005 - The Murder of Suzanne Jovin
Suzanne Jovin was a German born, American student attending Yale University in the winter of 1998. The then 21 year old Jovin was described by friends as a fun loving, sparkling woman who had a different personality and wasn’t afraid to go her own way. Suzanne came to the United States in 1995 to attend Yale University. Born in Gottingen, Germany to American parents, Suzanne grew up in the rigid German school system. She excelled, her intelligence very apparent, as she began learning Latin in the fifth grade and French in the seventh, already bilingual in German and English. Suzanne played cello and piano, excelled at her studies and before attending Yale, scored highly in her double major of Biology and Chemistry, following in the footsteps of her parents, a molecular biologist and cell biologist, respectively. She vacationed in Mexico, with her grandparents, and traveled extensively throughout Europe during her life. Although Jovin is often referred to as a devoted student, hard working and buckled down, both friends and her family have stated on multiple occasions that Suzanne worked a very fine balance in her life, describing her as extremely serious in her academics, but lively, fun and rebellious in her free time.
Attending school in America was somewhat of a right of passage for Jovin, whose mother had graduated from Yale University, and whose half-sisters had graduated from Harvard. Upon arriving at Yale, Suzanne began involving herself in volunteer work and pursuing a major in Science. However, the graduate level Cell Biology class in which she was enrolled as a freshman proved to not be to her interest, and it’s speculated she pursued it to honor her parents, but regardless of the reason behind it, Suzanne would change to a double major in political science and international studies. Towards her final semester at Yale, Suzanne began to pursue a career in diplomatic service and was finishing applications to graduate schools. According to her parents, Suzanne wasn’t interested in a high paying career and making money, she wanted to help people and bring her strong personality and drive in to make changes for the better.
Suzanne was a striking young woman, standing five foot five and weighing 125 pounds, her sharp blue eyes looked out from beneath a crown of golden blonde hair. Despite Suzanne’s small frame, she was a strong, athletic woman. Friends say her photographs were misleading, and that Suzanne was quite strong, playing squash, jogging, skiing and performing step aerobics. This makes what happens to Suzanne even more confusing, as many people report her toughness, not just physically, but her no nonsense attitude when she felt a wrong was being done, or when debating a topic. Friends described Suzanne as the opposite of what you’d imagine a victim to be, saying that the 21 year old was depicted in the media as a shy, frail girl when in reality she was a tough, strong, opinionated woman who wasn’t afraid to speak her mind or use her physicality when necessary. Her parents later stated “We were very proud of Suzanne and admired her greatly. She suffered no fools and could identify them with ease.… It pains us terribly to imagine that she may have met her fate as a victim of her very positive, but critical, outlook.”
The night of Suzanne’s murder is rather wrought in speculation, confusion and debate. There is an officially established timeline, which is what I will be working from when going over the events of that evening. However, as in the case of all official timelines, there’s some room for debate about how exact the times are.
On Friday, December 4th, 1998, at 4:15pm, Suzanne dropped off the second to last draft of her senior essay to her advisor. The essay was written about terrorist Osama Bin Laden three years before his name would become synonymous with the tragic attacks of September 11th. Suzanne then attended an event she organized for Best Buddies. Best buddies is a non-profit organization which partners volunteers with a buddy with developmental or intellectual disabilities. It’s core purpose is to create a friendship and mentor partnership. Although it has multiple levels, at the college level it partners with the school to link volunteers with people in local half-way homes, giving them the opportunity to be involved with the community since many of the adults there have been abandoned by family and have difficulty finding careers and making friends.
Suzanne had organized a pizza making party for the local chapter of Best Buddies that evening, which took place at Trinity Lutheran church located at 292 Orange Street. Nothing of significance is noted from this particular event, but Suzanne arrived early to set up and stayed after assisting in the clean up efforts. At approximately 8:30pm, Suzanne left the Church with another volunteer to whom she’d offered a ride home in a station wagon which had been borrowed from Yale University. It should be noted, I’ve also read reports that she had borrowed a van and not a station wagon although this detail isn’t highly important to the case, there is some discrepancy here. At 8:45 pm, Suzanne returned the vehicle to a Yale owned parking lot at the corner of Edgewood Avenue and Howe Street. Suzanne began walking back to her apartment, two blocks away. Her apartment was located at 258 Park Street, on the second floor above a Yale University Police Substation.
During her travels, at approximately 8:50pm, Suzanne passed by a group of friends who invited her out to the movies. Suzanne declined, stating that she was planning on staying in for the night to work on other assignments. At 9:02pm Suzanne logged onto her Yale e-mail and contacted a friend. Writing in German, Suzanne informed her friend that she was going to leave some books for her in the lobby of her building. Suzanne gave this friend the access code to her building and stated that she had to retrieve the books and a cd-rom from someone to whom she had lent them. Neither the friend she emailed, nor any of her friends later interviewed by police were able to identity who Suzanne had lent the books to and to this day, no one knows this person’s identity.
Suzanne logs off her email account at 9:10pm. It cannot be known with certainty if Suzanne contacted anyone via telephone after or before as, at this time, phone calls on Yale’s system were not traceable. Suzanne then realizes that she needs to return the keys to the vehicle she borrowed earlier in the night, and walks downstairs exiting her building. At this point in time, Suzanne is still dressed in the clothes she had worn to the pizza making party earlier in the night. Suzanne wears low cut hiking boots, jeans and a maroon fleece pullover. Suzanne heads towards the Yale Police Communications Center, located under the arch at Phelps Gate on Yale’s Old Campus.
