|Re: 12/2/2018 -- New Haven Register: Jovin murder mystery continues 20 years later|
Jovin murder mystery continues 20 years later
By Randall Beach
Published 4:03 pm EST, Sunday, December 2, 2018
Photo: Hearst Connecticut Media File Photo /
In this 2001 file photo, left to right: then State’s Attorney Michael Dearington, then New Haven Police Chief Melvin Wearing, Brandt Johnson and wife Ellen Jovin, and then Yale Police Chief James Perrotti during a press conference announcing a higher reward for information and an 800 number for tips leading to solving the Suzanne Jovin murder.
NEW HAVEN — Twenty years after Yale senior Suzanne Jovin, 21, was found bleeding to death from 17 stab wounds at the corner of East Rock and Edgehill roads in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood, two past investigators of the crime say Connecticut authorities have severely hampered the case from the very beginning by focusing on a man the two investigators insist is innocent: James Van de Velde.
He was never charged in the case and has always maintained he was not involved. But Van de Velde, then a Yale lecturer who was Jovin’s thesis adviser, was quickly identified in the media through police sources as being a suspect in the crime. The slaying occurred on the evening of Dec. 4, 1998, shortly before 10 p.m.
Andy Rosenzweig, a former New York Police Department lieutenant and former chief investigator of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, told the New Haven Register the unsolved case “was plagued from the earliest days by investigators and prosecutors totally and wrongfully invested in only one theory.” Rosenzweig said this wrongful theory is that Van de Velde was the killer.
“And I’m afraid that not much has changed in 20 years,” Rosenzweig added.
Patrick Harnett, former commanding officer of the New York Police Department’s major crime squad who was recruited by Rosenzweig in 2000 to assist him with the case, told the Register: “I never felt he (Van de Velde) had any motive to do anything as vicious as what happened to Suzanne Jovin. I didn’t feel there was any significant evidence pointing to him.”
Rosenzweig and Harnett said they have now come forward because they still believe the case can be solved if all the investigators who have worked on the case are brought together to share information and leads are followed.
Rosenzweig said he has identified “half a dozen suspects” who should be looked at, not including Van de Velde. Rosenzweig declined to say anything more about this because he doesn’t want to jeopardize the chances of charging one of them with Jovin’s murder.
New Haven State’s Attorney Patrick Griffin, who is one of the leaders of the revitalized Jovin investigation, said when asked about Rosenzweig’s and Harnett’s comments: “This is an active and ongoing investigation. The partners are focused. They’re engaged.”
Griffin declined to talk about any suspect by name. But in what might be an answer to the two past investigators’ belief that Van de Velde remains a prime suspect to the exclusion of others, Griffin said, “We’re keeping an open mind. We don’t have tunnel vision.”
Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane, who has been overseeing the Jovin investigation via the state Cold Case Unit, also declined to comment on the investigators’ assertion the inquiry has been “plagued” by keying on Van de Velde.
“I won’t acknowledge there was or was not a focus on anybody,” Kane said.
Van de Velde, whose spring 1999 classes were canceled by Yale officials because they said his presence on campus would be “a distraction,” never again worked at that university. He later sued Yale and the city of New Haven for having been wrongly labeled a suspect in Jovin’s murder.
The lawsuit was settled in June 2013. The city agreed to pay him $200,000; Yale officials declined to disclose how much they paid him. Shortly afterward, then-New Haven State’s Attorney Michael Dearington was asked by this reporter if he no longer considered Van de Velde a suspect. Dearington replied, “I think that’s fair to say.”
When Kane was asked last week if he stands by Dearington’s statement, he said, “I’m not stepping back from that. I’m not saying anything.”
Kane added, “We could get in a big debate here. What does the word ‘suspect’ mean? Do you mean there’s probable cause to believe a person committed the crime? I certainly wouldn’t identify anybody as being a suspect.”
Van de Velde is now a lecturer at the Center for Advanced Governmental Studies at Johns Hopkins University and an adjunct faculty member at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. In addition, he is a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Naval Intelligence Reserve. He is now married.
Van de Velde did not respond to an email from the New Haven Register seeking comment on the case and its anniversary. His attorney, David Grudberg of New Haven, said, “Jim doesn’t care to say anything and I don’t either.”
