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

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To: Jeffrey S. Mitchell who wrote (1177)2/1/2004 6:44:08 PM
From: Jeffrey S. Mitchell  Read Replies (1) of 1389
Re: 2/1/04 - Hartford Courant: How to Solve the 1998 Jovin Murder

How to Solve the 1998 Jovin Murder
February 1, 2004

Five years ago now, on Dec. 4, 1998, a talented and intelligent Yale undergraduate I taught and advised, Suzanne Jovin, was brutally murdered in New Haven. Her killer has yet to be found. The investigation became derailed almost immediately when the New Haven police became enamored with lazy speculation that perhaps Jovin was murdered by someone within Yale - perhaps even one of her instructors. Yet the facts suggest otherwise and paint a picture of missed opportunities and poor analysis that probably blinded otherwise well-meaning people.

The facts of the case suggest that Suzanne Jovin was murdered in a random act of violence, perhaps by more than one individual from outside the Yale and New Haven communities.

The murder was high risk and brazen. The individual or individuals involved did not fear being recognized in the area in which he or they picked Jovin up; nor did he fear being recognized in the area in which they dropped her body. He probably did not belong in either community.

Jovin logged off her computer at 9:10 p.m. and was seen at approximately 9:20 p.m., Dec. 4, 1998, on the Old Campus at Yale on her way to Phelps Gate to return keys to a car she borrowed to attend a pizza party she helped organize for mentally retarded adults. It takes eight minutes to walk from her home on Park Street to the Old Campus. According to a witness who spoke to her for a few moments at 9:20 p.m., "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." (She had been awake that day since 5 a.m.) Jovin was holding a piece of white 8.5-by-11-inch paper in her right hand, but no soda bottle and no backpack, was walking at a "normal" pace and did not look nervous or excited.

A Fresca soda bottle was found at the crime scene with Jovin's and someone else's fingerprints on it, though the unknown set was a partial print. The second print has yet to be identified and has not matched any known acquaintance. The only establishment in central campus that sells Fresca is the former Krauszer's, located at York and Elm streets - precisely on the way home from Phelps Gate to her apartment.

Krauszer's was open at the time and had a surveillance camera that recorded all customers' activity. New Haven and Yale police never checked it, even though it might have taped the individual(s) who murdered Jovin and even though it should have been intuitive to ask immediately where might Jovin have purchased this unusual brand of soda on the Yale campus.

Adding time to the confirmed sighting, Jovin is now in or near Krauszer's at around 9:35 p.m.; a passerby called 911 at 9:55 p.m. after finding Jovin lying unconscious at Edgehill and East Rock roads, 1.9 miles away. A vehicle was used in the crime.

The timeline suggests that Jovin was not on her way to any appointment. The meeting with her murderer(s) was probably random, or at least spontaneous. Since her trip to Phelps Gate was chosen at a random time and she was in a random location of campus, it is unlikely that the murder was premeditated: How would anyone have known where Jovin would have been at this time? And who would plan a murder by thinking: "I'll drive around the middle of campus where hundreds might recognize me and hope to bump into her, assume that she will be alone, and somehow get her into my car and drive her somewhere?"

A serendipitous meeting with someone she knew most likely would not allow for an acquaintance to come prepared for murder (i.e., with a knife), nor have his car parked conveniently nearby - precisely in between Krauszer's and her apartment on Park Street, in the middle of the Yale campus, on a one-way street, in a direction facing opposite to her likely destination - home, just a couple short blocks away. And even if all this occurred, why would she get into a car one block from her home with someone who had some animus toward her?

And who at Yale drives around the campus in a car especially as a means to find someone?

For a killer known to Jovin to have waited for her to arrive home from wherever she was would mean the killer knew or assumed she would be returning and returning alone that evening, would have somehow been able to convince her to get into his car, though she would have just returned home, and would have staked her out immediately in front of the Yale police substation.

