On November 28, 1969, 22-year-old Penn State student Betsy Aardsma was murdered in the Central Stacks of the Pattee Library. Betsy was a graduate student from Holland, Michigan, on campus over Thanksgiving break of that year as she worked on a research paper. She was found with a single stab wound to the heart after one or two men were seen fleeing the library, alerting desk clerks that a girl “needed help” in the stacks. She was rushed to Ritenour Health Center where she was pronounced dead.
The details following the murder were very murky. Thousands of students and faculty were interviewed but none produced substantial leads. No one could positively identify the men seen leaving the building, and the sparsely populated campus over Thanksgiving break provided very few witnesses. Pennsylvania State Police have continued the investigation over the 41 years since the murder, but have not produced any viable leads.
Another intriguing aspect of the case is that many details and sources related to the case have been classified. University officials are hesitant to discuss any details regarding the case, the State Police will not publicize any of their records that could assist in determining her killer, and The Daily Collegian has removed all of their articles regarding the case from their public archives.
Because of the lack of public information regarding the case, many have launched private investigations into the murder of Betsy Aardsma. In 1990, an author named Pamela West released a book titled 20/20 Vision, a science fiction novel that was based on the events of the murder. West had investigated the case in the 1980s, but decided not to publish an account of her findings for fear of libel. The television show Paranormal State featured the story in their first episode, but were prevented from conducting paranormal research in the stacks by University officials.
Within the past few years, articles have been published locally containing new information from private investigators. One of these investigators, Derek Sherwood, published a book this July containing his findings titled Who Killed Betsy: Uncovering Penn State University’s Most Notorious Unsolved Crime. The book provides a detailed description of Betsy, and who she was as a person and student, a thorough narrative of her murder and intensive investigations into a number of suspects in the case.
Sherwood’s research is amazingly comprehensive. He explores a number of suspects that arose, either through his research or through public theories on the case. There are two things that I found especially intriguing in this book. The first is simply the narrative and descriptions of campus life around the time of the murder. Sherwood’s detailed descriptions provide an amazing glimpse into the life of a student at Penn State in the 1960s. The insight provided by the narrative of the murder, as well as the state of life and culture on the University Park campus, give a unique look into the history of Dear Old State at a time before many of our parents would have even been here.
The second aspect of this book that I found especially interesting was the evidence that the author provides in accusation of one particular suspect. Nearly half of the book is dedicated to a thorough exploration into the life and character of this one suspect, whom the author believes is guilty of the murder. This is especially notable, as it seems that the author has done even more thorough research than State Police or other officials involved in the case. He conducted a multitude of interviews, following a trail which always led him back to the suspected killer. Given all the information and evidence he uncovers, it is hard to disagree with him after reading.
Who Killed Betsy is an essential read for any Penn Stater. The descriptive narratives coupled with the intensive investigative steps taken by the author combine to provide a unique glimpse into the life of Betsy Aardsma, into the life of a Penn State student in the 1960s, and behind the mind of her suspected killer. Whether you agree with the author’s findings or not, the book will give you insight into a piece of Penn State history like you’ve never seen it before.
Who Killed Betsy: Uncovering Penn State University’s Most Notorious Unsolved Crime is available downtown at the Student Bookstore or online here.