Murder on the Bookshelf

July 31, 2015
 Murder on the Bookshelf


            Reading a crime book last week, I was startled to discover a reference to my church—a positive reference, fortunately, but still a bit of a shock:

            The man behind Hope’s transformation was Calvin A. Vander Werf, who became president of the college in 1963.   He had been an organic chemistry professor and chairman of the chemistry department at the University of Kansas in Lawrence for more than twenty years.   Even though he was a Hope graduate, the valedictorian and commencement orator of the class of 1937, and the son of a Reformed Church minister from Wisconsin, Vander Werf and his wife, Rachel, had belonged to a liberal Congregationalist church in Lawrence.   She had been raised as a Quaker.  They were deeply committed to the cause of civil rights and improving the lives of black people. 

From Murder in the Stacks (David DeKok, 2014)

            That’s my church there.   I didn’t know Vander Werf, who would have left town in ’63; we joined the church in ’91.  

            Anyway, after that I went to a family reunion, where a relative told me that he had been trying to find out whether I was working on a new crime book, but had visited this web site and had been unable to learn anything.   Well. . .yes, I am still working on a crime book; it should be sent to New York within the next three months, perhaps less.   I published a chapter or two from the book here three or four years ago; I should publish a newer version of one of those chapters because I made some mistakes in the first version of it, and I should correct the record.   

            But this is not about my crime book, but about a couple of other crime books, one good and one not so great.   I should warn you, at the outside, that I stopped writing book reviews, about 30 years ago, because I decided I was just too mean to be doing that.  Very often, a year or so after reviewing a book, I would think "I was too hard on that book I reviewed.   That book was better than I gave it credit for being"—very often, in fact almost always.   Even when I wrote what I thought was a positive review, I would include some descriptive commentary of a less positive nature, and so other people would not think of it so much as a positive review.    I was just too negative.   I wouldn’t want somebody like me reviewing MY books—seriously, I wouldn’t—so I decided that other people were entitled to the same courtesy.  

            Keep that in mind.  The two books here are Jeff Guinn’s Manson:  the Life and Times of Charles Manson and David DeKok’s Murder in the Stacks; Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away.   Both books are very thoroughly researched, exhaustively researched.   Both authors did hundreds of interviews to gather material, pored over court transcripts, etc.   Very professional effort in both cases.  

            I can’t speak highly enough about Manson, except that I might say that to really get much out of the book, you have to be interested in Charles Manson.    I am interested in Charles Manson; I am interested enough in Charles Manson that I will sit and watch a parole hearing for Leslie Van Houten, who was one of Manson’s minions.   I am interested in Charles Manson because he leaves—or has left, up until now—a good many question marks hanging in the air.   How did he get all of those people to follow him?  Why, exactly, did he decide to start killing people?   He had a tribe of about 30 young women who would do whatever he wanted them to do, which many young men would think of as a good thing.   Why did he want them to kill people?  What the hell was the point in that?  

            There are many, many stories about Charles Manson that have permeated our culture—myths, fragments of narrative, whatever you want to call them.    Almost free-floating stories.    There are stories about Creepy-Crawly Missions, about the Spahn ranch, about the Hole in the Desert, about some connection between Charles Manson and the Beach Boys, about Manson having an obsession with the Beatles, about the murder of a farmhand named Shorty Shea, about Alvin (Creepy) Karpis teaching Manson to play the guitar, etc.   Vincent Bugliosi’s Helter-Skelter—the best-selling crime book of all time—tells these stories, but tells them after the fact, through the lens of the Tate-LaBianca murders.   Manson goes back to the beginning with Charles Manson, back to when Manson was born and before he was born, explains things in the order that they happened, and makes sense of them.    He explains who Shorty Shea was, how he alienated the Manson family, why he was killed, when he was killed, who killed him, how he was killed, where he was killed, how the police figured out that he had been murdered, how his body was found, when his body was found, etc.  

            Not in every case; one of the Manson family’s lawyers disappeared (and was probably murdered) in the middle of the Tate-LaBianca trial, but Manson doesn’t really follow through on that, I suppose because all of the facts are still not known.   He explains why Lynette (Squeaky) Fromme was called "Squeaky".    He explains what the Spahn Ranch was, where it was, when the Manson family moved there, when they moved out, when they moved back in, who else was there, etc.   He explains who Manson’s first recruit was, how she was recruited, when she was recruited, where she was recruited, and the same with the second, and the third, and the fourth; not every single member, but enough that you build up an understanding of how the group came together. 

            That is small scale, but Guinn explains what seems like the central mystery of Manson, which is how such a gross and annoying little rodent-like man was able to do what he did.   Manson spent many years in prison.   He used his time in prison preparing to do these things.  He developed tactics for gaining influence over other people.   He took Dale Carnegie classes, and took them seriously, learning practical lessons like how to make the other person think that your idea was his idea or her idea.   He cozied up to the Scientologists in prison, not really interested in Scientology but extremely interested in how Scientology was able to get people to buy in, and then take control of their lives.   He hung around with pimps as much as he could, peppering them with questions about how to spot vulnerable women, how to gain control of them, how to manipulate them.   He used con men as a resource, getting them to explain how to fracture reality so as to confuse others and get them to accept a reconstructed understanding of what was happening.

