Betsy Aardsma was killed 40 years ago in University Park, Pennsylvania and her stabbing death in the Pattee Library stacks at Penn State University still haunts
Betsy hoped to be a doctor — a rare and admirable yearning for a woman in the distraught 1960’s — and her love of the arts and her artistic aesthetic served her in her short life.
Betsy Aardsma’s friends and teachers said she was among the best America had to offer in the late 1960s.
Artistic and poetic, imbued with liberal ideals and empathy for the underprivileged, she planned to join the Peace Corps after graduating with honors from the University of Michigan in 1969.
But her boyfriend, David L. Wright, wouldn’t promise to wait for her, so she dropped those plans and followed him to central Pennsylvania.
At some point in late high school or early college, Betsy Aardsma spent a week on a mission program run by the Reformed Church on a Navajo reservation in New Mexico and taught art to what were then called “ghetto” children in nearby Grand Rapids.
One cannot help but imagine how Betsy might have changed the world if she had lived.
Her family believes predestiny is set before birth and that God intended her to find a lonesome and bloody end:
Aardsma’s killer approached, carrying a hunting-style knife with a one-edged blade 3½ to 4 inches long, according to the autopsy report. There was no scream, no apparent effort to ward off the blade. Aardsma’s hands had no wounds. The killer plunged the blade through her breastbone — which doctors said requires real strength and force — and deep into her chest, severing the pulmonary artery and hitting the heart.
“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 this weapon was held in the right hand of the assailant,” Centre County pathologist Dr. Thomas Magnani wrote in his autopsy report.
It was a perfect killing blow, investigators later said. Most state troopers involved in the investigation, however, believe the killer grabbed her from behind before plunging the knife into her chest. It remains unresolved.
The severe internal wound bled almost completely into her lungs. Aardsma’s red dress camouflaged the tiny amount of blood that leaked to the outside. There was no “pool of blood” as later reported in news accounts. She was not sexually assaulted. The killer pulled out the knife and walked away. Aardsma slumped to the floor of the library, pulling books down on herself as she fell.
When goodness is swept from us, we cannot blame God or create a convenient circumstance to excuse and repress the cruelty.
We need to press evil from the world with investigation, punishment and the necessary retribution of our moral duty in order to protect each other — and we must always keep asking questions surrounding the suspicious deaths of those we may not know, but those that we still love and admire from afar.