It takes eight minutes to drive from the corner of York and Elm to the corner of East Rock and Edgehill. This leaves little time for an amicable meeting to turn sour and then hostile. The crime was not likely committed by someone who knew Jovin.

According to the New Haven police press statement in March 2001, "several" witnesses saw a "tan or brown" van stopped facing "east" on East Rock Road around the time of the crime at the location Jovin was found - precisely the direction in which a vehicle would be if it were ejecting a body, or if Jovin were escaping a vehicle that had stopped.

Although the police knew about the soda bottle and the van since the outset of the investigation, reward posters were never posted on central campus where Jovin probably bought her soda until April 2001 - 29 months after the crime.

Since she did not have her wallet on her at the time of her abduction, but only a crumbled dollar bill (perhaps the extra cash she took to purchase a Fresca on her way home?), a frustrated abduction/robbery is a possible motive.

In an October 2001 press conference, State's Attorney Michael Dearington revealed that DNA found under the fingernails of Jovin did not match my DNA. Nor did it match Jovin's former boyfriend's or any of the emergency personnel who worked on her. The state's attorney announced that investigators planned to ask for samples from acquaintances and friends of Jovin. Dearington stated that should no innocent match be established, then it would be more likely to match the assailant. Since no word has emerged in two years, presumably no match has been made to date.

According to the 1996 Bureau of Justice Statistics (the latest such reference on the subject), for women aged 18-24, 53 percent of knife homicides involve individuals who are at least acquainted with the victim. But 45 percent are committed by a stranger. More specifically, however, most of these homicides are committed at or in the woman's home. Only 2.9 percent of such homicides are committed on the street. (In other words, with acquaintance murders, the man goes to the woman's home and kills her; he does not invite her for a ride in his car.) Although I found no specific statistic to combine the two variables, it is logical that homicides involving a knife in which the woman victim is away from her home are overwhelmingly committed by strangers.

Despite the comments by the New Haven police that "there is a good possibility that she may have known her assailant and the assailant knew her," it is unlikely Jovin was attacked by someone she knew. And given the facts of the case, the location, the likely point of meeting, the age and marital status of the victim, it is especially unlikely.

The Jovin homicide is still solvable today.

What Can Be Done

Technologies developed in just the last decade afford the investigation with new ideas to help solve the case. Here are some that are potentially relevant:


Determine the age of the individual through testing the hormones left within the fingerprints found on the Fresca soda bottle found at the crime scene. (Henry Lee's lab could perform this test or refer it to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, see below.)

Conduct a sweat print analysis on the clothing. Dale Perry of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California can do one as small as 10 micrometers across - smaller than a single fingerprint ridge. He uses a synchrotron, a particle accelerator to produce intense light that, when shone at the sample, is absorbed and reveals a chemical makeup that may be unique. If not unique to a person, it can at least segregate age and sex. This technique requires very little sample.

According to the New Haven police, a copy of the Yale magazine The New Journal was near or on Jovin when she was found. Test the magazine and Jovin's clothing under ultraviolet light and laser light for fingerprints; paper especially holds fingerprints very well and for a long period of time.

Determine the ethnicity of the individual through analysis of the DNA found under the fingernails of Jovin. Any result could be potentially helpful. Consider the possibility that the individual is Indo-European, Asian or African. Then match the ethnicity with the age of the individual, and one has a new lead. At least four companies perform such services as a business: Oxford Ancestors, Genelex, DNAPrint genomics and Family Tree DNA (see:;;; New Haven, Yale or a family member could easily afford these companies' fees, about $300. This requires no new testing of material, only a photocopy of the markers for the companies to interpret.

Since forensic science now can extract DNA from fingerprints, the police can determine whether the DNA under Jovin's fingernails corresponds to the DNA in the fingerprints on the Fresca bottle found at the crime scene. If they match, the DNA is most likely the killer's. The investigation then becomes a DNA hunt. Although such a test may destroy much of the original print, one gets an even more specific piece of evidence - DNA, and the photo of the fingerprint remains in the computer system and case file. After a suspect is identified, let a defense lawyer try to argue that the New Haven police never had the fingerprint in the first place and try to explain how his client's DNA appeared on the Fresca bottle.

