Monday, January 09, 2017

Mystery Monday: Evelyn Hartley

It's Monday, which means it's time for another...



Every Monday, I'm presenting a new mystery. Some have been solved...some remain unsolved to this day. 

The 50s were an innocent time, where families felt safe raising their children. Evelyn Hartley's story is especially touching not only because it happened in 1953, but also because it happened in the small town of La Crosse, Wisconsin.



On October 24, 1953, the entire town of La Crosse was preparing for the big game between La Crosse State Teachers College and River Falls. Professor Vigo Rasmusen and his wife were planning to attend the game, but their original babysitter had to cancel. He then called Evelyn Hartley, a 15-year-old who had babysat their child before.



Professor Rasmusen picked Evelyn up at her house and drove her to his home, five minutes away. His wife gave her instructions that included putting the baby to bed at 7 p.m. and covering her with a blanket at 7:15. The professor, his wife, and their 7-year-old daughter left the house at 6:45.


Professor Rasmusen's house

At 7:00, Evelyn's mom got a strange feeling. She decided not to call, though, since she knew her daughter always called at 8:30.


Evelyn's parents and sister. Photo courtesy Thin Air Podcast.

At 8:30, when Evelyn didn't call, her dad called the Rasmusen house. After another try, he decided to go to the scene himself. At 9:20, he arrived at the house and saw one of Evelyn's shoes and her glasses on the floor through one of the windows. Continuing around the house, he saw an open basement window. He found his daughter's other shoe at the foot of the stairs.



When the police arrived, they found a pool of blood just outside the basement window. There was also blood inside the basement near the window. Both were tested and matched Evelyn's blood type.



An active search began for Evelyn. The footprints indicated a men's size 11 shoe. Police found those footprints inside and outside the house, as well as in the backyards of neighbors, leading them to believe the perpetrator may have considered several houses before breaking into the Rasmusen home. 


Crime scene photo

Neighbors in the area reported hearing three or four screams around 7:15 p.m. The baby was in bed but not covered, further suggesting the abduction happened between 7 and 7:15 p.m.



Neighbors also reported seeing a dark tan sedan in the area around that time. Blood stains were found on the side of the Rasmusen home, including the bloody imprint of a human hand. More blood was found smeared on the side of a neighboring garage. At a house on the corner, the pool of blood was so thick, the police are certain someone likely lay in that spot for a long period of time.



The blood trail vanished at the end of the road. Police believe Evelyn was taken away in a car. A couple of days later, a man reported nearly hitting a two-toned early 1940s car that was speeding away that evening. He said he saw a man and young girl inside. He said just a few minutes earlier, he'd seen the same two people walking together in the area where the blood was spotted. They were staggering, but he'd assumed they were just drunk.



A similar car was reported near the La Crosse River Bridge. The car sped away when it was seen by the police. Later police found a size 11 "Hood Mogul" shoe and a jacket nearby. Blood on the shoes and jacket were confirmed to be Evelyn's blood type.



Although Evelyn's disappearance sparked one of the biggest searches in Wisconsin history, no one was ever charged. Notorious killer Ed Gein has long been considered as a possible perpetrator, since he was visiting relatives just a few blocks away. He was questioned but never charged. He died in a mental institution in 1984.

What do you think happened to Evelyn Hartley?

45 comments:

  1. I think someone broke in to get her and she managed to make a run for it, although loss of blood slowed her. Considering all the clues he left behind, hard to believe the killer was never caught.

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    1. DNA technology back then sucked. I wonder if they knew to save the blood evidence, as they did in the 80s, realizing that DNA technology was improving? If so, I'm sure they've tested it by now and come up with nothing, but if they weren't collecting DNA on prisoners and suspects in the 50s, they wouldn't have anything to compare it to. So often now, it seems if they'd just collect DNA on everyone they ever booked for any crime, they'd solve a lot more of these cold cases.

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  2. These cases are so strange. With all the blood loss, I believe Evelyn died, but its a shame her body was never found. The police couldn't confirm the jacket and the shoe were Ed Gein's? That would seem a possible solution.

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    1. I guess not? He also wasn't known to be killing yet at that time...not that this couldn't have been his first try. Some of the accounts said there were TWO men spotted, but I didn't pull that in because there are even more reports that there was only one.

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  3. So sad the killer was never caught or Evelyn's body found. Makes it hard for the family. I wonder if the killer would have been caught if the crime happened now.

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    1. I think there would have been a much better chance, assuming they could have somehow matched the DNA at the scene to a suspect. There were a lot of visitors in town because of the game, so that would be the tough part.

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    1. I agree. Anyone who babysat as a teenager can relate to that. I remember being freaked out by the beginning of When a Stranger Calls when I was a teen because something like that could happen!

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  5. I'm sure she was taken somewhere and someone did horrible things to her before killing her and burying her. Her poor parents, never knowing.

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    1. It sounds bad, but I hope she died before he got her to another location. At least she wouldn't have suffered.

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  6. I always wonder if some of these older unsolved cases could have been solved with today's technology.

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    1. I think it could have...but so often they have the DNA, but no one to match it to. That's the tough part. You have to at least be able to identify a pool of suspects and DNA test them. It's gotten better now that they take DNA from some prisoners, but they don't take DNA from all of them... I think I heard that sex offenders aren't required to provide DNA??? If not, why?

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  7. I have had my fair share of babysitting days, and I'm pretty sure I had been spooked a time or two as well.

    Sounds like there was a struggle inside the house and he drug her to the basement, possibly stabbed her after he got her out the window maybe?