Rosenzweig said of Van de Velde, “He never should have been a suspect. He was a convenient suspect. They looked at who the victim had any conflict with. She had some disagreement over his feedback, or lack thereof, on her senior thesis. That’s such a stretch, to extrapolate from there to a motive for murder.”
Rosenzweig said he tried to convince the other investigators there was no evidence linking Van de Velde to the homicide and that they should move on to the half-dozen other individuals Rosenzweig suggested. But he said they didn’t listen to him and he believes they still consider Van de Velde a suspect.
Rosenzweig said he was hired by Yale University to work on the case in 2000 after Jovin’s parents, Thomas and Donna Jovin, pressured Yale to do so. But he said he left the case after about two years, along with Harnett, because “I felt like I was spinning my wheels.” He added, “Pat and I encouraged the authorities to pursue different avenues, without much success. You can usually tell by the lack of feedback (that they’re not interested). It’s very telling.”
Rosenzweig said of the Jovins, “Like any family that loses a loved one, they have had such a challenge in dealing with it. They’re scientists and I think that added to their frustration. They’re used to solving riddles and figuring things out.”
The Jovins last week responded to an email from the New Haven Register. They said they came to New Haven from their home in Germany three months ago to meet with the case’s current investigators.
“New people and new technology are involved in what appears to be a very serious and focused effort,” the Jovins said in their email. “We appreciate the extraordinary persistence and dedication of the authorities in New Haven and the state of Connecticut. Where it will lead to is hard to say. For us, personally, nothing has changed, nothing will change.”
Harnett noted that he and Rosenzweig interviewed Van de Velde for several hours in 2000 or 2001. “He was fully cooperative with us. And he did everything in the world to cooperate with police. He felt he was done wrong.”
Harnett added, “This guy is like Richard Jewell with a Ph.D.,” referring to the security guard who found a backpack filled with pipe bombs in a park in Atlanta during the 1996 Summer Olympics. Jewell called police and helped evacuate the crowd before the bomb exploded. But then he was named a suspect. Eventually he was exonerated by the FBI.
In an op-ed article, “Can the Suzanne Jovin case be solved?” that was submitted to the New Haven Register but not published, Rosenzweig said the authorities’ focus on Van de Velde had “two devastating effects.”
“First, the damage to an innocent man’s reputation,” he wrote. “Second, the effective shutting down of potential sources of tips and perhaps crucial information from the police’s greatest source: the public.”
Rosenzweig noted, “When people are fed a steady stream of reports that the police already know who committed the crime and will be making an arrest soon, they tend to think of their information as unimportant and probably wrong. Sadly, we’ll never know how many such sources in the Jovin case never came forward.”
Rosenzweig also wrote in his op-ed that when Van de Velde agreed to be questioned by New Haven police detectives four days after the murder, he answered their questions for four hours, offered to take a lie detector test and to hand over the keys to his vehicle. He also told police they could search his apartment.
Rosenzweig wrote that investigators’ lack of interest in the leads submitted to them by him and by Harnett “suggests the local and state investigators never have gotten off the original and wrong-headed theory, which sadly dooms the case to languish in the cold case files and still casts a pall of suspicion over an innocent man.”
Evidence and leads
Rosenzweig said he and Harnett are available to meet with Kane, Griffin and “any other stakeholders” to discuss the case. “We feel we could still contribute to the effort and help bring some answers to this tragic crime.”
When Kane was asked about this offer, he said Jack Edwards, who has been investigating the Jovin case on a part-time basis for about seven years, has spoken periodically with Rosenzweig. Kane added about the meeting idea, “There might come a time when that would be helpful. I’m not sure we’re there yet, to have that kind of brain-storming.”
But Kane said, “My office and Pat’s (Griffin’s) office are working on it actively. We’re still following up on leads. The New Haven police are engaged too.” Kane said the FBI is also providing technical help.
According to Kane, “We are focused on getting all agencies’ information together in one system, so we know what we have. A lot of this is consolidating, making sure we have all the information that different groups have obtained over the years.”
Griffin said he has met with New Haven police representatives “to pool our resources. My office and this (Kane’s) office are working very closely.” He called the New Haven Police Department “the primary investigating agency.”
Kane and Griffin declined to discuss what evidence they have or what might be re-tested, given technological advances over the past 20 years. According to previous media reports, the tip of the knife blade was found in Jovin’s skull but the rest of the knife was never recovered. Griffin did say, “We’re reviewing every piece of physical evidence. We’ll determine what should be re-tested.”