On her way to return the keys, Suzanne passes her classmate, Peter Stein. According to Stein “She did not mention plans to go anywhere or do anything else afterward. She just said that she was very, very tired and that she was looking forward to getting a lot of sleep.” Stein notes that Suzanne is not wearing a backpack and was holding a few sheets of paper in her right hand. Stein says she was walking at a normal pace, didn’t seem frightened or excited and that after speaking her for no more than two or three minutes the two went their separate ways. This encounter is believed to have taken place between 9:15pm and 9:22pm. It is believed Suzanne dropped off the keys at approximately 9:25pm.
The next sighting of Suzanne takes place between 9:25 and 9:30. Walking North on College Street. A female student who left the big hockey game between Yale and Princeton to go to an off-campus party, passed Suzanne on College Street. According to the witness, she didn’t think anything was off at the time, but was able to describe both a dark skinned Hispanic or African American male wearing a hooded sweatshirt, heading North on College Street. Suzanne, also heading north, was several paces behind him, and behind Suzanne was a white male with glasses who was dressed nicely. It should be noted, that by heading North on College Street, Suzanne is likely not returning to her apartment as this path would lead her on a long, roundabout journey when she could just as easily have gone back the way she came to Phelps Gate in the first place. This is the last confirmed sighting of Suzanne Jovin alive. Sometime in the next twenty to thirty minutes, Suzanne will encounter a yet unknown suspect or suspects who will savagely and brutally murder her.
At 9:55pm two passersby called 911 to report a woman bleeding out at the corner of Edgehill Road and East Rock Road, approximately 1.8 miles from the last sighting of Suzanne Jovin. According to records regarding the 911 call, it was placed by a couple who came upon Jovin. Audio of the 911 call has been involved in Freedom of Information act requests, although at this particular time is not available. According to those who have heard it, however, there is a third voice in the background and the couple which placed the call have stated that a man driving by had stopped and asked if they needed any help.
Police arrive on the scene within a few minutes, at 9:58pm and find the body of Suzanne Jovin. Suzanne had been fatally stabbed 17 times in her back, neck and head. Her throat had also been slit. Suzanne was lying on her stomach, feed in the road, body in the grass between the road and the sidewalk. Suzanne was fully clothed and was still wearing her watch and earrings. A dollar bill was found in her pocket, and through later investigation, her wallet was located in her apartment. This appears to rule out robbery as a motive for the murder. Suzanne is taken to Yale New Haven Hospital and officially pronounced dead at 10:26pm. Medical examination would find that Suzanne’s time of death was approximately fifteen minutes prior to the police arriving making the murder take place across 9:43.
Suzanne had been spotted almost two miles away between 9:25 and 9:30, walking. Police speculated that based on the time available and distance traveled, Suzanne likely was inside a vehicle which brought her to the corner of Edgehill Road and East Rock Road. Whether or not Suzanne had entered the vehicle willingly, or was forced inside is unknown.
Nearby residents reported hearing a loud argument around the time of the murder, and some have stated that they saw a brown or tan van parked right next to where Suzanne’s body was found. One witness stated that he saw “a man in his 20s or 30s with an athletic build, well groomed hair, dark pants, a loose-fitting greenish jacket, running like his life depended on it in the opposite direction from where Suzanne Jovin was killed.” Police were attempting to identify this man, and were also interested in finding out who the mysterious person was that Suzanne had planned to retrieve her loaned text books from also.
Police immediately begin investigating, canvassing the neighborhood and examining evidence located at the scene. However, the conduct and actions of the police have fallen under a great deal of scrutiny in the years since the murder. The police have been accused of mishandling evidence, contaminating evidence and failing to release pertinent information in a timely matter.
In addition to witness statements, several pieces of physical evidence were also collected. A bottle of Fresca is found in a bush nearby, which when tested contains Suzanne’s fingerprints, and the hand print of an unidentified person. During the medical examination, DNA is found under the fingernails of Suzanne’s left hand and the tip of the knife which was used to stab her is found broken off in the left side of her skull. According to the medical examiner, only one of the seventeen stab wounds was fatal and the blade of the knife is described as four to five inches, nonserrated carbon steel. Unfortunately, New Haven Police have never released information as to whether or not tests were conducted to determine the exact make and model of the knife.
Sadly, much of this information was not made publicly available until long after Suzanne’s murder. The details regarding the fingerprints and palm print on the Fresca bottle was not released to the public until April 1st, 2001, nearly three years after the murder had taken place. Interestingly, there is only one store in the vicinity of the Yale Campus which sold Fresca. Krauszer’s Market is located on York Street near Elm Street, one block south of Suzanne’s apartment. Krauszer’s did in fact have surveillance cameras, and was open at the time Suzanne was last seen alive. However, New Haven Police have never claimed to have visited the market, nor to have requested or examined surveillance footage from the night of Suzanne’s murder. No employees nor customers present at the market that night were questioned, and despite public outcry, the New Haven Police have not extracted and tested touch DNA evidence from the palm print on the bottle. Touch DNA is a rapidly expanding area of crime scene forensics. Unlike a regular DNA sample, which can be gathered from body fluid, hair, etc, touch DNA only requires an extremely small sample and can be gathered from skin cells left behind on an object which has been touched.
There are no witness statements which link Suzanne to getting in, riding in or exiting any vehicle, although based on the time and distance travelled it is assumed she was in fact driven to the location of her murder. As previously stated, witnesses did spot a brown or tan van right at the scene of the crime. However, New Haven Police did not publicly release information regarding the van until March 27th, 2001, again nearly three years after the murder. Faculty at Yale University has stated that New Haven Police were asking questions about the van, but the reason for the delay in releasing this information to the public is unknown. A local newspaper reported that the New Haven Police impounded a brown van as part of the investigation, but this has never been confirmed.