    Gruesome thought and I couldn't imagine such a scene! I feel for the family even these many years later. :(

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    1. It does sound like whatever happened, happened outside the house. I've been picturing that he was with her the whole time, although some think maybe she tried to run for it?

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  8. This was so interesting to read! I´m a sucker for mysteries although I do usually like them to be solved so that I can sleep at night :D
    It would be so interesting to see what we could find out with today´s technology though! Maybe it all could´ve been solved.
    I do love this as a regular series though!
    xx Lisa | Following Lisa

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    1. I feel like detectives have likely been through all of the evidence and gotten nowhere. But this is such an old case, I wonder... Maybe once the parents are gone, they don't feel the need to keep working it? If they could never bring charges against anyone, they obviously didn't have enough evidence...feels like even without DNA tech, they could have determined whether Ed Gein matched the shoe and jacket. Since they never pressed charges, maybe that was a "no."

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  9. That's weird they weren't able to find a killer with all the blood and even a hand print.

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    1. They couldn't do much with blood back then...kind of hard to imagine! I've watched 1980s cases on Investigation Discovery where they saved the DNA and tested it years later and were able to solve the case. But you always have to have someone to match any of that stuff to. If the guy was a visitor, he could have fled town and there would be no way to connect him, even to the clothes and palm print. I did assume the palm print was hers, but there's nothing saying it was, that I can tell!

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  10. My mother freaked at the idea of me being a baby sitter (even as a young adult) so I never did it. Now I'm kind of glad I took her worry seriously. I'm certain most babysitters are safe but you never know. So sorry this happened. Poor girl, poor family.

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    1. In an upcoming post, I write about a young girl who was kidnapped while delivering Girl Scout cookies in Nashville when I was young. I never was allowed to go door to door because of that. I know the first time a kid was kidnapped from a bus stop, parents became more protective and started walking and staying with their kids there. It just takes one local incident for that innocence to be taken.

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  11. Strange to think this happened the year I was born! I suppose her parents have since passed away, never knowing what happened to their child. So sad. But glad the baby in the story wasn't hurt.

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    1. I can't imagine. And yes, I, too, was holding my breath, hoping that they found the baby okay. Maybe it's because of When a Stranger Calls? "Have you checked the children yet?"

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  12. It always disturbs me when there is so much evidence and no resolution. And I remember babysitting, fearfully, after When A Stranger Calls, too!

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    1. I mean, the children were dead the whole time. SO chilling. The first 30 minutes or so of that movie were terrifying...then it dragged until the end, when she was grown and the killer came after her again.

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  13. Growing up in Minnesota we all had heard of Ed Gein! Probably more stories than were actually true. Such a sad story, but glad the baby was left alone--whew! At least that's something, I guess.

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    1. That guy was the worst...and SO many movies have been inspired by him. Yeah, as I mentioned above, I was picturing a When a Stranger Calls scenario--in that case, the children didn't survive. Things like that are far scarier to me than the explicit violence parties they call "horror movies" today.

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  14. Oh my gosh, this is so sad and haunting. It's always strange when people disappear like this with little to no explanation, but with plenty of evidence or pieces of their whereabouts left behind, it just puzzles everyone further. I hadn't heard of this one until today, and it's probably one of the eeriest I've read about. - Tasha

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    1. And there are SO many cases where we'll never have an answer. As I've learned from so many of these mysteries, though, sometimes we're better off not knowing the real truth.

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  15. Still another case I've just learned about through your blog.

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    1. I'm spreading the word! I have to admit, I'd never heard about it until one of my favorite podcasts covered it late last year.

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  16. So sad. This one I have no guess for. Likely a break-in gone bad. Whomever broke in couldn't have known Evelyn would have been there.

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    1. I can't imagine. Sounds like he looked in several windows before deciding to break in there. But the nature of the murder makes me wonder if burglary was the intent. Sounds pretty vicious.

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  17. Glad the baby was found ok, but it sucks that Evelyn was hurt, if not killed. I guess this case could have ended very differently if Evelyn's parents had acted on instinct. How differently their lives could have been if they had shown up at Evelyn's babysitting job at 7 or even 7:15 when supposedly the perpetrator entered!

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    1. So true. I'm sure every parent has those worries and just shoves them aside because they don't want to overreact. In this case, those instincts just happened to have been right.

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  18. If I had been their original babysitter, I'd have been freaked. That little baby and I are the same age. Very sad. I hope Evelyn died in no pain. Yes, I believe she's dead. She would have returned to her family if she'd survived.

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    1. Can you imagine? Being the person who would have been in the house and canceling? You'd feel such survivor guilt.

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  19. Yikes, happy monday!

    This one rings a bell, maybe I saw it profiled on television or something. I wonder if the new technology couldn't help follow up on the case all these years later.

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    1. I wondered why I'd never heard of it before. It's a fascinating story, to be sure.

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  20. I wonder if they kept her blood and other DNA evidence and compare to to Gein and see if there is a match. If there were footprints at other people's houses, this person may have wanted to rob and entered this house thinking it was empty but then found this girl. He panicked and killed her or mortally wounded her and then took her away and , later, dumped the body. Since there seems to be no other bodies, it was either Gein or a robbery gone wrong.

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    1. It sounds like robbery had to have been the motive, unless the guy saw her through the window? But it seems like he would've been looking into the basement if he was at the back of the house.

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  21. How awful. Thank goodness investigative procedures, especially the advancements in DNA analysis continue to improve. These evil people need to be found so families can have some closure. I hate to think how the poor girl's family felt.

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  22. Such a sad story. I can't help but wonder if the killer was looking for the original babysitter. I hope with so much blood that he died too.

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  23. So sad that the killer was never caught!!!

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