Kane noted: “The key questions are still the same: where was she intending to go when she walked through (Yale’s) Phelps Gate that night? How did she get to the corner of East Rock and Edgehill some 20 minutes later?”
Harnett said he was pleased to see the state Division of Criminal Justice website ( www.ct.gov/csao), with a link to the Jovin case. Witnesses or anybody who might know anything about the case are asked to call the tip line at 1-866-623-8058 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Investigators thought they had a break in the case within a day or two after the murder when a woman called police to report she had seen a man running on Whitney Avenue about a block or two from the murder scene and at about the time it happened. She was driving north on Whitney Avenue at the time.
This reporter finally was able to locate the woman, whose identity has never been publicly revealed. The New Haven Register is abiding by her request not to name her. But after the Register found her recently, she agreed to walk with this reporter on that stretch of Whitney Avenue and describe what she saw.
The woman said she was driving slowly at the time. Suddenly the man ran up to the front passenger window, briefly peered inside, then turned and jumped over the plantings of a new garden in front of a church (now the site of the Worthington Hooker Middle School). “I never saw anybody run so fast,” she said.
She described a “fierce” look on his face when he looked into her car. But she only saw the side of his “square jaw” and just for a second or two. Thus she cannot say who he was.
Those who were working on the case eventually had a drawing done of “the running man,” based on her description. But it has not helped the case.
Henry C. Lee, the renowned forensic scientist who retired from directing the state forensic laboratory and is now chair professor at the University of New Haven, recalled volunteering to help the New Haven police at the time of the Jovin murder. “But they said, ‘Thank you, Dr. Lee, we do not need any help.’”
However, Lee said police later did call him and ask him to examine Jovin’s clothing and a soda can found in the bushes near her body.
“I spent all of Christmas processing the evidence. I tried my best,” Lee said.
For many years, the state of Connecticut has been offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Jovin’s murderer. Yale University has offered an additional $100,000. These offers are posted on the state Division of Criminal Justice website.
Harnett said investigators should do more to publicize the reward. When Kane was asked why the state hasn’t done this, he said, “It’s out there.”
When the same question was posed to Yale public information staff by the New Haven Register, spokeswoman Karen Peart emailed: “We never canceled the reward for solving the tragic Suzanne Jovin murder.”
Rosenzweig sent another email to the Register recently in which he discussed a theory he raised with other investigators: whether a terrorist might have killed Jovin because her senior thesis was on Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda.
“I’d be looking for someone from or sympathetic with the fringe element of the Muslim/Middle Eastern community in and around Yale and New Haven — a bartender, a waiter, a cab driver, a student, a store clerk — who may have crossed paths with Suzanne and who she decided to confide that she was doing research on Al Qaeda,” Rosenzweig wrote. “Maybe that person then decided to take it upon themselves to befriend her and ultimately kill her — in his or her demented mind doing their part in the Jihad.”
Rosenzweig said when he suggested this theory to the other investigators, “I got universal disinterest.” When Kane was asked about it last week, he declined to comment.
Meanwhile, Jeffrey Mitchell, a longtime friend of Van de Velde’s who has been researching the Jovin case for decades, has told the Register he is embarking on a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to fund work on the case by an independent laboratory. He said this is preferable to asking the state’s “overworked crime lab” to re-test evidence.
The link to that campaign is www.gofundme.com/justiceforsuzanne. The customized email address for the campaign is email@example.com.
When Kane was asked about Mitchell’s effort, he said, “That’s why we have a tip line. We will pursue any leads that we get.”
Griffin disputed Mitchell’s belief the state has insufficient funds to test evidence in the case. “This investigation is well-staffed and we have the resources, with federal authorities assisting us. We don’t need others to do it.”
Kane said of the Jovin case, “It’s been a long road, yes. But I haven’t give up hope, by any means.”
Harnett said, “There’s still potential from people (tipsters) who have knowledge that could lead to the person responsible for this.”
And Rosenzweig, reasserting his idea that all investigators should get together and share their information, said, “Under the right conditions, this case could be solved.”
He added, “Let’s hope something breaks.”
Contact Randall Beach at 203-680-9345 or firstname.lastname@example.org