Updated: Apr 29, 2021
Please note that this, and all episodes of Thrice Cursed have been adapted from their original spoken form to text by myself, and some additional ad-libbed content may have been omitted. All content within is the sole property of Thrice Cursed Podcast. Please don't plagiarize. Plagiarism sucks.
Hello. I’m Rebekkah Rosewood, and this is Thrice Cursed.
Last week, in a nod to National Women’s History month, you heard all about Jolly -rather, disturbed- Jane Toppan and the hauntings of her final home at the Taunton Insane Hospital. If you’re listening, I can only assume that the wall-crawler didn’t scare you away. And for that, consider me impressed. I scared myself away. The episode you’re hearing today was recorded and edited by my soul, which LEFT my body last episode. Maybe Amethyst Realm will want to date my soul. Amethyst? You there girl?
In today’s episode, I’ll discuss probably the only thing scarier than a wall-crawler: an unsolved murder. Now, that may sound crazy up front.. But think about it. Sure. A wall-crawler is absolutely horrifying, and I definitely don’t want to ever see one. BUT… in this instance, at least, it seemed to be confined to one location. A murderer that was never caught? Well… they could be anywhere. At any time. With any target. And, they’re likely going to be emboldened by the fact they were never caught. So… and spirits, don’t call me on this… but I’d take being in a room with a wall-crawler over a murderer any day of the week.
And, now that my incoherent babbling is out of the way, we can get on with the case.
Thanksgiving of 1969 for 22-year-old Betsy Aardsma was spent with her boyfriend in Hershey, Pennsylvania. The next day had her taking a bus back to Penn State University where she attended college. While many remained away, enjoying Thanksgiving weekend with their families, Betsy had hoped to do some research for an English assignment. Her English 501 class, taught by professor Harrison Meserole, required a lot of library work, according to one student. So it was fairly common that students who took this class would spend hours on end there.
Betsy walked with her roommate to what is now referred to as the Pattee Library, where the two parted ways. Sometime between 4:30 and 4:45pm, Betsy Aardsma collapsed. At least, that’s what everyone thought initially.
During her collapse, Betsy pulled several books down from the shelves, causing a rather loud commotion in a sparsely populated library. Some people who’d been present in the library at the time reported hearing a scream, while others only recalled hearing the sound of falling books. Sometime between then and 5pm, a man leaving the area, reportedly running, told nearby witnesses, “Somebody better help that girl.” Another source I found stated that this man had actually been with another man, and both men actually led her back toward rows 50 and 51 before disappearing. It’s unknown which account is accurate, but the most widely discussed account is that of there being only one man who mentions helping a girl, then flies out of there like a bat from hell. According to this same source, one of the men came forward and was cleared as a suspect. A sketch of the other man was drawn up based off of witness descriptions, and I will include the sketch in the blog post and facebook group, so be sure to check that out. The man from this sketch? He was never found.
I’d also just like to take a second here to clarify that when I say witness, I mean witnesses of general happenings at the library, and not the actual murder. As far as anyone is aware, there were no witnesses to the murder other than the murderer themselves, and probably this man… assuming that man wasn’t the murderer. And that’s a pretty big assumption, because if I had just witnessed a girl collapse, I’d be sticking around to give my witness statement. Unless I had caused it. Were that the case, I couldn’t get out of dodge fast enough. And neither could this guy, it would seem.
The Centre Daily Times of State College reported on Dec 1, 1969, that Betsy Aardsma’s body had first been discovered by acquaintance Mary Erdley. She couldn’t figure out what exactly had happened to her, and spent the next 15 to 20 minutes attempting to get passing students to help her before anyone finally stopped. --I’d like to just say a quick FUCK YOU to bystanders who won’t help someone in need. Like I can understand why you might not jump in during a physical attack. But in the aftermath? There’s literally 0 excuse. You’re garbage. As someone who was once jumped by 3 girls while 30 plus people stood around filming with their cellphones, you can straight go to hell.--When first responders joined Erdley and Aardsma between the stacks of books, even they had been at a loss. It wasn’t until the paramedics on scene took her to the campus medical center, that a gruesome discovery was made. Within an hour, it became clear that Betsy Aardsma had been stabbed once on the left side of her chest with what was described as a “hunting-style knife.” This knife sliced her pulmonary artery, and broke through the right ventricle of her heart.