            Manson was also a brilliant man, certainly much smarter than the average bear.  And then, when he got out of prison, Charlie found himself in Berkeley and San Francisco in the Summer of Love, not by design but simply by pure dumb luck; Manson got out of prison not having any idea what was happening in the world or San Francisco, but just happened to go there to hook up with an old friend.   The skill set he had developed in prison was planted in the exact place and time where it could flourish the most.   Charlie’s mission was to get others to trust him; he happened to go to the place where categorical trust was the dominant social imperative.  Guinn explains all of this, not as bits and pieces but as concrete reality:  when Manson studied Dale Carnegie, and how he studied Dale Carnegie, what prison he was in at that time and how there happened to be a Dale Carnegie class in that prison, what year it was and what month and which prison block.   He knows the day on which something happened, or if not the day at least the month or the time of the month.   People drifted into and out of the Manson family; you couldn’t really "drift out" of the Manson family but people bolted and escaped.  Manson’s family members could generally be described as drug-addled dropouts; they didn’t really KNOW when things happened or what else was going on in the world right then.   Charlie worked by confusing people, keeping them in a permanent dissociative state.  But by talking to these people, years after the fact, figuring out when exactly each person knew Manson and associated with him, he is able to reconstruct the series of events in a way that was beyond any previous understanding of them.  

            He de-mystifies Charles Manson by tying him to a calendar, to a locale, to his birth family, to a personal history, to habits and tactics and to outside events.   Along the way, he tells a certain number of more-or-less related stories, like the story of Augustus Owsley Stanley III, who manufactured almost all of the LSD that was available in San Francisco at that time—a large share of the LSD available anywhere in the country—and controlled the distribution of it so as to maximize its usage.   Since Manson lived as a young person in the Kentucky-Ohio-West Virginia border triangle, Guinn knows that he has to give the reader some understanding of that time and that place; when Manson is sent to some particular prison, Guinn tries to explain the prison, since one prison as different from another as one school or one city is different from another. 

            David DeKok does this as well, in Murder in the Stacks; not "as well", I should have said that David DeKok does this, as well.   The murder victim was Betsy Aardsma.   Since Betsy Aardsma had attended Hope College in 1965-66, DeKok gives us a chapter or most of a chapter about Hope College, and since Dr. Vander Werf is a key figure in the history of Hope College, there are several pages about Dr. Vander Werf, and since Dr. Vander Werf had been a longtime member of my church, there is a half a paragraph or so about my church.    It’s off topic.   It’s too far off topic; there is a line there that you don’t cross. 

            I am not saying that this is a bad book or that you should not read it.   Many crime books are genuinely awful, sensationalized and cheap and badly written and badly researched.   This book is not any of those things.    I fault Mr. DeKok for three things.   First, his stories are not that interesting.  He wanders too far from the point, and he’s just not that good of a story teller; his sentences are fine, and his paragraphs are fine, and his research is excellent, but his stories are just not that interesting. 

            Second, I fault him for a lack of depth of understanding.  I will hit him pretty hard for that one later in the review.   And third, I don’t know that I have read any crime book that makes a worse argument for the guilt of the person (now dead) that the book accuses of the murder.

            Well, that’s probably not true; I spaced out for a moment there on Jack the Ripper books and Zodiac books.   People who write books about Jack the Ripper and the Zodiac often seem to have picked some citizen at random and decided to claim that he was Jack the Ripper or the Zodiac or that he murdered the Black Dahlia.   But setting aside those How-the-hell-did-you-get-this-crap-published mistakes, I don’t know that I have ever seen a worse argument about what might be called an "ordinary" crime, an isolated crime which is not particularly well known. 

            Betsy Aardsma was murdered in the stacks of the main library at Penn State on November 28, 1969.   Miss Aardsma’s murder happened very suddenly and without warning; she was just in the library, going about her own business, when she was stabbed under the breast into the heart.   No angry confrontation was noticed by others in the library, and she did not scream; the only thing that others heard was a "thud" like a person being punched, and then the sound of her falling to the ground and the sound of some books being knocked off a shelf.   A well-dressed young man was seen walking away from the scene of the crime, and he said over his shoulder that "somebody had better help that girl."  

            Betsy Aardsma had not been stalked or threatened as far as the police could determine, was not involved in any abusive relationship, and her boyfriend did not commit the crime.   There would appear to be three possible explanations for the crime:  that she was murdered by someone she knew for some unknown reason, that she was the victim of a completely random attack, or that she happened across someone (perhaps someone she knew) doing something inappropriate in the library, and that person panicked and stabbed her to avoid having his behavior reported.    The area where the crime occurred included a collection of rather extreme pornography, some of it open on the shelves, and scientific tests showed the area of the library, although a public place, to be dotted with numerous semen stains.   (In 1969 hard core pornography was not widely available in the United States.)

            The crime was never solved, but Mr. DeKok believes that the crime was committed by Dr. Richard Haefner, then a Penn State graduate student.   His argument against Dr. Haefner, who died in 2002, can be reduced to six statements of fact:

            1)  That Haefner was acquainted with Ms. Aardsma, and is alleged to have taken a strong interest in her.

