Betsy Aardsma

A Pennsylvania cold case from 1969 gets some clarity with a fresh look at victimology and criminal profiling. 

This post examines the murder of Betsy Aardsma, age 22. The crime has not been solved.

Victim and Homicide Narrative

Born in Holland, Michigan, Betsy was the second of four children. She graduated from Holland High School with honors and later enrolled at the University of Michigan to study English and art. After graduating, she enrolled at Pennsylvania State University.

On November 28, 1969, Betsy was in the library at the university, completing research for a paper that was due. The area she was murdered in has been described as “labyrinth-like,” in the basement stacks and the way the tall racks of books met the adjoining walls meant that someone could easily become cornered, or trapped, in that area. Sometime between 4:45pm and 4:55pm, Betsy was stabbed one time in the left breast. The laceration severed her pulmonary artery and pierced the right ventricle of her heart. Betsy slumped to the floor of the library, pulling books down with her as she crumpled. A couple minutes later, 1-2 men exited the library, telling a desk clerk “Somebody better help that girl” as they left.

Because the wound produced very little external blood and Betsy was wearing a red dress, it was unclear to first responders that she had been stabbed. It was not until she was later transported to the Health Center that the stab wound was identified. Despite numerous bystander attempts to provide first aid and CPR, Betsy died nearly immediately.

An autopsy showed no defensive wounds on Betsy’s hands. This suggests that Betsy was either attacked from behind or taken by surprise. The pathologist wrote in his report “the findings also suggest that the wound was inflicted with considerable force at the time of a face-to-face confrontation of the victim and the assailant, and that the weapon was held in the right hand of the assailant.” Many state troopers involved in the investigation believe Betsy was grabbed from behind and then stabbed. Either way, there was no scream and no immediate sign of struggle or defensive wounds.

Some of Betsy’s friends remarked about her outfit, declaring a red dress over a white, cotton shirt to be a bit fancy for Betsy’s usual attire and they questioned whether she was planning to meet someone at the library. At the time of her death, Betsy was engaged to a fellow student whom police later ruled out as a suspect. He will not be named in this article as I do not believe he is a likely suspect. I also do not believe Betsy was dressed up to meet someone romantically.

Victimology and Offender Profile

  • By all accounts, Betsy was a studious and kind woman. She was generally a low-risk victim who was engaged in a low-risk activity at the time of her death, which makes her murder even more confounding. It also makes it infinitely more likely that Betsy knew her killer and that this was not a random attack.
  • Betsy was described by others as “highly empathic, liberal, and kind.” She had plans to join the Peace Corps and there are stories of her attempts to help the downtrodden throughout her young adult years. She had dreams at one point of becoming a doctor. Perhaps Betsy’s kind, empathic ways made her more vulnerable to an offender who was obsessive, narcissistic, entitled, and prone to rage when he didn’t get what he wanted.
  • The offender likely knew Betsy and specifically sought her out as his target.
  • The offender may have been someone who felt spurned by Betsy or was otherwise obsessed with, or stalking, her.
  • The murder was likely not planned and came about as the result of an altercation in the library stacks or an incident that happened shortly before Betsy went to the library.
  • If the offender was one of the men who told the desk clerk to check on Betsy, he may have felt some remorse after stabbing her and may not have known that he mortally wounded her. That said, I doubt the man or men who instructed the desk clerk to check on Betsy were the ones who stabbed her.
  • The offender likely carried a knife with a 3 1/2 to 4-inch blade around with him. The fact that he had one on him during, what I believe was an unplanned attack, suggests this. It is also notable that he took the knife with him as he fled the library.
  • I do not believe there were two offenders. I believe this was an eyewitness error/confusion.
  • The offender likely had some previous petty run-ins with the law but no major criminal record at the time of Betsy’s death. He may have developed more of a criminal record following her murder. His subsequent crimes likely involved violence against women and may have also included violence against beings powerless to him such as children or animals.
  • The offender had a chronic sense of entitlement, especially in relationships.
  • The offender had low frustration tolerance and may have been described by others as “easy to anger,” “volatile,” having a “hair-pin trigger,” “socially-awkward,” “social reject,” or as having “unpredictable mood swings.”
  • May have been superficially charming, which is how he got close to empaths such as Betsy, but later turned them off when he became controlling, possessive, or intensely angry.
  • The offender likely had significant difficulty in his social relationships — with family, neighbors, acquaintances, fellow students, and any intimate relationships with women. He most likely irritated or angered those around him and experienced tense, and intense, relational dynamics. He likely drove others away and did not have any close friends unless they were first degree relatives or the relationships were entirely superficial.
  • He may have excelled academically or in a hobby or sport as a means of covering up his social inadequacies. He may have been seen as gifted, brilliant, or talented.
  • Motive was not sexual assault (no evidence of this) or robbery. Motive was personal and rage-filled, likely towards women he could not control. Betsy’s feministic slant and onetime desire to be a doctor at a time when this was frowned upon for women make it more likely she would have been the “type of woman” who, specifically, would have enraged this offender. She may have been less easy to otherwise dominate and, thus, he expressed his dominance by stabbing her.
  • Male, Caucasian, right-handed
  • Aged early- to mid-20s in 1969. Offender was likely in same age range as Betsy.
  • Fellow student at Penn State or a nearby school. May have been an intellectual and academic.

 

The murder of Betsy Aardsma remains unsolved. Perhaps the description above sounds like a man you know who would have attended school at or near Penn State in 1969. If you have any information about her killer or the circumstances surrounding her death, please contact the Pennsylvania State Police at (717) 783-5599.

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