In his book “Murder in the Stacks: Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away,” author David DeKok tells the story of the 22-year-old Penn State student killed in Pattee Library the day after Thanksgiving, Nov. 28, 1969.
He details her life and death, and alleges several mistakes and oversights that left the killing unsolved for more than 40 years. The book reads like a dual biography, giving a detailed account of Aardsma and DeKok’s own person of interest, Richard Haefner.
“Murder in the Stacks” also touches on similarities that DeKok says exist between the Aardsma case and the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal at Penn State. DeKok alleges, like the Sandusky scandal, that the Aardsma case was not properly investigated and information was withheld to save the reputations of certain people and of the university itself — at the expense of the victims and their families.
DeKok recently spoke with the Centre Daily Times about the book and his perspective on the case.
Betsy was from my hometown of Holland, Mich., and went to my high school. ... I didn’t know her, but I knew several of her teachers and was able to find most of her friends. Because of their help, and because I had grown up in the same town and culture she did, I was able to write a biography of her. She was beautiful, intelligent and kind. Everyone said so. It frustrated the state police to no end, because they depend on character flaws in a victim to lead them to the killer.
Haefner, who grew up in Lancaster, ... was a boy-oriented pedophile who sought out “relationships”with women as cover for what he was. ... You see this throughout his life. But he had a violent temper when a woman annoyed or rejected him. He was probably minutes away from killing a woman in a parking lot in Delaware in 1998 when a Tastykake driver rushed to intervene. Haefner was slamming her face into her car. She had extensive dental damage and never truly recovered emotionally from the brutality of the attack, her husband told me. When you view these incidents, it is easy to imagine him flying into a rage against Betsy Aardsma and plunging the knife he always carried into her heart.
There was great mistrust of the state police by many Penn State students in 1969 because of the police role in breaking up demonstrations and arresting marijuana smokers. And it hurt the investigation. Students just weren’t coming forward to talk to the police. They would answer questions if asked, but on a campus this large, the police needed to have people come forward on their own. The same thing happened at the University of Michigan earlier that year, when the Michigan State Police were trying desperately to find the Coed Killer before he struck again.
(Maurer) knew Haefner, and briefly roomed with him in Atherton Hall. Maurer did just about everything he could to make the state police believe that he was the killer, but he passed a lie detector test with flying colors, then vanished into the National Security Agency for a long career. I think it was all an act on his part; a way to get attention. When I phoned him, he refused to talk to me beyond commenting that the Aardsma murder had been a “tar baby” for him, meaning something he couldn’t get rid of.
Why do they refuse to close the case? For all the reasons above, plus I don’t think that, as an institution, they like the fact that citizens developed Haefner as a suspect.
Sgt. Keibler told me they ran all these theories down and dismissed them. Another one that really irked him was the rumor that Betsy had been a nude model for the art department and her murder somehow grew out of that. She wasn’t, and Keibler remains permanently soured on art students.
What really ought to happen at Penn State is a Truth and Reconciliation Commission made up of independent outsiders who have full authority and access to documents to investigate what Penn State did about Betsy’s murder, about the Antonio Lasaga pedophile professor scandal of 1981, and, of course, about Jerry Sandusky. It’s time to stop looking the other way. If Penn State wants to bury the Freeh report, this is the way to go.