            2)  That Haefner often carried a knife that could plausibly have been the murder weapon.

            3)  That Haefner showed up at the house of a mentor, an hour after the crime, disheveled and overheated, and asking questions that revealed knowledge of the crime.

            4)  That Haefner’s mother, in a heated argument with him witnessed by a third person, frankly accused him of committing the murder, a charge which Dr. Haefner did not deny during the course of that argument.

            5)  That Haefner was a very bad person who did harm to dozens or hundreds of other persons.

            6)  That Haefner assaulted a woman in Wilmington, Delaware on January 6, 1998, which shows him to have been capable of the assault on Ms. Aardsma.  

            In Popular Crime I suggested a way of evaluating evidence such that 100 points worth of evidence should be sufficient to establish guilt.    I would score the evidence against Dr. Haefner at six points, assuming that 100 points would convince me that he was guilty.   I would credit 4 evidence points for point (3) above and 1 evidence point each for points (5) and (6), but nothing at all for points (1), (2) and (4).   

            1)  That Haefner was acquainted with Ms. Aardsma, and is alleged to have taken a strong interest in her.    Haefner was casually acquainted with Ms. Aardsma, but there is no actual evidence that he was infatuated with her or had taken any particular interest in her.    DeKok simply says that this is true, repeatedly, and apparently expects us to believe that it is true because he says that it is true.   There is one source that says that they had once been out on a quasi-date, but that source is unreliable.   All we actually know is that they should have been acquainted through one of Haefner’s ex-roommates.   No points.    

            2)  That Haefner often carried a knife that could plausibly have been the murder weapon.   No photos of such a knife, no actual testimony about it, no actual proof even that it was of such a shape and size that it could have been the murder weapon.   No evidence that he had such a knife with him on the Penn State campus.   No points.   A lot of people carried knives in 1969; a knife is a very useful thing to have.  I’d probably still carry one today if airport security wouldn’t take it away from me.  

            3)  That Haefner showed up at the house of a mentor, an hour after the crime, disheveled and overheated, and asking questions that revealed knowledge of the crime.   Reportedly, he asked the older man (Dr. Lauren Wright) whether he had heard anything about Betsy Aardsma being murdered, when knowledge of the murder had not yet circulated around the campus, and certainly he should not have known who the victim was.

            If true, this would be a damning piece of evidence against Haefner; if true and verified, I would score this at 25 to 30 points.    But here are the problems with the story.  

            First, Dr. Wright never reported this to any police authority—not in 1969, and not later.  The police became aware of the alleged conversation many years later through second-hand sources.

            Second, Dr. Wright did report this to a Penn State official, and claimed that he had done so on the morning after the incident—but the official to whom he reported the event insisted that the report was made not the next morning, but seven years later; not seven days later, seven years.  .   

            Third, the precise timing of the story is crucial.   If Haefner came to Dr. Wright’s house an hour after the crime, that’s one thing; if it was two hours later, that’s very different, and if it was the next day, that’s entirely different.    One hour later, it seems unlikely that Richard Haefner could have heard about the incident second-hand or third-hand; two hours later, it is less unlikely, and the following day, not unlikely at all.   Given that there is a discrepancy of several years in one part of Dr. Wright’s account, it would seem to be difficult to have any confidence in the precise timing of another element of the account.   

            And fourth, even if the encounter happened exactly as Dr. Wright later claimed that it did, it still falls well short of being clear proof of Haefner’s involvement in the crime.   There were many witnesses to the fact that something terrible had happened in the library; there were many people who may have seen the body before it was moved.  News spreads like wildfire after an event of this nature.   After the fact, it is impossible to document who knew what at every minute of the sequence.   It is entirely possible and entirely plausible that Haefner could have heard a rumor that Betsy Aardsma had been murdered, could have been emotionally upset by the rumor, could have wandered across the campus in a near-hysterical state, and could have stopped in at Dr. Wright’s house (where he had been many times before) to ask if Dr. Wright had heard anything about the crime.    The claim that this is damning evidence against Haefner rests on the assertion that Haefner could not have known about the crime unless he was involved in it, which simply is not a true statement.   He could have known about the crime, even if he was not involved, because the police do not and cannot control the flow of information, even though they may try to do so and even though they may claim that they have done so.

            Dr. Wright continued to work with Haefner and continued to serve as a mentor for him for many years after the murder.  

            Dr. Wright’s story is the most damaging piece of evidence against Haefner, but it’s really not very much.  It would take many stories of this nature to convince me that Haefner was the murderer, as opposed to being an odd duck who became the target of gossip.    Let’s say that it would take 25 stories of this highly unreliable nature to convince a rational skeptic that Haefner was guilty; then the value of the allegation is about 4 points.  