DNA was found under Suzanne’s fingernails, however this was not mentioned to the public until October 26th, 2001 when the New Haven Police made a request that friends, colleagues and acquantainces of Suzanne come forward to submit their DNA for testing. Once more, the New Haven Police waited almost three years before pursuing this evidence and releasing it to the public, and once more they failed to provide an explanation as to why. Suzanne’s parents wrote several letters to the Governor of Connecticut, complaining about the lack of work in relation to the DNA evidence and were informed that the Connecticut Forensic Science Lab had a backlog of 12,000 DNA samples which still needed to be tested, among which was the DNA found under Suzanne’s nails. Finally, in November of 2009, nearly 11 years after the murder, a DNA match was made. Unfortunately, the DNA was linked to a technician in the Connecticut Forensic Science Lab and was the result of accidental contamination.
In 2008, the Jovin Task Force revealed that a witness had come forward to the police sometime close to the time of the murder and stated that she had seen a white male run past her and onto church property. According to this witness, the New Haven Police showed her a photo of Yale Professor James Van de Velde, Suzanne’s thesis advisor, and asked her if it was the same man. When the witness stated no, they brought her in a van to Van de Velde’s office so that she could see him in person, and again she stated that was not the man. According to the witness, the police did not contact her again. The task force set the witness up with a sketch artist, who managed to create a composite drawing of the man and his image was put up in the area around where the murder had taken place.
The Jovin task force was especially interested in Suzanne’s last email, and the person to whom she had lent her books. They theorize that Suzanne referred to this person in her email as “someone” because she did not know the person very well. Personally, I think it’s also possible she referred to this person as “someone” because she didn’t want her friend to know the name, as it’s quite possible it was someone the friend may have known. Pure speculation, but just as likely as it being a stranger. I don’t often lend my things to people I don’t know, and not many people do, so I think it’s much more likely that Suzanne knew the person. However, in relation to this email, Suzanne’s books were never recovered, and the person who borrowed them, never came forward to return them.
In addition to previous witnesses, there is a possible witness that New Haven Police and the Jovin Task Force would like to question. Reportedly, on the night of the murder, a woman took a taxi from Blatchley Avenue to the Newhallville section of New Haven Connecticut. The taxi was taken at 9:30pm and cut through Whitney and Prospect Avenues. Joven would have had to have taken one of these roads to reach the murder scene from her origin point of Phelps Gate.
In many cases, it is the work of the police which can make or break the case. As an outsider, it’s very difficult to judge the investigative actions of the New Haven Police Department, but is also difficult to swallow some of the decisions that were made. Why most of the evidence was kept hidden until three years after the murder is bizarre, as you’d think they’d want to release as much as they could to hopefully shake something loose. Police often hold back pieces of evidence, but not all of it. The contamination of the DNA can’t be placed on the shoulders of the Police themselves, but on the Forensics lab and is ultimately just a heartbreaking screw up. In what may yet prove to be the biggest mistake in this investigation is the suspect that the New Haven Police pursued. In fact, he was the only suspect ever named. Suzanne’s thesis advisor, James Van de Velde.
Usually, in cases of murder, the first person the police look at is the significant other. In this case, Suzanne had a boyfriend. However, at the time of the murder, he was on a train from NYC. He was ruled at rather quickly, and just four days after her murder, the name of James Van de Velde was leaked to the local press as the prime suspect. The newspapers did not release Van de Velde’s name directly, but stated that the prime suspect was Suzanne’s political science instructor and essay advisor. As a result of this, Van de Velde’s spring classes at Yale were cancelled, sighting that he was among the list of suspects, but the decision was not made under a presumption of his guilt.
New Haven Police questioned friends, instructors and people on campus in regard to Suzanne. For undisclosed reasons, they theorized that Suzanne was either having an affair with Van de Velde, or that he was interested and she was not. Suzanne’s friends, and her boyfriend at the time, all stated that this was completely untrue. In fact, Suzanne’s friends stated quite the opposite. According to several friends, Suzanne was having issues with Van de Velde. Not issues in regard to him being overly interested in her, but the other way around. Suzanne felt that Van de Velde had rebuffed her and didn’t dedicate enough time to her or her essay. Even Suzanne’s parents have stated that “Suzanne indicated to us during the Thanksgiving break—we were together in California—how deeply she resented the lack of mentoring by this senior thesis advisor.” Despite no publicly issued evidence, the New Haven Police continued to work with Van de Velde as their prime suspect. John Pleckaitis, a criminologist and then sargent with the New Haven Police, admitted in an interview that “From a physical evidence point of view, we have nothing to tie him to the case… I had nothing to link him to the crime.”
The New Haven Police questioned Van de Velde four days after the murder, and according to Van de Velde, it was a brief interview and they gave no indication that he was even a suspect or that the interview was anything other than routine. All of that changed the next night, however, when the Police interrogated Van de Velde for four hours, accusing him of committing the murder. Van de Velde chose not to call a lawyer, offered the police the keys to his apartment and his car, also offered to submit to polygraph and blood tests. According to Van de Velde’s lawyer, who he hired after this incident, the police searched his vehicle, but never his apartment did not run blood tests, nor a polygraph test on Van de Velde.
The naming of Van de Velde ended his time at Yale, but at his insistence, along with several of his colleagues, Yale hired their own private investigator in December of 2000 to look into the murder. Yale hired Andrew Rosenzweig, former Chief investigator with the New York District Attorney’s office and Patrick Harnett, a former commanding officer of the New York Police Departments Major Crimes squad. It was at their insistence that the New Haven Police finally allowed the state forensic lab to examine DNA under Suzanne’s nails as well at extracting DNA from the palm print on the Fresca bottle. Neither sample matched Van de Velde.
Despite a sheer lack of evidence to connect Van de Velde to Suzanne’s murder, the police continued to hammer away at him. In December of 2000, Van de Velde wasemployed by the United States Navy. New Haven Police went so far as to contact the Navy, urging them to reconsider their contract with Van de Velde, and even travelled to Washington DC to meet with Navy Officials. The Navy reviewed the case, but chose not to sever their ties with Van de Velde. At this point in time, Van de Velde began a strong letter writing campaign urging the Connecticut State Cold Case unit to take over the case, but they refused.