This initially went unnoticed because Betsy had been wearing a red dress over a white cotton turtleneck sweater that day, a fact that in and of itself was strange. A friend by the name of Linda Marsa said, “That would have definitely been out of character for Betsy… A dress and white cotton shirt on a cold November day to do research in the stacks? That’s not normal.” A small amount of blood spilled outward and was camouflaged by her red dress, while the rest bled internally into her lungs. It was eventually determined that Betsy had died within 5-10 minutes of the attack.
The knife wound itself, as well as deep bruising around the entry point indicated that the murderer had struck her with great force, and was right-handed. A lack of defensive wounds tells us that she either knew the suspect, or never saw them coming. Part of me is picturing those older horror movies where an attacker tries to stab someone from the other side of a library book-case. You know, those bookcases that don’t have a center divider.. So if you’re on one side of it, and someone is on the other, you can see them. But based on the amount of force, as well as practicality… I doubt it. Many state troopers involved in the investigation believe that the murderer had grabbed Aardsma from behind before plunging the knife into her heart. --I’m not a criminal investigator, and have 0 education in the area aside from what I’ve seen in documentaries or read online, but I find it difficult to believe a killer could get the kind of force that was necessary in this instance that way.
A murder weapon has never been recovered in this case. The weapon is believed to be a hunting-style knife with a one-edged blade that is 3½ to 4 inches long.
So how could someone commit a murder and get away so cleanly in a public campus library? Well, there are several things to factor in here. To start, let me first give a brief explanation of the library’s layout. In November of 1969, each row of shelving units extended all the way to the wall, meaning there was only one point of entry for each row. In addition to that, the space between each row was extremely narrow. Narrow to the point that if you and one other person were in the same aisle, you wouldn’t be able to pass the other person unless one of you turned sideways. This kind of set up meant that should someone corner you, there was no escape.
Horrible layout aside, the murder took place over Thanksgiving weekend. Alumna Cheryl Sharpe who had been 19 at the time, was working as a clerk in the library one floor above where Aardsma had been found. She stated that the library had been practically empty, as most students had yet to return from their Thanksgiving festivities. Sharpe also noted that the library had halved its staff in expectation of a lighter student presence due to the holiday. Authorities at the time estimated that there had been approximately 90 students in the library, over multiple floors, only about 9 of which were within 70 feet of Aardsma when she was murdered. Due to the bookshelves, however, none of these people saw anything.
Shortly after the murder, security cameras were installed in the library elevators. Prior to this, there were none. Nor was there a security presence at all, as it had never been deemed necessary.
In addition to the lack of presence, and lack of security cameras, we have to look at the immediate actions after the murder. It wasn’t known until at least an hour after the discovery of Betsy Aardsma that her death had been a murder. What does that mean exactly? Well, the scene was never secured as a crime scene by campus control or first responders. By the time it was realized that there was a crime scene, it had already been contaminated beyond repair. Even when the first responders first arrived on scene, there were as many as seven people meandering about and touching things. By the time investigators arrived on scene, staff had put the books away, and a janitor had mopped. There was even a urine puddle nearby that had been mopped up. By this point, any evidence that had once been present at the scene, was likely gone.
Because of tragic mishaps like this and many others, nowadays, when officers first arrive upon what is called the “death scene,” it is cordoned off in the event foul play is determined. Back then, that unfortunately wasn’t the case.
So now that we know what happened, I’m going to take a quick break so I don’t have to stop in the middle of all of the different theories!
Alright, with the break over, let’s get into some of the suspects and theories. I’m going to note here that anything beyond this point is all theorizing, nothing has been proven, and therefore you can tack a HUUUUUGE “allegedly” onto every single thing that I say. Any names I will be stating going forward are also public domain or public knowledge, meaning I didn’t get them from private police reports or digging that any normal person couldn’t do with the help of google. I say this because were this untrue, I would leave the names out. Boring rules and whatnot aside, here we go.
As time has gone on, the number of theories has only increased. As we always do, we’ll start with the boyfriend. Betsy chose to attend Penn State mainly because her boyfriend, David L. Wright had been attending Penn State College of Medicine in Hershey. The med school campus her boyfriend attended was nearly a hundred miles away, but it was still closer than her initial plans of joining the Peace Corps in Africa. She’d only followed him to Penn State when he insisted he wasn’t sure he would wait for her. Which, sure… kind of a dick move. BUT, also perfectly understandable. Long distance is hard as hell in the same country, let alone on a different continent.