            4)  That Haefner’s mother, in a heated argument with him witnessed by a third person, frankly accused him of committing the murder, a charge which Dr. Haefner did not deny during the course of that argument.    Again, this sounds quite a bit worse than it is.   The argument was overheard by a cousin of Dr. Haefner’s who worked for him, reportedly in the fall of 1975.   The cousin was fifteen years old at that time, and continued to work for Dr. Haefner periodically and continued to associate with him for the rest of Dr. Haefner’s life.   The cousin did not report this argument to the police or to anyone else, including his parents, at that time or for many years later.   He came forward with the story about the argument thirty years later, after Dr. Haefner and his mother were both dead, and specifically stated at that time that he had come forward after he saw an advertisement offering a reward for information about the death of Betsy Aardsma.

            In a court of law, neither the Dr. Wright story nor the cousin’s story would be admissible evidence, I don’t think, because they are hearsay.   I am not a lawyer, I don’t work for the lawyers, and I don’t really care what the lawyers’ rules are; they have their rules, and I have mine—but.   The intent of the hearsay rule is to ban gossip from the courtroom.   This is just gossip.  

            Mr. DeKok states repeatedly as if it were fact that Dr. Haefner’s mother believed him to have committed the crime, and he wants us to treat that as a known fact, but it isn’t.   Only Dr. Haefner’s mother can speak for Dr. Haefner’s mother, and she never did.  If Dr. Haefner’s mother had in fact stepped forward and stated that she believed that he was guilty of the crime, that certainly would be evidence, to me.  He had only one mother; what she thought about the issue would be of interest—but there are hundreds and hundreds of people who could make an allegation like this one.    The fact that one of those people would make such a statement, decades after the crime, is not really anything, because that person could have entirely misunderstood the argument that he overheard, could have confused the facts, could have embellished the facts, or could have invented the whole thing; we just have no way of knowing. 


            5)  That Haefner was a very bad person who did harm to dozens or hundreds of other persons.   Haefner was a pedophile who was sexually attracted to young boys.  There had been incidents, when he was a teenager and a young man, which had been reported to police and to various other authorities, although none of the incidents had yet resulted in a prosecution.   In 1969 Haefner could be described as a bright young man with a bright future, but a dark secret.   Haefner was an excellent student, and he was propelled forward by a deep and genuine interest in his area of study (geology), as opposed to those who were studying something because they had to study something.   He also was well-organized, industrious, and he had already by that time started private businesses which earned income for him, which he would continue to do for the rest of his life.  He was, however, hiding his secret; he had already been accused on multiple occasions of fondling children or of going further than fondling. 

            Haefner earned his PhD in 1972, but his career disintegrated after a 1975 arrest for molesting young boys.  Haefner started and conducted many different business ventures which were at least moderately successful and which enabled him to earn an income; the businesses were often also designed to bring him into contact with young boys.   But from a financial standpoint he was, from the mid-1970s on, just scrambling to earn a living; his dream of securing an academic or museum position was gone.    Haefner degenerated into a bitter, hateful man.   He filed certainly several dozen and possibly hundreds of lawsuits against those he believed had done him wrong, hiring lawyers when he could and representing himself pro se when he had to.   His court cases often dragged on for years, and blighted the lives of innocent people trapped in the web of a malicious lawsuit. 

            Haefner had, over the years after 1977, increasingly frequent angry confrontations with others, which sometimes resulted in his arrest.  He was arrested again in 1992 for taking a young boy on a trip without the consent of the boy’s family.  Haefner’s business practices became less ethical.   It might not be accurate to say that he was a con man, but he became less interested in whether his business transactions were satisfactory from the standpoint of the others involved.  Some of these transactions also resulted in lawsuits, and when you sued Richard Haefner, you could be absolutely certain that he would sue you back. 

            When a man is accused of murder, certainly the fact that he is a man of bad character is relevant to the allegation.   It is relevant to the question of whether the accused is entitled to a break in how you interpret the evidence.   When there is no evidence, it’s not relevant.   There’s no evidence here. 

            The courts have essentially thrown the notion of "character" out of the evidence locker, and I think it was a mistake to do so.   It is relevant, but it doesn’t go very far (one point out of a hundred) toward convincing me that Haefner had something to do with the murder.   There are thousands of people of horrendously bad character in every state.   It is general, as opposed to specific.   To show that a person committed a murder requires specific facts.  


            6)  That Haefner assaulted a woman in Wilmington, Delaware on January 6, 1998, which shows him to have been capable of the assault on Ms. Aardsma.    Haefner had left his aging, nearly deaf and nearly blind cocker spaniel—who he loved dearly—in a shopping cart while he ran into a pharmacy.  The shopping cart rolled out into the parking lot due to a gust of wind or something, and a couple of ladies, thinking the dog had been abandoned, came to its rescue.  Haefner, who was off of his medicines, thought they were stealing his dog.   The misunderstanding escalated until Haefner dragged the woman out of her car, punched her or slapped her several times in the face, and placed his hands around her throat.  

            To DeKok, the assault on this woman is the final and clear proof that Haefner is the sort of man who could have murdered a woman in a blind rage, and therefore is proof that he did.    My opinion is that that’s just silly.  