However, in September of 2006, eight years after the murder, and six years after his letters, the Connecticut State Cold Case Unit finally took over Suzanne’s case. Despite this, the case was never added to their website nor is there any mention of a reward being offered in relationship to information or arrests. An angry Van de Velde began once more writing letters in regard to this action, or lack thereof, and on November 29th, 2007, Assistant States Attorney James Clark admitted that in June of that year, the case had been returned to the New Haven Police Department, with four retired detectives looking into it. At the time of this episode, it is believed the case is once more in the hands of the Connecticut State Cold Case Unit, although it continues to not be represented on their website.
On December 7th, 2001, Van de Velde sued the New Haven Police Department in federal court for civil rights violations. Yale was added as a defendant on April 15th, 2003. US District Court judge Robert Chatigny dismissed the federal claims with prejudice and the state law claims without prejudice on March 15, 2004. Van de Velde asked Chatigny to reconsider in May 2006, resulting in the judge reinstating both the state and federal claims on December 11, 2007. On June 3, 2013, New Haven and Yale agreed to a monetary settlement with Van de Velde. State’s Attorney Michael Dearington admitted publicly for the first time that Van de Velde is no longer a suspect in the murder.
Unfortunately for Van de Velde, the years of scrutiny by the police, and his name being listed publicly as the only named suspect in the murder of Suzanne Jovin has committed irreparable damage to his career. Although the amount of money Yale agreed to pay to Van de Velde is undisclosed, it is public record that the New Haven Police had to pay him damages in the mount of $200,000. In regard to the effect this has had on his career, van de velde, now 57, said “I’d like to think I was able to rebuild my career through perseverance. I find myself now where I was when I was 39.”
There are other theories regarding the murder of Suzanne Jovin. One involves a former Yale student who would later commit suicide, but before getting into that, I wanted to quickly address one theory which I find highly unlikely and incredibly foolish. There is a theory floating around on the internet that because Suzanne was writing her essay on Osama Bin Laden that her murder was performed by agents of Al Qaida. Without falling too deep into the rabbit hole, which can be easy to do on the internet, I wanted to say this theory just doesn’t seem to fit and no evidence has ever been raised to make a connection. Also, would Al Qaida really care that a twenty-one year old college student was writing an essay about Osama Bin Laden? It just seems highly improbable. Some websites have even gone so far as to call Suzanne the first official victim of 9-11 and all sorts of clandestine connections have been made to, once again, James Van de Velde, who did in fact work for the Navy in the area of intelligence. This is a theory which you can dig into if you so desire, but to me, it is baseless and I can’t find a single piece of information which makes me consider it. Especially when you see that people link this through Van de Velde, who has been cleared of any involvement in the murder.
On December 8th, 2012, a group of locals gave the Jovin Task Force possible evidence that Suzanne’s killer may have been a former Yale student. The Task Force declined to pursue this lead and thus this becomes one of the bigger theories about the possible killer of Suzanne Jovis. The suspects name has been hidden beneath a pseudonym on most sites reporting about him. It seems hypocritical of me to have spoken about how Van de Velde’s life was damaged by naming him and then going on to reveal the real name of this theorized suspect. Unfortunately, he did commit suicide, but I don’t want to tarnish his memory or insult or bring grief to his family. In sticking with this, I will go with the common pseudonym used for him, which is Billy.
Allegedly, according to some former acquaintances, Billy was a strange man who had issues when it came to women in his life. He reportedly had anger issues which came out, including screaming loudly at women who rejected him and behaving oddly around them at his job. According to these reports, one woman in particular had had enough and contacted police who later spoke with Billy and told him that he needed to control his behavior and that it was inappropriate. A friend later said that Billy had confided in him that he was becoming obsessed with Suzanne Jovin’s murder, and that the murder itself was the reason he could not maintain a relationship with a woman. It’s important to note at this point that it has been stated that Billy suffered from some mental issues, although there isn’t information as to whether or not this was a diagnosed problem or someone people simply said based on his behavior.
On the night of the murder, it is claimed that Billy said to his roommate at the time “They’ll never catch me.” When Billy died, a student reporter contacted his family, and claims that they knew he was calling about Billy’s possible connection to Suzanne and that they were wiping the hard drives on his computers. There is a myriad of circumstantial evidence which has been sited as connecting Billy to Suzanne including: Both Billy and Suzanne spoke German. Billy was enrolled at Yale at the time of Suzanne’s murder. He owned a green jacket that might have matched the one describedby a witness who saw a man fleeing the area at the time of the murder. Supposedly, prior to his suicide, Billy contacted his lawyer asking to transfer his assets to his niece stating “they’re out to get me.” On the other side of the coin, Billy emailed a friend in 2012 stating that he had nothing to do with the murder of Suzanne Jovin. Some people have also said that Billy looks similar to the composite sketch that was drawn up based on a witnesses description, though I openly admit that to me, those sketches usually look a little bit like everybody and aren’t the greatest thing to rely on.
Billy committed suicide and was purported to have mental problems. That being said, is he a possible suspect? Maybe. He’s certainly someone that should be looked at, but all of the supposed evidence levied against him is little more than circumstantial. However, it couldn’t hurt to investigate and look into his possible links to Suzanne Jovis and his whereabouts on the night of her murder. A lot of people become obsessed with a crime, I literally host a podcast about them so I can see how I’d be digging in if someone I went to school with was murdered and it was unsolved.
