The Lady In The Blood Red Dress

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The Lady In The Blood Red Dress

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Betsy Aardsma’s school yearbook photograph via Wikipedia

Betsy Aardsma was a 19-year-old English student at Penn State with a passion for writing. According to LNP, Betsy was “near the top of her class in high school” and expected to “[do] great things.” On November 28, 1969, she went to the Pattee Library on campus to work on a research project for class around 4:45 or 4:55 PM. After speaking with her professor in his office in the library, Betsy headed towards Row 51, a narrow aisle between stacks of books in the library’s basement.

According to LNP, a witness reported hearing a man and woman speaking in the row Betsy was in, but he claimed it sounded like they were only having a “normal” conversation and not an argument, leading police to believe Betsy’s attack was unprovoked.

Soon after the conversation ended, the witness heard the sound of books falling before he heard something hit the metal bookshelves.

How is it she didn’t scream? This isn’t instant death. Even if it’s six minutes. You would think she would scream. It’s so weird.”

— Dr. Steven Margles

A little before 5:00 PM, a man approached the desk clerk of the library and told her, “Somebody better help that girl,” according to Historic Mysteries. However, the desk clerk didn’t know what he meant, so she stayed at her desk. Witnesses later claimed that the man left the library with another man soon after this. Although the desk clerk was later asked by police to help create a sketch of the man, he was never identified or seen again.

A group of students eventually found Betsy on the ground and thought she was having a seizure. A couple of the students tried to save her, and one student even tried mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but no one was able to revive her, since none of them noticed she was also suffering from a stab wound. This was partially due to the fact that her stab wound produced a small amount of blood, and the red dress she was wearing made it nearly impossible to see the little blood that was there.

Betsy was rushed to the Ritenour Health Center, the campus hospital, where the doctors discovered the stab wound on the right of her chest. The stab likely came from behind and proceeded to sever the right ventricle of her heart. The doctors also noticed that Betsy had no scratches or other defensive marks on her hands, which was more evidence that the attack had been a surprise from behind.

Betsy was pronounced dead at 5:19 PM, and her death was officially ruled a homicide.

By the time the police realized Betsy had been murdered and that they now had a crime scene to investigate, the library’s janitor had already cleaned everything up, including Row 51 and any possible evidence that might have been there.

For weeks after her death, police spent their time interviewing thousands of men and trying to find any leads.

Unfortunately, no leads were found, and the case eventually went cold.

Rick Haefner in a newspaper clipping from the 1970s via LNP.

However, there was a break in the 2000s when two books were written about Betsy Aardsma’s murder. Both books concluded that the murderer must have been Rick Haefner, a 25-year-old geology student at Penn State.

According to LNP, about 45 minutes after Betsy’s death, Haefner arrived at his one professor’s home out of breath to tell him, “Have you heard? A girl I dated was murdered at the library!” Both the professor and his wife felt that Haefner was involved in the murder.

Haefner was often described as “odd” or even a “sociopath” by people who met him, according to LNP. He was also  known for experiencing “bouts of explosive violence.”

[He] was a monster – a molester of boys, again and again throughout his life. He harbored a violent rage against women that could erupt without warning.”

— DeKok, a student from Penn State at the time of Betsy's murder

Haefner had been questioned by police after Betsy’s death, but they quickly dismissed him after checking his criminal record. Haefner had been involved in molesting underage boys, but the police decided this crime was not similar enough to stabbing a grown woman to death. The police believed they didn’t have enough conclusive evidence on Haefner and decided they “had no reason to suspect [him] – he was a strong student and a reasonably personable young man, clean cut and on his path to a master’s degree in geology,” according to LNP.

Haefner was never questioned further and died in 2002, possibly getting away with murder.

How did he escape arrest? Mainly through dumb luck and the mass confusion after the murder. The police worked very hard and had their theories; he wasn’t one of them.”

— DeKok