            I fault DeKok for a lack of depth of understanding, and to me, this shallowness of understanding—while it touches everything in the book—is most costly in three areas.   First, he is determined to see Haefner in the 1960s as being the same as Haefner in the 1990s.   This is shallow.   Haefner by the late 1990s had lived through a quarter century of failure, humiliation, disappointment and confrontation, and his mental health had deteriorated to an alarming extent.   Nothing that he did in the 1990s is in any way instructive about what he might have done in the 1960s, except that he was a lifelong pedophile.   Since Haefner is, really, the main subject of his book, this lack of perceptivity, this portraying the Haefner of the 1960s based on the Haefner of the 1990s, reveals a stunning lack of insight.

            Second, DeKok has no real understanding of the nature of a police investigation.   He keeps coming back to the question of why did the investigation fail, and of course he blames Penn State for this failure, and he blames this police investigator and that Penn State administrator.  This assumes that solution to a mystery is simply there unless you lose it; if the solution is not found, somebody screwed up.  That’s not the real world.  The solution to a mystery must be created by someone, often times in the face of great difficulties.   When the solution is not found, that doesn’t mean that someone screwed up; what it means is that no one succeeded.   He is looking at the problem backward.  

            The 1998 attack and the 1969 attack have basically nothing in common.   One attack unfolded gradually, escalating over a period of several minutes from a misunderstanding to an angry assault.  The other attack occurred suddenly, without any known context.   One attack involved the use of a weapon; the other did not.   One assault resulted in a woman being killed and intentionally killed; the other did not result in death and was never intended to result in death.   One was inside and in a place where the view of witnesses was cut off; the other was outside and in full view of God and everybody.   The attacker in 1969 appeared to be composed, and fled the scene in an organized manner.   Haefner in 1998 was shaking with rage.   These attacks are not parallel in any way.           

            And third, DeKok has absolutely no concept of what constitutes evidence.    He thinks he has got a case against Richard Haefner; he’s got nothing.   It is not enough to say that the case is unproven; the case is false.   Haefner did not commit the crime.   DeKok has written a book accusing an innocent man of a terrible murder.  

            This is not to say that it is a bad book, entirely.   The book intersects briefly with Ted Bundy and Charles Manson.   Ted Bundy was in Pennsylvania at the time that Aardsma was murdered, and Bundy does fit the description of the well-dressed young man seen walking away from the murder.  The lead investigator in the case did believe that Bundy might have committed the murder.   Bundy didn’t become known to the police until years after the Aardsma murder, and the fact that he was in Pennsylvania at that time did not become known to investigators until shortly before Bundy was executed.  

            DeKok, who will chase a rabbit trail for 15 or 20 pages without a thought, disposes of the Ted Bundy connection in five.  

"To go up to a girl and just stab her, that is so non-Bundyish," psychologist Art Norman told reporter Ted Anthony of the Penn State Daily Collegian for a story about the twentieth anniversary of Betsy’s murder.   "None of his needs would be fulfilled."  (Page 319)


            Well, yes, that is true, and I will also point out that Bundy is not known to have begun killing coeds until early 1974, more than four years after Aardsma’s murder.   It is unlikely that Bundy killed Aardsma, although it is more likely that Bundy committed the crime than that Haefner did. 

            In the fall of 1968, both Richard Haefner and Charles Manson were living in the same thinly-populated, almost-uninhabitable region of Death Valley.     Manson was looking for a hole in the floor of the desert where he could take his followers to hide out during Helter Skelter, and Haefner was studying the volcanic rock formations of the area for his PhD research.   Charlie was half crazy by then, but Haefner at that time was still mostly sane.    DeKok wonders whether the two could have met, and tries to trace some of the nonsensical ideas espoused by Haefner in his declining years to, perhaps, a chance encounter with Charles Manson?   Right.  

            I like to imagine chance encounters between famous people who we would not ordinarily connect to one another.  O. J. Simpson once shared a lecture podium with Byron "Whizzer" White.   Adolph Hitler and Sigmund Freud were both in Vienna from 1908 to 1913 (as were numerous other famous people); I like to imagine them running into one another and talking about music or something that neither one of them knew anything about.   Manson is an extremely good book, and Murder in the Stacks is not really a bad book; it is merely not the book that it should be.   


COMMENTS (25 Comments, most recent shown first)

Ted Bundy was in Pennsylvania at the time of the Aardsma murder.
3:39 PM Aug 4th
Correction...I quoted you as saying Zodiac had more chance of having killed Aardsma than Haefner, you actually said Ted Bundy. At the time of the murders Bundy was enrolled in college in Washington state, he wouldn't have a murder until 1974 and even his "confessions" don't predate 1972. So...using your crime linking formula...wha? I know about the Atlantic City rumors in the summer of 1969, but, again, wasn't Bundy attending 2000 miles away in November 1969?
10:57 PM Aug 3rd
My point is, the same standards you find missing in DeKok's conviction should be present in any statement clearing him.