By all accounts Suzanne was a bright, fun, sharp woman with a good head on her shoulders and a strong focus toward her future. Suzanne wanted to help people and to make their lives better through her efforts. Whether it was due to screw-ups on the part of the Police, a botched investigation, too much focus on one suspect, contamination in a forensics lab or simply a matter of not being able to gather that one piece of information that could break it all open, the murder of Suzanne Jovis remains open and unsolved. It has been nearly twenty years since Suzanne was stabbed and bled out. Outside of theories about foreign agencies and Billy, no new leads or evidence have surfaced to link any particular person to the murder. And the man to whom Suzanne had lent her books has never been located, nor have her books. Does the mysterious person mentioned in her final email have the answers to what happened to Suzanne on December 4th, 1998? Perhaps, that person is even listening right now.
Suzanne’s parents have never had an answer as to who took the life of their beautiful daughter, and her siblings have gone forward always wondering what could have been and what Suzanne would be doing today if her life hadn’t have been stolen away from her. The tragic murder of Suzanne Jovin remains unsolved and clouded in mystery.
[Thoughts & Theories]
Suzanne Jovin’s murder is a terribly tragic story. Suzanne was a bright student with a promising future, a close knit group of friends, a caring boyfriend and an adoring family that beamed with pride. She was driven by a passion to help others, and was in pursuit of a career where she could put that passion into effect. She was a volunteer, involved in her community and not afraid to stand up for herself, or those she cared about. Her death shocked the student body and community around Yale. Suzanne was murdered on a street corner in an affluent neighborhood where things like this just didn’t happen.
There are many reasons why Suzanne’s murder wasn’t solved, but most of them are not acceptable reasons. The New Haven Police Department played a large role in many of these reasons. Not processing key pieces of evidence in a timely manner, forensic lab errors which contaminated vital DNA evidence, choosing not to release important pieces of evidence to the public and focusing in on a prime suspect who they spent too much time trying to make the evidence fit, rather than using the evidence to find a suspect.
For unknown reasons, the New Haven Police decided early on that James Van de Velde was the responsible party, and when evidence failed to connect him, and witnesses directly stated that he was not the man they saw near the scene of the crime, they continued to press him and focus on him. This isn’t all that uncommon, unfortunately. It’s a textbook example of the kind of mistake you don’t want to make in an investigation. Yes, sometimes gut feelings pay off, but your gut isn’t enough to base an entire investigation on. In the case of James Van de Velde, we don’t even really know what was the impetus for selecting him as the prime suspect. The only connection Van de Velde had with Suzanne was the fact that he taught a class she was in and was her essay advisor. That’s it, and that’s hardly reason to consider him a prime suspect in what is ultimately a vicious, brutal murder.
From a psychological point of view, the manner in which Suzanne was murdered feels very personal. Murder with a knife is often personal, and considering the seventeen stab wounds with no signs of attempted robbery or sexual assault, this doesn’t appear to just be a random incident. The perpetrator was in a rage, even breaking part of the blade off in Suzanne’s skull. Whoever it was wanted to ensure that Suzanne died, and wasn’t leaving a possibility for survival. Considering the likelihood that Suzanne was driven to the location of her murder, and no one has ever come forward to say that they had given her a ride, it seems increasingly likely that Suzanne knew her murderer. She wasn’t a foolish person and it’s unlikely that she’d take a ride from someone she didn’t know.
There are a few theories out there about who killed Suzanne. The first theory, which still exists and is debated, is the one which was put forth by the New Haven Police themselves. There are people who continue to believe that James Van de Velde murdered Suzanne Jovin. Despite what appears to be a complete lack of evidence, and the presence of evidence to the contrary, once his name was brought into the spotlight in connection with this crime, it appears that for many, he was convincted in the public eye and permanently labeled.
It is suggested that the New Haven Police targeted Van de Velde because they believed that he was engaging in a love affair with Suzanne. Despite the words of friends, family and her boyfriend, believing that this theory was completely unfounded, the police continued to pursue. Interviewing him four days after the murder, and then conducting a full interrogation the next night, during which they directly accused him of committing the murder. It is theorized that Van de Velde was considered so strongly as a possible suspect due to an alleged incident with an ex-girlfriend. Rumor states that this ex-girlfriend reported Van de Velde to police, stating that following the breakup he had stalked her, and looked in through her windows. A second woman, reportedly a friend of the ex girlfriend, also reported harassment as she claimed Van de Velde sent her flowers anonymously. A police officer would later claim that he spoke to Van de Velde about the incidents, but Van de Velde denies any of this ever took place. The New Haven Police Department has never confirmed the existence of either complaint being filed.
Van de Velde would meet Suzanne for the first time through a seminar he was teaching called “Strategy and Policy in the Conduct of War.” Suzanne was among 169 hopefuls for the seminar which only sat 40 as well as Van de Velde’s other seminar “The Art of Diplomacy.” According to friends, Jovin was enthralled by Van de Velde at the beginning and, like many of his students, looked up to him. Jovin made the rare choice to write two senior essays, selecting Van de Velde as her advisor for her second, and selecting a subject close to him, that being international terrorist Osama Bin Laden.
However, towards the end of the semester, the bloom was off the rose for Suzanne. She did not attend either of the two field trips for the class, feeling that they were a waste of time. Additionally, according to her friends and family, she was growing frustrated with Van de Velde who she felt was too busy to give her time, or who was purposefully avoiding her. Suzanne felt Van de Velde showed no support for her project, and took no interest in her work. On Van de Velde’s side, he says that Suzanne never expressed these concerns to him personally. On December 2nd, he met with Suzanne and reviewed her essay for her. According to Van de Velde, she seemed happy during the meeting. A friend, however, has said that she spoke to Suzanne that night and she was still quite angry with Van de Velde. Suzanne allegedly talked to someone at Yale University about the issues, but did not file a formal complaint.