In interviews, David has stated that while he wasn’t engaged to Betsy at the time, he probably would have given her an engagement ring over Christmas that same year. -- Of course, you can say anything about something that didn’t happen. So… do with it what you will.
A distraught David stated that the last time he saw Betsy was on November 27th. The couple had shared Thanksgiving dinner with a group of fellow med-students. Afterwards, David dropped Betsy off at the bus depot. As with most investigations, being the partner, he was the initial suspect. Furthering the possibility of David being involved is the fact that he’s a med student. The method of murder was so precise, and done so cleanly that either the killer got unbelievably lucky, or they had a working knowledge of human anatomy. And while human anatomy seems like a pretty basic thing to understand since, you know, we are human, ask me where my kidneys are. The results will shock you. --Spoiler alert, I don’t have a clue. Dr. Steven Margles, who lived in the same house with Wright at the time said, “Dave was a big suspect because whoever it was [that] stabbed her, hit the vena cava. And because he was a medical student, he would have known where to plunge the knife. I mean, I couldn’t have hit that if I tried, [even] knowing the anatomy pretty well.”
When police first arrived at the home, the detectives separated Wright and the other students who lived with him, then began their questioning. They all confirmed David’s alibi. He and the others had been studying together at the time Betsy Aardsma was murdered.
Despite this, detectives continued to drop in on David, asking him repeatedly about the events of that night. They visited so frequently that the dean George T. Harrell of Penn State Med ordered the detectives off the grounds. Even still, they returned 2 to 3 times a week, according to Wright. Though they met at a restaurant across the street from campus. Wright was a cooperative participant throughout the entire ordeal.
Another theory that spread like wildfire across campus, was that she was a victim of the serial killer that had been murdering women around the University of Michigan that same Spring and Summer. The women on campus were understandably terrified. If he had travelled to Pennsylvania and had murdered his next victim at their college, who’s to say they weren’t next? It became common for women to have security escorts to and from the library, particularly in the area where Aardsma had been murdered. Of course, John Norman Collins, the serial killer responsible for those slayings, had already been apprehended as early as July 30th of that year. The trial, however, had not yet occurred. As they say, innocent until proven guilty.
In addition to Collins’ murders, there were other murder victims that year in similar areas. None of which were attributed to Collins. Being who I am, I absolutely would have thought there was a second serial killer, and they were setting their sites on my campus. Honestly, as if I needed another reason to drop out of college.
Another theory was that Aardsma had accidentally stumbled upon a gay sexual encounter, and was killed to prevent her from mentioning what she had seen. According to one state trooper on the scene, when using luminol, the area lit up for not only a presence of blood, but semen as well, and Aardsma had not been sexually assaulted. --Of course, we are talking about a college campus here. I’m not at all surprised by the presence of bodily fluids.-- In addition to that discovery, there were also pornographic books hidden among the shelves near where Aardsma had been killed. And we’re not talking one or two. We’re talking 20-30 books in that area. That’s a BIG number. That’s like a “mom’s checking me into a mental health facility because I have a PROBLEM” numbers of porn. Troopers typically don’t believe that this theory holds any water, however. Y’know what it DOES hold though? Semen. Lots and lots of semen.
--Is anyone else here picturing Nandor from What We Do in the Shadows talking about how the witches like to steal his semen? No? Just me? Okay.--
That takes us to theory 4. Betsy Aardsma was murdered by someone else that she knew. As I mentioned earlier, Betsy’s friend, Linda Marsa, stated that she typically wouldn’t wear a dress to go study at the library. This led her and investigators to believe that Aardsma had intended to meet someone at the library. She typically dressed far more casually. Add to this the fact that Aardsma didn’t scream when her killer closed in on her. Nor did she put up a fight, as made evident by the lack of defensive wounds. This was likely personal.
Theory 5. Betsy was killed by Ted Bundy. If you’re slightly surprised by that, you’re not alone. Aardsma’s name isn’t one that typically comes up when you search for Bundy, and I thought I knew all Bundy-related trivia. Apparently not though, so here we go.
It’s known that Bundy spent part of his youth in Philadelphia, and attended Temple University in 1969. People who have studied Bundy state that he would have been driving along Interstate 80, which is just 12 miles away from the campus, around that time. Though it’s likely he drove through the area several weeks before the murder actually occured. Regardless of that fact, some investigators are still partial to this theory.