NO, it isn't, and this is an extraordinarily ignorant thing to say. A person is ASSUMED innocent; he is not assumed guilty. The standards are not remotely comparable.
12:38 PM Aug 3rd
I'm new to the website in January of this year. Didn't know you were such a true crime fan like myself. I'm finishing up a kind of a whopper right now that I'd love to see your point system review. The book is titled "Edward Wayne Edwards, the serial killer you never heard of". The writer, John Cameron, is a retired homicide detective. He alleges to have solved the Zodiac Code and not only solved the Zodiac murders but many more cold cases involved with the killer, Edwards. I'm also a police officer who has recently been "boning up" and studying a lot of statement analysis. My new mentor in this venture is Mark McClish. He has a website which I will be emailing him about the book by Cameron. That being said, Cameron makes a good case in his book and it's really worth the read. Would love to hear what you think.
1:35 AM Aug 3rd

It occurs to me that this discussion settles out to a question of whether poo-flinging is nature or nurture.

My point is, the same standards you find missing in DeKok's conviction should be present in any statement clearing him or saying that the Zodiac is a better suspect (if that was not tongue in cheek.)

I get it, there is a cottage industry of unscrupulous authors convicting someone of the Ripper crimes, or the Borden murders, and publishers somehow fund it, oddly. I haven't finished DeKok's book yet, but I agree that the points he attempts with the cousin's story (actually, Chris Haefner was sort of a cousin/nephew) story are absurd. And DeKok's author resume seems to show a taste for sensationalism around tragedies.

But the information I cited here is from court records. You say that Haefner punched or slapped her and put her hands around her neck. I don't doubt that DeKok beat the drum of that incident too loudly, but the official court records I referenced show that she had stitches, loosened teeth, a dislocated jaw, and required dental reconstruction. Haefner was convicted in court of assault due to testimony from multiple eyewitnesses.

And a seething Haefner continued pretty much harassing this woman with pretty much frivolous court actions for years, all the way up to District Court, who said:

"Dr. Haefner should be aware that his filing in this case borders on frivolous and that his intent to harass Ms. Schuyler is clear. He should be on notice that future filings by him regarding this matter, in this court or other courts, that are patently frivolous or brought expressly for the purpose of harassment will not be tolerated. Link to case previously provided.

As I read this back it seems like putting weight on one incident, but it is more exemplary of his adult life than a cherry-picked aberration. The guy was more than half a bubble off, to use a carpentry term.

In the same vein, you say Haefner was only "casually" acquainted with Aardsma, the Sherwood book spells out the details of a number of dates and a break off phone call in the month before the murder, all related in detail by Haefner directly to the police in a formal interview. If someone has attacked the veracity of Sherwood's book, I was not able to find it. But I think if you were to say where is tyhe jilted love interest suspect, always at the top f the list, Haefner is it. The med student/boyfriend was in a study group a hundred miles away.

Also, I understand that Professor Wright's story is weak to the point of dismissing it entirely, in particular because it was unclear to the timeline of whether it was an hour or five hours after the murder. You say one hour would be compelling. The Sherwood book relates that Haefner was said to arrive as the family was sitting down to dinner -- habitually at 6:00 pm. The murder was @5:00 pm.

While the case made by DeKok may be idiotic, I have not heard of any "black ink" evidence absolving Haefner, like he was seen elsewhere at the time.

The fact that DeKok is an ass in his prosecutorial book does not clear Haefner of suspicion though it certainly would "acquit" him.

I know you read exhaustively on these cases, I remember you saying you read seven ponderous books on the Rosenbergs. Did you look at "Who Killed Betsy?" I'd be interested to hear your take.

12:17 AM Aug 3rd
You say the personality conclusions reached by Dekok are overblown given the passage of time. I'm only just reading the book now, but I'll take you at your point. However, I think that an important fact here is that Haefner was clearly vindictive and obsessed when "a man scorned," seemingly mostly against women. . .

This is all nonsense. This is just words; there's nothing of any meaning there at all. DeKok SAYS this is true 25 times and expects you to believe it because he says it so often. It has no evidentiary value, even if true, and there is absolutely no reason to believe that it is true.

This entire industry has grown up, this Nancy Grace industry of artfully painting people as guilty because they are the TYPE of people who do things like this. It's despicable. You can direct this kind of bullshit at anybody.
9:17 PM Aug 2nd
The Man FROM the Train. Shouldn't give you an absolute delivery date until it is absolutely delivered.
8:41 PM Aug 2nd
Bill, is the book that is three months from the publishers, The Man on the Train? Many of us eagerly await that.
5:03 PM Aug 2nd
Well, responding to OB. . .if you choose to be taken in by nonsensical drivel, I can't stop you.
4:33 PM Aug 2nd
HeyBill, just looking at some of the fact trail with Haefner.....the 1998 assault.

I think you may be playing down the violence shown by the evidence in court. The 49-year-old woman was pulled out of her car by the neck by Haefner and wound up with a dislocated jaw, stitches to her mouth, several loosened teeth, and contusions. Based on witness testimony of him punching her (not slapping) Haefner was charged and convicted after a trial of third degree assault. The facts are laid out here in a decision when he attempted to sue the woman and the case was thrown out:

You say the personality conclusions reached by Dekok are overblown given the passage of time. I'm only just reading the book now, but I'll take you at your point. However, I think that an important fact here is that Haefner was clearly vindictive and obsessed when "a man scorned," seemingly mostly against women, and extending to actual poo-flinging and literal poo-flinging as well, dragging out vindictive court battles for years replete with art least one jail sentence for contempt on his behavior in the courtroom and another incidence where he reportedly dove across a deposition table to assault a witness. (or it may have been a lawyer, if so disregard).