According to the official timeline, Suzanne was at Phelp’s Gate dropping off the keys to the vehicle she borrowed at approximately 9:25, and was sighted alive for the last time at 9:30 walking North on College Street. Suzanne’s body would be found between fifteen and eighteen minutes later, nearly two miles away. According to Van de Velde, he was in his office during the early part of the evening. Sometime after 6pm he stopped by the hockey game which was taking place, before heading home where he spent the rest of his night.
In the days following the murder, Van de Velde was involved with a television news interview in which he praised Suzanne and lamented her loss. On Monday morning, he arrived in class and tearfully placed three dozen white carnations in her seat. During his interrogation with New Haven Police, which lasted four hours, Van de Velde answered every question asked, offered the keys to his apartment, access to his vehicle and a blood sample. At no point during the questioning did Van de Velde request a lawyer, however, he did hire one following the questioning. It would appear as if Van de Velde was being straightforward and completely cooperating with police, and yet, he continued to be their prime suspect.
A previous witness, who had spotted Suzanne walking on College Street had reported seeing a dark skinned man in a hoodie walking in front of her and a blonde man with glasses walking behind her. This witness, upon seeing Van de Velde on television, stated that she felt shaken as he was a blonde man with glasses. She would later say that she believed the man she had seen walking behind Suzanne was in fact Van de Velde. Police considered this a crucial piece of evidence, but police also believed Suzanne was driven to the scene of her murder, which doesn’t appear to fit in with Van de Velde walking behind her on College Street. It’s possible he could have caught up with her, and walked her to his car nearby, I suppose.
This appears to be the only piece of evidence would could possibly link Van de Velde to Suzanne that evening. However, in later testing DNA found beneath Suzanne’s fingernails, as well as touch DNA from the palm print on the Fresca bottle, neither matched Van de Velde. In the years since being labeled a suspect, Van de Velde filed defamation lawsuits against Yale University and the New Haven Police Department. Both were settled out of court, and the District Attorney was forced to publicly state that Van de Velde was no longer a suspect in the case.
It seems as though the police were desperate to link Van de Velde to the murder, and despite almost no evidence linking him to Suzanne that evening, they were willing to push the issue until they could make it stick. They were never able, through all of the years, to gather enough evidence to even gain so much as a search warrant for Van de Velde’s property, which he had offered to let them search, nor for an arrest warrant. Despite their convictions, Van de Velde doesn’t appear to have had anything to do with the murder of Suzanne Jovin.
I just don’t see the Van de Velde connection that the police apparently did. Ever since her murder, he had been a driving force pushing hard for the police to solve the case and find justice for Suzanne. Almost all students and faculty had only good things to say about Van de Velde, and none suspected him of having any kind of inappropriate relationship with Suzanne, let alone any other students through his teaching career. I think it’s a terrible shame that the police focused so hard on him, so early on, and it is likely through their tunnel vision tactics that the true perpetrator was able to evade detection.
It reminds me slightly of prime Zodiac killer suspect, Arthur Leigh Allen. Despite the fact that his DNA, hand writing, fingerprints, and in my opinion physical description didn’t match anything to do with the unknown killer, to this day he is considered by many, including the former lead investigator, to have been the killer. When the evidence doesn’t fit, and DNA exonerates, you have to open your mind to oher possibilities. That simply didn’t happen in Suzanne’s case.
Another theory relates, again, to Van de Velde, but this time it’s a bit more strange. Some people have theorized that Suzanne’s essay on Osama Bin Laden made her a target for Al Qaeda. In addition to Suzanne becoming a target for Al Qaeda, it’s been pointed out that Van de Velde worked for Naval Intelligence and had a top secret security clearance. I want to preface this by saying I, thankfully, was only able to locate discussion of this theory in a few places and, for the most part, they weren’t exactly reputable sites known for their fine journalism.
According to this theory, Van de Velde’s position in Naval Intelligence had him working in the Pentagon, shortly after Suzanne’s murder, and then involves him taking a trip to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he interrogated suspected Al Qaeda operatives. It is alleged that Van de Velde is an expert on Osama Bin Laden and international terrorism.
This theory points out that Van de Velde’s alibi for the night isn’t solid, being that he was home alone for most of the evening. His apartment was a few blocks from the scene of the murder, and that witnesses heard a man and a woman arguing before Suzanne’s body was discovered. One website in particular claims that a witness heard Suzanne yell “I can’t believe you’re doing this.” I was not able to find that statement corroborated anywhere else or in any official statements. This article also claims Van de Velde took three polygraph tests, but again, I’ve not been able to find information which backs this up.
The final piece of information used to support this theory is that the actual content of Suzanne’s essay has never been released and only Van de Velde and the police know what it contained. So, essentially, this theory rests on the idea that Van de Velde is some sort of high ranking member of Naval Intelligence with a top secret clearance who travels around the world questioning members of terrorist organizations and that he would murder Suzanne Jovis for… well they never really do give a reason for the murder. Other than a great deal of conjecture and speculation. I honestly didn’t want to cover this theory, but I wanted to make sure I hit all of the bases in this case, and unfortunately, this is one of them. I think it’s safe to say I consider this theory not only unlikely, but absurd.
Based on the failures of the investigation, the mistakes that were made, delays in testing evidence and the overall secrecy with which the New Haven Police Department handled the investigation, a theory began to surface that this was a case of protecting their own. Some have theorized that there is a possibility that a Police Officer was involved in the murder. They use Suzanne’s apartment as another connection point. Remember, Suzanne’s apartment was on the second floor of her building, just above a police substation. It’s likely that Suzanne would have seen the men and women working there and may have even spoken with some of them from time to time. Is it possible that someone there was interested in her, or had a strong disliking for her?
I don’t think that an Officer was involved in the crime, and if one were, I don’t think he’d have the pull to get the entire department to throw the case for him. In addition, if Suzanne did in fact know some of the officers working below her apartment, it seems more likely that they would be more driven to solve the case, rather than the opposite. I can totally understand the logic here, it’s hard to believe that the policecould be so inept, but honestly, it’s much more common than you think.
