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Pastimes : Murder Mystery: Who Killed Yale Student Suzanne Jovin?

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To: Jeffrey S. Mitchell who wrote ()12/4/1999 2:46:00 AM
From: Jeffrey S. Mitchell  Read Replies (2) of 1389
Re: Where to learn more about the case

The best place for information is the Yale Daily News at Type "Jovin" in the search box: Here is an example of one article:

Closure elusive in Suzanne Jovin murder case

Suzanne Jovin '99


Yale Daily News
Published 5/24/99

Five months after the brutal stabbing death of Davenport senior Suzanne Jovin, the most striking aspect of the investigation is just how much is still unknown.

Investigators have picked over the murder scene three times. Neighbors and students have been interviewed and re-interviewed. Police have enlisted a world-renowned forensics expert and the FBI to help create a profile of the killer -- all apparently to no avail.

No witnesses have come forward, no weapon has surfaced, and only one man, former Yale lecturer James Van de Velde, has publicly emerged from a "pool of suspects" announced earlier this year. He continues to deny any connection to the murder.

By the New Haven Police Department's own admission, the investigation into the second student murder this decade has stalled. On the rare occasions that police officials speak publicly about the case, it is with an increasingly desperate tone.

"Although we are continuing our investigation, at this point we have exhausted all avenues and are seeking assistance from the general public," New Haven Police Chief Melvin Wearing wrote in a March request for a $50,000 reward to be offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Jovin's murderer.

The only thing police know for sure is that sometime between 9:20 and 9:45 p.m. on December 4, 1998, Jovin, a political science and international relations major from Goettingen, Germany, was stabbed multiple times in the back and skull and left for dead in an upscale residential neighborhood a mile north of campus.

December 4, 1998

On the night of her murder, Jovin hosted an end-of-the-year pizza party at the Trinity Lutheran church for Best Buddies, an organization that builds friendships between students and mentally disabled adults. She was president of the New Haven chapter of the international program.

Around 8:45 p.m., the party finished and the kitchen cleaned, Jovin used a University stationwagon to drive a friend home. She was last seen at 9:15 on Old Campus by Davenport classmate Peter Stein '99, who was out for a stroll. Jovin told Stein that she was returning the keys to the station wagon at Phelps Gate.

"She did not mention plans to go anywhere or do anything else afterward," Stein said in April. "She just said that she was very, very tired and that she was looking forward to getting a lot of sleep."

Stein was the last person to report seeing Jovin alive. At 9:58 p.m., police responded to a reporting a woman bleeding on the corner of Edgehill and East Rock roads. When they arrived, officers found Jovin minutes from death.

Medical examiners found no evidence of sexual assault, and investigators said they had not ruled out robbery as a possible motive. New Haven Police Captain Brian Sullivan said investigators found Jovin's wallet at her Park Street residence and could not be sure whether her assailant intended to steal it.

Jovin's death triggered a joint New Haven-Yale police department investigation that included the assistance of renowned forensics expert and State Commissioner of the Department of Public Safety Dr. Henry Lee, as well as an FBI criminal profiling unit.

It also triggered a media feeding frenzy on campus. Within a month of the murder, profiles of Jovin and Van de Velde appeared in The New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and The London Times.

A Yale suspect emerges

From the first day of the investigation, New Haven police said the murder did not appear to be random -- a statement they later qualified by announcing that they believed Jovin knew her killer.

Less than a week after the murder, The New Haven Register, citing unnamed sources, reported that a Yale "educator" had been questioned twice in connection with the murder.

Local media immediately discovered that Jovin's senior thesis advisor, Yale Political Science lecturer James Van de Velde, was the focus of that article.

Van de Velde, a lecturer not on the tenure track, was a popular teacher who used theatrics and his knowledge of the military and intelligence operations to enliven his classes.

At various times during his career, Van de Velde had worked in the U.S. State Department, served as Director of the Asia Pacific Research Center, and worked on the Dayton Peace Accords.

When police announced that Van de Velde was in a "pool of suspects" in the killing, students who knew Jovin recalled that she told them she was angry with Van de Velde's handling of her senior thesis in the days before her death. She was about to hand in her final draft, friends said she told them, and yet he had still not returned the first. However, police seem to have searched for -- and not found -- evidence of a sexual or other non-professional relationship between the lecturer and his advisee.

Van de Velde embarked on a campaign of public denials that included letters to the press and appearances on local televisions stations. When asked by a WFSB television reporter whether he killed Jovin, he responded, "I could never hurt her."

In January, Yale administrators canceled Van de Velde's two spring semester classes, arguing that his presence in the classroom would be a "distraction" to students.

Through his lawyer, Van de Velde expressed frustration with the administration and said he regretted the University's "11th hour decision" to cancel his classes.

"Any suggestion that I had anything to do with the death of my former student is deeply, deeply painful and outrageous," he wrote in a statement, "I am innocent."

The decision drew scathing criticism from civil libertarians like Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who called the University's actions a "substantial violation of academic freedom."

"The implications are quite frightening. It would mean that the police can influence teaching schedules," he said in January. "It sends a terrible message that Yale doesn't believe in the presumption of innocence," he said.

Looking for closure

In a banner headline on May 6, The New Haven Register reported that Yale had terminated its contract with lecturer Van de Velde and that the city planned to award Jovin a prestigious "Elm and Ivy Award" for her community service work.

The decision not to ask the popular Van De Velde back to teach next semester gave many the impression that he was being pushed out of the University for being a suspect in the murder -- an assertion Yale continues to deny.

Ian Shapiro, chairman of the political science department, said many lecturers only stay for one year because they fill spaces vacated by full faculty members. He added that his department did not even consider Van de Velde for an assistant professorship in his area of expertise, international relations.

"He was not on the short list of that search which was drawn up before [Jovin] was killed," Shapiro said. "If Suzanne Jovin was alive today, Professor Van de Velde still wouldn't be interviewed for the job, and he still wouldn't be teaching here."

But Van de Velde's attorney Ira Grudberg scoffed at the explanation and called the University "institutionally arrogant."

"His courses were oversubscribed and everyone loved him," Grudberg said. "For Yale to claim that this decision wasn't related to the investigation is nonsense."

The Elm and Ivy Award, given posthumously to Jovin and eleven other city residents and students on May 7, honors work that enhances cooperation between Yale and New Haven. Jovin's work with Best Buddies was cited in speeches delivered by Yale President Richard Levin and Mayor John DeStefano Jr.

Though both of the University and City's recent actions seem to strike some note of finality in the case, they offer scant closure.

There remain far more questions than answers in New Haven's only unsolved murder this year. They include how Jovin ended up an un-walkable distance away from Phelps gate less than half an hour after she was last seen, why the police named Van de Velde in a pool of suspects for the homicide, and why they have not named any others in that pool.

In the midst of this swirl of unknowns, and as Suzanne Jovin's name rings out among those of her graduating classmates, a stricken community celebrates her legacy and mourns her death.
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