Sunday, August 28, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: Who Killed Betsy?

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Who Killed Betsy? Uncovering Penn State University’s Most Notorious Unsolved Crime.
by Derek Sherwood
Pine Grove Press, 2011

Book review by Robert A. Waters

For nearly 42 years, the murder of Betsy Aardsma in the Pattee Library at Pennsylvania State University has gone unsolved. Despite decades of investigating the case, cops have been able to find no motive and no viable clues. Although two students witnessed the immediate aftermath, no one except the killer saw the actual slaying.

Over the years, the murder has become the stuff of legend at the university. Incoming students are routinely regaled with horror tales about that afternoon of November 28, 1969.

In Who Killed Betsy?, Sherwood takes readers back to the late 1960s: to war protests; hippies; drug use; and sexual perversion. Like other campuses across the U. S., Pennsylvania State University had its share of those problems. On Thanksgiving Day, Betsy Aardsma, an English major from Holland, Michigan, walked into the library to find a book she needed for her studies. As she stood in the stacks, a man approached and stabbed her through the heart. Betsy sank to the floor, unable to even scream. Within minutes, she was dead.

The killer escaped without being detected.

The police investigation revealed no enemies, no sordid past, no reason for the murder. Betsy seemed to be a slightly liberal young woman with a long-time boyfriend. They had recently decided to marry.

As police dug for clues, they focused on the stacks in the Pattee Library. Lots of weird characters, and some dangerous ones, hung out there. One of the problems seemed to be semi-public homosexual and occasional heterosexual encounters that took place in the back-spaces of the library. Detectives speculated that Betsy may have interrupted a gay liaison involving someone she knew and was murdered so she wouldn’t report the incident.

Derek Sherwood has studied this case for decades. In Who Killed Betsy? he focuses several chapters on a possible suspect. I’m usually skeptical of such after-the-fact pronouncements, but I have to say, the author convinced me. Unfortunately, no one will ever know for sure because most of the participants are now dead.

Sherwood’s research included interviews with many of those who were involved in the case, a study of long-withheld police files, and the sourcing of court documents from the many cases his chief suspect was involved in.

Who Killed Betsy? is the kind of book I like. It takes the reader back in time to a unique locale that was populated with weird and intriguing characters. It is well-written and easy to read. Most of all, it opens a window into a long-hidden mystery.

This book was a labor of love for the author. Buy it and read it. You’ll love it.

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