From conversations I’ve had with several current and former law enforcement officers, it’s actually quite startling how often mistakes are made and evidence is contaminated. However, it isn’t as often reported. An officer arriving at a scene may not secure it and keep the scene clean of others passing through it. Just look at the Jonbenet Ramsey case where family friends came to the house and were all over it, contaminating possible evidence. The amount of times that an officer accidentally disturbs the scene by slightly shifting the body, or the weapon, completely changes the appearance of the crime. Another big mistake which happens more than you’d think is when an officer arrives at the scene with a preconceived notion of what happened. I can’t say that happened in this case, but it certainly did in the investigation when someone decided that Van de Velde was guilty, regardless of what the evidence showed.
Although I can follow the thread of this narrative, it’s flimsy at best. It’s sad to say, but I honestly think the mistakes which were made by the police were the result of poor judgment and a lack of experience and it isn’t all that uncommon. So if it wasn’t Van de Velde, and it wasn’t the police, what about the infamous story of Billy?
In 2012, acquaintances of a former Yale student, given the psuedonymn Billy, came forward. I have chosen not to say Billy’s actual name, as he was never an official suspect and is currently deceased, but it isn’t hard to find if you really want to. According to them, Billy had developed an obsession over the murder of Suzanne Jovin. However, his former roommate stated that Billy had come home on the night of Suzanne’s murder and stated “They’ll never catch me.” At the time, the roommate thought this was a joke made in poor taste and didn’t think much of it. However, later in his life, Billy would shows signs of becoming psychologically unwound. He was purported to suffer from mental problems, though I’ve found nothing to show any true diagnosis from a medical professional. His problems are said to have revolved around women with former coworkers reporting that Billy would fly into a rage if he advances on a woman were rebuffed. Allegedly, Billy stated that his obsession with the murder of Suzanne Jovin made it impossible for him to have a normal, healthy relationship with a woman.
Billy was a student at Yale University at the time when Suzanne’s murder took place. Although there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that the two knew each other, it has been said that Billy spoke German, as did Suzanne. However, there is nothing which links the two together. They didn’t run in the same circles, they had no mutual friends and they were never in a class together. In fact, Billy was pursuing archetrcture during his time at Yale which wouldn’t place him in the same academic realm as Suzanne.
Billy died in March of 2012. Just prior to his death, a friend claims that Billy stated “they’re out to get me, they’re closing in.” Can this truly be considered evidence, considering that Billy was supposed to have psychological issues and paranoia accompanies many known psychological problems? However, in an email to a different person, Billy wrote that he had nothing to do with the murder of Suzanne Jovin. There has been speculation around his death, but most have referred to it as a probable suicide. According to news reports of the time, Billy drove his vehicle at a high speed into a barrier on the side of the road. At this moment, Billy survived and then exited his vehicle, and proceeded on foot into oncoming traffic. This certainly adds credence to the idea that Billy suffered from psychological issues. Following his death, a student reporter from Yale claims that when Billy’s parents were called, they were immediately aware the call was in regard to Suzanne Jovin and that they were in the process of wiping his computer hard drives.
The final pieces of information which seem to add fire to this theory are even more circumstantial than the aforementioned ones. The composite drawing done by police sketch artists is said to resemble Billy a great deal. Also, it is said Billy was a runner in college, and the sketch was made of a man that a witness saw running from the scene of the crime. In addition, the suspect seen running was wearing a green jacket, and Billy is said to have owned a similar green jacket at the time. Another piece of information is that since Billy was majoring in Archetecture, he would likely have been in possession of Exacto knives which could have been used in the murder. However, the medical examiner stated that the murder weapon was likely a carbon steel blade of four to five inches long and I’ve never seen an Exacto knife that large.
Frankly, this theory is fairly week. I don’t really see much a resemblance to Billy and the composite drawing, but as I’ve previously stated, I rarely think composite drawings actually look like the person who is eventually found to be the perpretrator. Maybe this is just an issue for me, but they generally appear as generic people and I find it difficult to match the actual person to the picture. However, even if there was a resemblance, that may have been enough evidence to question Billy, but pretty much all of the other evidence against him is circumstantial and hearsay. Also, it should be noted, none of this information was brought to investigators until after Billy’s death, and the Suzanne Jovin Task Force chose not to pursue it.
I don’t think the exacto knife idea fits at all, and the idea that someone should be considered a suspect because they owned a green jacket is preposterous. Now, when you tie all of this evidence together, you might be able to create something somewhat feasible, but again, no one came forward with this at the time, all of Billy’s statements are claims from other people, with no direct statements of his recorded publicly in any way. If Billy were in fact obsessed with Suzanne’s murder, I would necessarily consider that odd either. I obsess over a great deal of crimes, none of which happened at the school I attended during my time there. It just feels flimsy, and although I think it’s a lead which should be looked at, I don’t think much would come out of it. However, at a minimum, I’d want to run a DNA test on a sample from Billy.
That leaves two possible theories: a stranger or the subject of Suzanne’s final email.
In the case of a stranger, it has been suggested that someone may have attempted to abduct or assault Suzanne that night, pulling her into a vehicle and lashing out violently when she fought back. According to the timeline, when Suzanne is last seen, she is walking North on College Street. There is a man in front of her, and a man behind her. According to the witness, Suzanne is walking at a normal pace and doesn’t appear to be distressed. Within twenty minutes, she will be found bleeding to death on the corner of Edgehill and East Rock Roads, some two miles away. It has been commonly believed that Suzanne was given a ride that night.