If this pattern didn't trigger the Aardsma murder, could it be the other way around? Could her dumping him have lit the fire that led to the confrontation in the library....then a lifetime of his sexual attentions being aimed at less formidable children rather than strong women? All these court battles and bullying...any against men?

Also, re their certainly seems from the other material I read that he and Aardsma had multiple dates and he described the scenario to police as she broke up with him, just some weeks before the murder. When the police asked her roommate if there was anyone they should look at, Haefner was the only person she gave them.

Some other interesting facts:

-- blood matching Aardsma's type was found on the specific staircase where the sketch suspect fled, further leading one to believe that was the killer.

-- Immediately before the murder, Aardsma had met with her doctoral advisor in his offices in the downstairs of the library. He was an enormous bullying man, known for having hardcore pornography lying openly around his office and also for his habits of showing it to young coeds. Now, from this guy's build and prominence on campus, he clearly wasn't the killer, but maybe there is a link there, like she was fetching porn for him? She told people she was fetching a library book for a professor, although it is believed to have been a different one.

Thanks again for the topic. Great stuff.

1:50 PM Aug 2nd
HeyBill, I just purchased the kindle version of "Who Killed Betsy?" by David Sherwood on Amazon. If you haven't read it, it is worth a look. At a quick perusal (misspellings) a number of things jump out -- for one, Sherwood said that Haefner related to the police in an interview the specific dates he had been on with Aardsma -- bowling, ice cream, dinner -- and recounted her breaking it off with him in a phone call. Other interesting data was that an electronic door monitor noted the entries and exits to the library in the forty five minutes surrounding the murder -- one. Kidding, 440, which was more than I pictured on a holiday weekend. Also, two hours after the murder the cops busted up a couple having sex in the stacks right above the murder scene., Go Nittany!
4:32 PM Aug 1st
The "illicit activity in the library" theory is very probably the explanation for the murder, but this is no more evidence against Haefner than it is evidence against any other person. It has nothing at all to do with Haefner. It is general, rather than specific.
10:20 AM Aug 1st
1) The bias toward "mind controlling" is based on the undeniable fact that he controlled the minds of other people--and continued to control them for up to 15 years after he had been locked away.

2) The DeKok book makes no reference to the Zodiac, and I don't know anything about that.

3) Based on the DeKok book, there not only is not enough to CONVICT Haefner; there is not enough to SUSPECT him. There is not enough to open an investigation. There's nothing.
10:04 AM Aug 1st
The book "Manson in His Own Words" paints a somewhat different picture of Manson. He appears to be more two bit thief, drug using loser than manipulative evil genius.

I don't know what the real picture is, but the crazed mind-controlling mad man makes a better story so I think there will always be some bias towards that view.
12:41 AM Aug 1st
Sorry for the length of this.

Very interesting stuff, Bill! I really like your crime work. I finally found the Rogers book you recommended and it is a great read. Thanks for that.

Some points:

-- I know your despication of police sketches. But the clerk leaving supplied a sketch of the suspect (here on this Zodiac site with Haefner photo) :

-- David Aardsma pitched for Penn State. Rare name. First in the major league alpha list (sorry, Hank)

-- Did you read the book referenced below "Who Killed Betsy?" by Derek Sherwood? Curious if it is better in your opinion. I saw an interview with the author, and there is a website of the same name with images, etc.

sez Sherwood:

-- On the above. Haefner wore glasses, and according to Sherwood the flip up to the right 'do required some gel and perhaps was worth a few evidence points.

-- according to Sherwood, Haefner himself told the police that he had been seeing Aardsma up to a month before the murder, and she stopped seeing him "because she was becoming serious" with a medical student. "Seeing" is, as you say, unknown, but the fact that she felt she couldn't see him anymore, if that is the gist, is of some weight. It was 1969 and he was a 25-year-old college student, hard to believe there wasn't sex, but...he was a weird guy, maybe he couldn't put the ball through the hoop. If he actually told the "seeing/stop seeing" story to police I find it compelling, certainly enough to immediately put him to the front of the usual "love and money" suspect list.

-- the area of the library as you say, was filled with porn but Sherwood said also infamous for sexual liaisons of a funky nature.

-- David Aardsma's sister is a pretty hot actress named Amanda who googles well. (idle unrelated info)

-- later in life, a neighbor of Haefner reported that in a fight over his dogs habits, Aardsma flung poo at her. Poo.

Etc. At any rate, I'm aware of your takes on standards of innocence and respect them. I agree that there isn't enough to convict him. Also agree the cousin's story is BS (read it firsthand) and the professor's story is useless for the reasons you cite.

But was the Zodiac really more likely to have killed Betsy Aardsma than Haefner? I'm not sure your point system would bear that out, would it?

I can see the following scenario, all suggested by evidence:

Weirdo rock hound is dumped by cute coed for dashing doctor. No doubt a library rat, he is mending his broken heart, enjoying some Amanda Aardsma-style material at the place you do that. Aggressively. Maybe he is with someone...not important.