It’s strange though, as Bundy’s MO was anything but clean, precise, and well-planned. As we all know, he was the kind to brutally beat his victims before strangling them, and then having sex with their corpses. The only real connections between Bundy and Aardsma seems to be that he was in the area near the time of her death, and, like many of Bundy’s victims, Aardsma was a college student. I personally think people give Bundy way too much credit. There was literally nothing extraordinary about him. He wasn’t attractive. He wasn’t intelligent. Ted Bundy was an idiot who couldn’t hack it in law school, as made VERY evident by the way he handled his own trial (I don’t know what the fuck that judge was thinking when he complimented Bundy’s talents). The only reason he’s romanticized is because he happens to be a white guy… like a large majority of serial killers are. I said it. It needed to be said. Anyway, enough about that jabroni.
Theory number 6 is… interesting, and there are a few variations of it. This theory would have us believe that Betsy Aardsma was murdered by drug dealers. In one variation, Aardsma witnessed a drug deal in progress in the library, and was killed in order to keep her silent. Variation 2 has Aardsma playing the role of an undercover agent. Her parents were involved in law enforcement as well, in this version. People who knew the Aardsma family have stated in no uncertain terms that they were not involved in law enforcement in any capacity. Aardsma’s theoretical position somehow facilitated her death. The final version of this theory was that the killer was a drug dealer that the police were actually aware of and tracking at the time. This was ruled out, however, as police were able to prove he had been in Philadelphia at the time of Aardsma’s murder.
Theory 7 is that Aardsma was killed by a professor that knew her. Investigators spent quite a bit of time looking into professor Robert G. Durgy, who had been 27 at the time of her murder. He had arrived at Penn State that Fall, which is the same time Aardsma had arrived. He had been a teaching assistant in an English class on campus that semester. It’s possible, but unknown if Aardsma had been in any of his courses at the time, as there are apparently confidentiality rules that prevent access to the records that would clarify. --Which is WILD to me.
Within approximately 3 weeks of Aardsma’s death, Robert G. Durgy perished in an intentional car crash near Lansing Michigan. He crashed into a bridge abutment on December 19, 1969. His widow, Martha Durgy has defended Robert, stating that he was troubled by “demons,” including a history of depression, suicide attempts, and hospitalizations. She also stated that they had left Penn State a day before the murder. About his suicide, she said that he had been stressed over his dissertation, as well as his teaching duties at the college. According to her, Aardsma’s name had never been mentioned.
Probably the most detailed, and final theory I will discuss, is that a fellow student had been responsible. 2 books published in 2011 and 2014 both name Geology student Rick Haefner as the murderer.
In the fall of 1969, Haefner allegedly told acquaintances that he had dated Aardsma. However, during his interviews with police following her murder, he stated that the two had stopped seeing each other in October, as she had become more serious with David Wright. --This is a little confusing to me because according to every source I could find, she had ditched her lifelong dream of joining the peace corps, just to follow Wright to Penn State. That’s already a pretty serious commitment. But I digress.
Haefner told investigators that he had learned of Aardsma’s death one day later, on the evening of November 28th. However, it’s alleged that he had actually shown up at the home of a professor just hours after Betsy Aardsma had been killed, asking if the professor had seen the papers.
This is strange, as, obviously no papers had been printed about her murder within hours of it actually happening. Especially considering it took an hour for anyone to even realize it had been a murder. It seems to me like Haefner was likely still running on adrenaline, and needed to discuss his alleged crime with someone.
The professor is said to have mentioned it to his wife afterwards due to the strangeness of it all, wondering if Haefner could have possibly had something to do with it. However, neither the professor nor his wife ever mentioned the occurrence to the police. Later in life, Haefner was deemed a Who’s Who in America in 1975 going into 1976. He was a lecturer that travelled throughout the eastern US, and was destined to go on to greatness. That is, until his career crashed harder than 2020. In August of 1975, Rick Haefner was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting an underage boy. The 12-yr-old boy, who will remain nameless, had apparently been working for Haefner out of his garage, putting together shipments of rocks and minerals that the geology professor sold to the Smithsonian Institute. The trial for this ended in a hung jury, and the only jail time he served in this instance was 2 weeks for being found in contempt of court. --He’d apparently mentioned that he passed a lie detector test after being specifically told not to mention it, as it wasn’t admissible as evidence.
He’d initially been sentenced to a month in prison, but was released early pending an appeal of this citation. Haefner won the appeal, and in March of 1979 the state Supreme Court ruled that he wouldn’t be tried for the assault again because it would violate the double jeopardy law. His record was then expunged.