The stranger theory suggests that Suzanne was either coaxed into a vehicle, or outright pulled in by physical force. We know from witness statements that a tan or brown van was seen parked right near where Suzanne would be found moments later. So, it is entirely possible that someone pulled her into the van, attempted to assault her or rob her, and things when south when she fought back too hard, resulting in her being stabbed.
The problem I have with this theory is that, if Suzanne were pulled into a vehicle, it seems unlikely that someone is going to be able to fight with her, and drive the vehicle, without drawing attention by swerving or making noise. In addition to this, I can’t imagine that a stranger simply looking to rob or assault Suzanne would stab her as aggressively and angrily as was done. Seventeen stab wounds and the blade broken off in the skull, to me, feels very personal and full of rage. It’s possible the stranger could have been a complete psychopath, sure, but it just doesn’t feel right. Also, Suzanne was stated to be a strong woman, who despite her size, could handle herself physically. I don’t imagine it would be easy to get her into the vehicle in the first place, and it seems more likely that if she were fighting hard, she would have been murdered at the point of abduction, not two miles down the road.
For me, I don’t think this was a murder committed by a stranger. Murder by stabbing is not a quick thing, and not a quiet thing either. For someone to have stabbed Suzanne seventeen times, and with such brutality that the blade was broken off in her skull, this person wanted to make sure he killed her, and such a violent crime suggests some level of passion, be it anger, jealousy, or something else, but not usually something linked to a complete stranger. I think it is highly likely that Suzanne knew her attacker, and that brings to the last theory: the subject of Suzanne’s final email.
At 9:02pm, on the night of her death, Suzanne sent an email to a friend. The email was written in German and the New Haven Police Department did not translate it into English for quite some time after the murder had taken place. I haven’t found a specific time, but I’ve read any time from six months to six years after her murder. This isn’t exactly surprising, considering the mistakes made during this investigation, but it’s yet another mistake which has made apprehension of the responsible party more difficult to attain.
In her email, Suzanne tells her friend that she has some books that she is going to letter her borrow. She gives this friend the access code to her building and states that she has lent the books to someone else, and needs to get them back. In some interpretations of this email, Suzanne is reported to refer to this person as “someone.” However, I’ve seen other interpretations where this person is referred to as “a friend.” This subtle difference in word selection actually makes a rather large difference.
If indeed Suzanne referred to this person as “someone” there are two possibilities. Police have theorized that this type of description would lead them to believe that Suzanne did not know the person well. However, in my experience, you don’t usually lend things to people you don’t know well, and obviously Suzanne must have known the person well enough to have a way to get in touch with him or her to retrieve the books. She didn’t send any other emails that night, that we know of, and unfortunately phone records couldn’t be traced, but it’s highly possible that Suzanne contacted this person to arrange a meeting in order to get her books back.
For me, the idea that she would refer to this person as “someone” doesn’t necessarily mean that she didn’t know him or her well. I think it’s just as likely that she knew this person well, and perhaps didn’t want her friend to know who this person was. Maybe it is someone they both knew, or maybe she had another reason for not using a name, but I don’t think it necessarily means she didn’t know the person. Of course, it’s entirely possible that Suzanne just used the word someone casually and there was no specific intent behind it. Without access to Suzanne’s writings or emails, it’s difficult to develop a linguistics profile to draw information from.
If the word used was “friend” than that changes things quite a bit, and certainly suggests a connection to the person well enough to consider him or her a friend. I think it is likely Suzanne knew this person on at least a friendly basis, as again, how often do you loan things to people you don’t know at all?
We know Suzanne left Phelps Gate, and instead of taking the direct path back to her building, instead began walking North on College Street, which would eventually lead her back to her apartment, but in a very roundabout way. It’s possible that Suzanne wanted to go for a walk that night, but previous witnesses have said that she said she was tired and needed to stay in and do some school work. Remember, she turned down an invitation to go out with her friends to the movies.
It’s highly likely that Suzanne took this route because she had arranged to pick up her books from the person to whom she had lent them. This would make that person, in my book, the prime suspect in her murder. As has been previously said, it’s believed that Suzanne was in someones vehicle and was driven to the scene of the murder. Its possible that she met up with this person, who then offered to either drive her back to her apartment, or told he that they would need to drive to a different location where he or she would get the books from. What took place during that drive is a complete mystery, but we know it ended with Suzanne being brutally murdered and left on the corner.
There is endless speculation about Suzanne’s possible relationship with this person, or what this person may have hoped was a relationship with Suzanne. What we do know for a 100% fact is that the person to whom Suzanne lent her books has never been identified and Suzanne’s books have never surfaced. If someone had lent you some books, and then was murdered, wouldn’t you come forward and talk to investigators to tell them you’d borrowed her books and all of the information that you had about her? It seems extremely odd that this person never presents him or herself to police, and likely that this person had something to hide.
In my opinion, of all the theories put forth, the one which requires the deepest investigation, and which suggests the strongest possible link to the murder of Suzanne Jovin is this person. At this point in time, it may be impossible to identify this person, but at a minimum, there has to be information in his or her possession which has never come to light. The sheer fact that this person has remained silent for going on nineteen years now suggests that, for some reason, he or she does not want to be involved in this investigation. Whether it is because this person is the murderer, or perhaps witnessed something that he or she is afraid to admit to, we may never know.
The murder of Suzanne Jovin is a sad case of a beautiful life snuffed out before her time. Through mistakes on the part of the police, mistakes in the forensic lab and through the eyes of the media who often hammer a case for weeks before completely abandoning it, justice was never found for Suzanne or those she left behind. In the wake of Suzanne’s death, her family was left to grieve without answers, and her teacher had his life taken apart. The answers to what happened to Suzanne Jovin are out there, and the person who murdered her is out there, living a life that Suzanne will never have the chance to experience. Maybe someday, new evidence will come to light, or the DNA sample will finally find it’s match. Until then, the murder of Suzanne Jovin remains unsolved.