Dumper coed stumbles upon him. Dang! She looks like she is going to raise the alarm, or at least it is the most embarrassing moment of this volatile guy's life. Police thought she was attacked from behind...perhaps he did indeed think she was going out to raise the alarm. His geology career kaput, never mind a sexual creep reputation throughout the Penn State campus before it was fashionable. He whips out his trademark always-with-him knife and shivs her.

He books (get it?) blurting out damning knowledge and a clerk provides a description that nails him, right down to trademark always-on-him khakis and sneakers. Weird dude goes on to a career of molesting arrests, assaults, and poo-flinging.

I think everything there is indicated by evidence and nothing is counter-indicated. I was not able to find any alibi...was there one in the book?

If the evidence put out in the Sherwood book and website held weight in your eyes, where would the point system put Haefner?

Immediate former paramour
Fits sketch
Carries knife
Extraordinarily violent/creepy subsequent history

Rip-off all the flabby evidence, and he is still a compelling suspect at least.

12:19 AM Aug 1st
No, not Bloch; Block was early in Hitler's life. This man was much later. . .I forget the name. It's in Rosenbaum's book, but I'm in Boston and the book is in Kansas.

The Pedophile becoming obsessed with a young woman was an obstacle to me as well. I left the book convinced not merely that DeKok had failed to make the case against Haefner, but that Haefner was not guilty. There DOES seem to be a more damaging set of facts against another man, but the other man is still alive, and DeKok dismisses the case against him.
8:27 PM Jul 31st
Bill, are you talking about Eduard Bloch?
4:04 PM Jul 31st
Wait, so Haefner was a pedophile but was also obsessed with Aardsma? That doesn't make much sense.

There was a lot of interest in this allegation here at PSU, obviously. There's a second book (by Sherwood) making the same claim and I'm curious if it does a better job of making the case.​
3:27 PM Jul 31st
Ron Rosenbaum's book "Explaining Hitler" contains a very long discussion (as I recall several hundred pages) about the origins of Hitler's anti-Semitism. While it is a very good book, my ultimate take on that discussion is that Anti-Semitism is commonplace; Hitler's Anti-Semitism is no different from anyone else's anti-Semitism or racism, and consequently does not warrant any special explanation. What makes Hitler's anti-Semitism significant is Hitler's power. The amount of power that he obtained--the combined power of a political leader and cult leader--the power was quite unusual, and that needs to be discussed and understood, but the bigotry was just like anybody else's bigotry, and is thus uninteresting in itself. x x x x x x Also, that book is like DeKok's, in a sense, in that someone connected to me suddenly and unexpectedly pops up in the middle of the book. Hitler's personal physician up until about 1936 was Jewish; Hitler apparently liked the man, treated him well, and helped him to leave the country with his family intact. The man moved to Manhattan, Kansas, where my wife grew up. My wife's family knew the man and his family well--but had no idea that the father/grandfather had once been personal physician to Adolph Hitler.
2:54 PM Jul 31st
The history Thunder at Twilight: Vienna 1913-1914 by Frederic Morton has a good summary of who was hanging out in Vienna in those days. Hitler, Stalin, Tito, Trotsky. Freud and Jung were in the middle of a grand power struggle. Joyce and Kafka were in Trieste and Prague, as well.

The book was given a paperback re-release last year for the centennial of the Archduke's assassination.​
2:03 PM Jul 31st
Also, re: the coincidental intersection of famous people in Vienna--Hitler and Ludwig Wittgenstein apparently attended the same grammar school for a time. That much is confirmed, but the extent to which they did (or did not) interact is debated. Some people argue (sensationally and weakly, I think) that a schoolyard spat between Hitler and Wittgenstein (who was a member of an extremely prominent and wealthy Jewish Viennese family) sparked Hitler's antisemitism. Others think it unlikely that the two--who were six days apart in age, but two school years apart, due to Hitler being held back and Wittgenstein skipping ahead--ever crossed paths.
11:14 AM Jul 31st
It strikes me that what DeKok presents as the argument against Haefner is really the basis for beginning an investigation, not for concluding one. It's a hunch, not a conviction. There may be sufficient weird facts and rumors about Haefner that, had they been known to the police at the time, may have warranted a closer look, but not locking him up. Of course, that possibility is out the window nearly 50 years after the fact. Anyways, thanks for the reviews.

11:06 AM Jul 31st
I think I did read The Family, but I read that and Helter Skelter at the same time, so over the years they have run together in my head, and I no longer have any clear memory of what was in one book and what was in the other.
11:03 AM Jul 31st
I read the Guinn book on your recommendation, and it is indeed a good one. Long ago (like 40+ years or so), I read Ed Sanders' The Family, which I liked more than I liked Helter Skelter. Have you ever read that book, and if so, what did you think of it?
11:01 AM Jul 31st
I share your interest in Charles Manson, and you've made me very eager to read the Guinn book. I like Helter Skelter - I like many of Bugliosi's books, really, but the point of all of Buglosi's books is always what a superstar Bugliosi is.
8:25 AM Jul 31st
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