The employees of Krauszer's in December 1998 ought to be located and fingerprinted to determine whether they are the source of the suspicious prints (Krauszer's Food Stores Inc., National Road, Edison, NJ 08817, 732-287-2800). It is astounding that the police haven't bothered to locate and test the former employees to rule out the most likely alternative to the prints being those of Jovin's killer. As we know from the Penney Serra murder case in New Haven, unsolved for 25 years, the print on the tissue box that ended up NOT matching the employees at the Pathmark where it was purchased did indeed end up identifying the individual convicted of the Serra crime.

Perform a microscopic forensic analysis to determine molecular trace elements deposited on Jovin's clothing, which could identify dirt and tire molecules, among other unique substances, which can be traced to a specific region or vehicle. A microscopic forensic test might show whether Jovin's clothing was in contact with the floor of a Dodge B250 van, the type police said was seen at the crime scene, or of some other van. Skip Palenik in Chicago, for instance, could perform such analysis (see: (Yale could easily afford Palenik's expertise.)

Compare the fingerprints found on the Fresca bottle with all local and national databases, as well as the FBI's partial-fingerprint database.

Other research:

Make use of regional and national motor vehicle records and other federal agencies to locate the van seen at the crime.

Perform a 411 telephone-information-check to see who might have called SNET in the fall of 1998 to learn the address or phone number of Jovin.

Perform a phone record search of calls from outside the Yale switchboard to Jovin's 624-xxxx number - not just the day of her murder.

Perform a phone check of her number against all those who own Dodge B250 vans in New England.

Perform a search through computer logs of those who searched her home number and address in the fall of 1998 through the Yale website. Pantek, a computer investigation company in Chicago, could perform such a task; so could the computer forensics department of General Dynamics (see:; (Yale could easily afford either company's expertise.)

Using a special network search program that the Microsoft Corp. has, determine who has searched stories on the Jovin investigation and look for anyone on that list who lives in a 100-mile radius who has access to a passenger van.

Test the knife tip left in Jovin's body to determine who made the knife, where it was sold, and who bought similar knives in 1997-98. The University of Connecticut Department of Metallurgy & Materials Engineering can likely determine the type of weapon used in the crime.

Police work:

Contact officials associated with Marrakech Inc., the organization serving people with mental retardation for whom Jovin volunteered in the Best Buddies program. They would have known which of the organization's clients and six associates who traveled to the pizza party Jovin attended the evening of her death arrived in city-supplied vans or who drove vans for Marrakech (many did, according to the former director, who was never interviewed by the New Haven police). Nineteen staff people had some connection with the Best Buddies program, according to the former director; New Haven police have not interviewed a single one of them.

Little to no publicity about the $150,000 reward has been circulated outside of the Yale campus and none likely ever reached the associates of Jovin's killers, since posters were only hung around Yale and only briefly. In 1999, West Hartford police held four days of near constant press conferences to ask the public for help in solving a police homicide in which little evidence was originally found. The constant publicity led to a tip, which led to an arrest. Therefore, use television and radio to broadcast the existence of the Jovin reward.

This past October, the state of Connecticut began a program to DNA test all felons in prison who have committed certain crimes. Perhaps Jovin's murderer is already in prison. Federal legislation recently passed will speed the testing of DNA samples from federal crimes. With some luck, a computer will solve the Jovin crime, much like a computer did for the Penney Serra case.

The investigation today is locked in arrogance: Those who botched it refuse to consider any other analysis than their own, refuse to accept the facts as they are, and instead see what they want to see. I challenge the Yale administration and the New Haven Police Department to pursue my suggestions and allow experts to assist and allow the evidence and the facts to steer the case to its conclusion.

If you want other stories on this topic, search the Archives at is Copyright © 2004 by The Hartford Courant
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