In interviewing witnesses, state troopers learn that Betsy wasn't the only person to come to Penn State from the University of Michigan English Department that fall. Robert Durgy, a new professor, was hired after completing his degree. Police believe, but cannot confirm, that they knew each other.
What they could confirm, however, was that Durgy suffered from clinical depression and took time off before Thanksgiving break to receive treatment. When he commits suicide just a few weeks after Betsy’s murder, police think the act is an admission of guilt. But a lack of evidence connecting Durgy to the crime clears his name. Police focus their investigative attentions towards Betsy’s boyfriend David Wright instead.
The scene cuts to a phone call conversation between David and his mom. Preferring to focus on his finals, she needs to talk David into attending Betsy’s funeral. Suspicious though this seems, David has a rock-solid alibi.
Next, police talk to Richard Haefner, who tells them that he and Betsy went on a few dates. Whether Betsy cheated on David or Richard misinterpreted what his time with Betsy meant, she ended whatever was going on between them the month before her death, giving Richard ample motive.
It’s not until years later that Penn State Professor Lauren Wright comes forward to say Richard arrived on his doorstep out of breath only 45 minutes after Betsy was murdered. Richard tells Lauren that a girl he dated was stabbed in the heart and murdered in the library bookstacks – details he read about in the newspaper. News of Betsy’s murder not yet publicly breaking, Wright is suspicious and suspects Richard is involved but does not report it to the authorities.
Nothing is said until Richard is jailed for violence against women and pedophilia many years later. Richard’s nephew Chris also comes forward, recounting a time he heard his uncle and grandmother fighting about child molestation accusations and the girl he killed. Chris assumes the girl mentioned was Betsy.