Forty-four Years Later, Betsy Aardsma Ghost Stories Still Resonate
On November 29, 1969, 22-year-old Penn State student Betsy Aardsma was murdered in the stacks of Pattee Library. Exactly forty-four years later and the mystery has never been solved.
In the late afternoon, Betsy was stabbed by an unknown assailant and found collapsed on the floor on Level 2, row 51 of the stacks — although the aisles have since been renumbered. No one was exactly sure what had happened, but by the time she reached the hospital, she was already dead. Many dedicated researchers have examined the case over the years, and the website WhoKilledBetsy.com is a great resource for further reading on the incident.
Years later, on the anniversary of her untimely death, a lit candle was found in aisle 51 surrounded by clippings about the tragedy and writing on the floor saying, “R.I.P. Betsy Ruth Aardsma, Jul. 11, 1947 – Nov. 28, 1969. P.S. I’m Back.” Since then, legends of the haunted stacks have weaved their way throughout Penn State history.
I went to investigate myself, but the only paranormal encounter I experienced was this little guy on level B.
People like Tommy Davis have dedicated countless hours researching the Aardsma case. He’s working on a film about Betsy Aardsma herself, and says he has heard just about every haunted tale there is about the incident.
“They’re ridiculous,” he said. “I can almost guarantee I’ve spent more time in the stacks than 99.9 percent of the people who study there…It’s a contrived legend that’s grown. In my mind it’s a tragic story, not a horror story. People say they hear screams and see blood. There weren’t screams during the murder and there was no visible blood.”
In response to the creepy vigil in row 51 on the anniversary of her death, Davis attributes it to a prank.
“The fact that at that point in time a killer would’ve gotten away with it for 25 years and risk coming back is unlikely,” he said. “It’s about humanizing her and bringing the humanity out. It’s a true story. It’s real people.”
Sascha Skucek, a former Penn State student and professor, is another expert on the Aardsma mystery. When asked if he personally believed in ghosts, Skucek calmly stated, “Sure, why not.”
Skucek expressed his own skepticism about hauntings in the Stacks, but he could not discredit this detailed accounts people have told him over the years.
“If there is a ghost of Betsy in the library depending on how you believe in ghosts it can be interesting or despairing,” he said. “A ghost would be trapped in the library for a reason. There’s no reason for Betsy to be trapped.”
His goal however is not to explore these possibilities of hauntings, but to bring the killer to justice.
“The danger of ghost story in this case is that it distracts from the issue,” he said.
Skucek says he has heard more of these ghost stories over the years, possibly because the passage of time makes it subject to a certain level of mysticism, and there has also been an increased interest with some paranormal societies.
“I think that Betsy was a very free spirit, really interested in learning new things, and had a close relationship with God,” he said. “I think she resisted death, but when it came she was willing to explore it.”