Late on the afternoon of November 28, 1969, something almost unfathomable happened deep in the aisles of Pattee Library at Penn State University in University Park, Pennsylvania. Immediately following a short and relatively quiet commotion, Betsy Aardsma, a 22-year-old English literature grad student, staggered and collapsed against a set of bookshelves. A young man bolted through the aisles and shouted at a passer-by, "Somebody had better help that girl!" When two student paramedics arrived not long after, they initially thought Betsy Aardsma had fainted, and that was how the emergency was described in the call. Because Aardsma was wearing a red shirt under her coat they didn't notice at first that she was bleeding. In fact, she was soon pronounced dead, having suffered a single catastrophic stab wound to the heart. A young woman had been murdered, right there in the library, for reasons totally unknown.
The Penn State University library murder briefly caught the attention of the nation, even in a time as tumultuous as late 1969--the Manson murders were still in the news, Apollo 12 had recently landed on the Moon, and the tragic Altamont music festival was about to happen a week or so later. Police were utterly baffled. The man who had shouted "Somebody better help!", whom they could only guess was the murderer, had gotten away scot free, and descriptions of him provided by witnesses weren't that helpful--he was a totally average guy, maybe wearing glasses, maybe not. Betsy Aardsma was a clean, intelligent, upstanding young woman. She was not involved in drugs or crime; her boyfriend was a medical student straight out of central casting, and had an ironclad alibi; no one could recall her having any enemies. The murder seemed totally random. Thousands of interviews with members of the Penn State community turned up a few tepid leads but nothing solid. Months passed. The tragic death of Betsy Aardsma was mourned and observed, but not solved--and remains officially unsolved to this day.
This fascinating case is the subject of a book called Murder in the Stacks: Penn State, Betsy Aardsma and the Killer Who Got Away, written by journalist David DeKok and published in 2014. It's available to borrow, for free (with an account) from Archive.org. Here is the link. I read it recently and was utterly transfixed. While DeKok's style is a little scattered, at least at first--he often interjects tangential matters when he should be sticking to the point--the book itself is quite fascinating and well-researched. Murder in the Stacks is not just an account of a cold case, but is a living detective story unto itself. After hundreds of interviews with participants, law enforcement, Betsy's family and acquaintances, and churning through decades-old documents and police investigation records, DeKok was able to arrive at a pretty convincing conclusion as to who killed Betsy Aardsma, and why. Spoiler alert: skip the next paragraph if you don't want to know; the rest of the article is "safe" after that.