Murder in the Stacks: Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away


Product Details

Globe Pequot Press
Publish Date
5.4 X 1.2 X 7.9 inches | 1.1 pounds
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About the Author

David DeKok is a former investigative reporter for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where his last big story was a long, two-part series published in December 2008 on the then-unsolved Betsy Aardsma murder. He grew up in Betsy Aardsma's hometown, Holland, Michigan, and went to the same high school and distinctly remembers reading the story of her murder in the local newspaper. His Holland ties have enabled him to win the trust of Betsy's closest friends, as well as given him a unique perspective on the Dutch-American world in which she was raised. He is also the author of Fire Underground and The Epidemic. He lives in Harrisburg, Pa.


This was a book I almost literally couldn't put down. I devoured its 400 pages in just 3 days. Murder in the Stacks: Penn State, Betsy Aardsma, and the Killer Who Got Away, by David DeKok, is a thriller of a tale. It brings to life a 45-year old cold case: the murder of a 22-year-old grad student among the bookshelves at Penn State's Pattee Library. . . .You can find out the possible identity of the killer by Googling the Aardsma murder case. But don't. Wait until you get your hands on a Murder in the Stacks, and be riveted to your chair by this stunning true story.--Pennsylvania State University
DeKok presents his theory of Pennsylvania State University student Betsy Aardsma's 1969 murder in the university's library, focusing heavily on her putative killer Rick Haefner's background and legal activities. . . .[T]his account provides a detailed picture of the kind of community Aardsma lived and died in and the attitudes preventing her killer from being brought to justice. While the overtness of the author's research efforts and unusualness of his dramatic speculation are slightly jarring, the facts he unearths and contextualizes reveal a story to satisfy readers willing to follow along. It is unclear whether more credit is due the author or Haefner himself for bringing such a fascinatingly detestable villain to the reader, who increasingly hopes that Haefner suffers an end suitably worthy of his numerous crimes. Verdict: Library workers, readers who love to hate antagonists, and those interested in small-town tragedies will appreciate this book.--Library Journal
DeKok, a former investigative reporter noted for his coverage of the Centralia mine fire, turns his attentions to a baffling murder that has haunted Penn State for decades. . . .DeKok reconstructs Aardsma's life and death, sparing no detail in his attempt to provide the full and authoritative story from beginning to end. In the process, he points the finger at one suspect, Richard Haefner, a geology graduate student and secret pedophile with a checkered past and a volatile temper. Though Haefner was never charged with the murder, DeKok follows his subsequent legal troubles, and paints a convincing picture of a man with the means, motive, and opportunity for the murder. DeKok examines other suspects and every other aspect of Aardsma's life, as well as the cultural events influencing the era: 1969, he claims, was the 'long, hot summer of the murder year, ' defined by a rash of high-profile murders whose culprits. . . .quickly gained tabloid notoriety. [I]t's well written, accessible, and undeniably thorough, making this an exemplary true-crime story.--Publishers Weekly
"Murder in the Stacks is a fascinating and brilliantly detailed crime drama about the unsolved murder of Betsy Aardsma in 1969 at Penn State. Author David DeKok also delves into the societal and political forces that played out during a chaotic time, revealing disturbing patterns that continue even today."--Lauri Lebo, author of The Devil in Dover: Dogma v. Darwin in Small-Town America"David DeKok has burrowed into one of Pennsylvania's most vexing unsolved crimes and emerged with fresh evidence and a richly detailed portrait of an era of police work long gone. His meticulous research has produced a riveting tale about a murder that has perplexed Penn Staters for nearly a half century, and about the promising young woman who was its victim."-- Ted Anthony, Penn State graduate, former police reporter, and author of Chasing the Rising Sun: The Journey of an American Song