So, at this point, you’d think the guy would do everything in his power to avoid further scrutiny. If it were me, I’d probably live the life of Patrick Star and just bury myself under a rock somewhere because shit has a way of coming back to bite you in the ass. Life has taught me that very very well.
This… is decidedly not what Rick Haefner did. Instead, he basically devoted the rest of his life to trying to sue anyone that had anything to do with his trial. He went after police officers, the city, the county, the court reporter. Hell, he even went after his own defense attorney. Which, frankly, it seems like the guy did a hell of a job if he only spent 2 weeks in prison on a 1 month sentence, in a trial for sexual assault of an underaged child. But sure, let’s just sue everyone. As the lawyer in Bob’s Burgers says, “If you don’t sue, shame on you.”
Haefner was convinced that this trial would be the end of his career. And in one case, it sort of was. Just before his arrest and subsequent trial, Haefner had landed a job at The University of Southern California, as well as the position of curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles. These events caused the opportunities to be ripped from before his very eyes. The only thing left was to pursue years and years and years of lawsuits. He actually won $300,000 in a lawsuit against the museum that pulled the position from under him.
As if all of the lawsuits weren’t a big enough tell that dude had some anger issues, George Werner, an attorney who represented the city and the city police department against Haefner, recalled a deposition in which Haefner acted as his own attorney. He did this often, by the way, as do many psychopaths. Might I refer you back to Bundy. In this deposition, he actually jumped across a table and wrestled a witness that was being deposed. And this isn’t even the only example of his temper. Though, are we at all surprised?
In 1981, Rick Haefner was cited with disorderly conduct for causing an unknown disturbance in the lobby of Lancaster Newspapers.
In 1992, Haefner was arrested for, essentially, kidnapping a child. He’d apparently interfered with the custody of a 13-yr-old boy when he took the child to Chincoteague (shing-kuh-teague), Virginia. He was reported as missing by the mother, who ultimately dropped the charges because Haefner had taken her son to Virginia numerous times on various occasions. As if that somehow made it better? I don’t know.
The boy was eventually placed into a group home, where Rick Haefner was forbidden access. Due to this, he eventually sued everyone involved in that decision. Christopher Underhill, an attorney who represented multiple defendants in this case stated that Haefner was “a cut above” most people who represent themselves in court, but was “just flat-out wrong about the facts.”
In 1994, police responded to an incident at his home where he was charged with aggravated assault, assaulting a police officer, resisting arrest, hindering apprehension, as well as disorderly conduct for fighting with the officers and attempting to keep them out of his home. Allegedly.
Furthering this long list of insanity, in 1998, he was convicted of assaulting a woman after an argument in the parking lot of Liquor World in Milltown, Delaware. Apparently, the woman noticed a dog sitting in a shopping cart that appeared to have been abandoned. Unbeknownst to her, this dog was supposedly Haefner’s. It’s unclear from what I found, but I imagine she went to grab the dog so that she could take it to a shelter, or something, when Haefner appeared. He was enraged. The woman did the equivalent of a nowadays “My bad, bro” and attempted to walk back to her car. Haefner, surprise surprise, wouldn’t let it go. He smashed a bottle against her car. When she finally managed to get into her vehicle, she decided to follow Haefner in an attempt to get his license plate number. Court documents state that Haefner realized she was following him, exited his vehicle, then attacked her. He grabbed the woman by her neck, yanking her from her car, then proceeded to kick and punch her. In the brutal attack, her jaw was dislocated, and several teeth were loose.
He then had the audacity to try and sue HER. He alleged that he was the poor victim, and she had actually attacked him. The judge, on the other hand, tolerated none of his bullshit and threw the case out, stating that the complaint bordered on frivolousness. At this point, I’m sure every judge in the United States had heard of this Janky Freshwater Bitchfish and wanted absolutely nothing to do with it.
Richard Haefner died of a heart attack in the Mojave desert in 2002, where he’d been studying rocks. Unsurprisingly, his neighbors nearly rejoiced at this news. Haefner was not remembered as a clean or organized person. His yard was constantly in states of disrepair, full of broken down vehicles, tarps on tarps on tarps covering piles of random rocks, and metal drums as far as the eye could see. While no one complained to his face about this, many reported him to the city. One former neighbor, who requested to not be named, said that “If he found out you had called [the city], he would terrorize you.”