Suzanne Jovin case: Wikis


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Suzanne Jovin
Born January 26, 1977(1977-01-26)
Died December 4, 1998 (aged 21)
Body discovered December 4, 1998

Suzanne Nahuela Jovin (January 26, 1977, Göttingen, Germany – December 4, 1998, New Haven, Connecticut) was a senior at Yale University in New Haven, CT when she was brutally stabbed to death off campus. The city of New Haven and Yale University have offered a combined $150,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Jovin’s killer.[1] The crime remains unsolved. At Yale, Jovin volunteered as a tutor through the Yale Tutoring in Elementary Schools program, sang in both the Freshman Chorus and the Bach Society Orchestra, co-founded the German Club, and worked for three years in the Davenport dining hall.[2]


The Murder

After dropping off the penultimate draft of her senior essay on the terrorist leader Osama bin Laden, at approximately 4:15pm on Friday December 4, 1998, Suzanne Jovin began preparations for a pizza-making party she had organized at the Trinity Lutheran Church on 292 Orange St. for the local chapter of Best Buddies, an international organization that brings together students and mentally disabled adults. By 8:30pm, after staying late to help clean up, she was driving another volunteer home in a borrowed university station wagon. At about 8:45pm, she returned the car to the Yale owned lot on the corner of Edgewood Ave and Howe St and proceeded to walk two blocks to her second floor apartment at 258 Park Street, upstairs from a Yale police substation.

Sometime prior to 8:50, a few friends passed by Jovin's window and asked her if she wanted to join them at the movies. Jovin said 'no' – that she was planning to do school work that night. At 9:02, she logged onto her Yale e-mail account and told a friend she was going to leave some GRE books for her in her [Jovin’s] lobby. The GRE books belonged to the friend the e-mail was sent to and Jovin said in that e-mail that the GRE materials would be available for the friend to pick up the next morning after she (Jovin) first retrieves them from "someone" who had in turn borrowed them from her. This "someone" has yet to be identified.[3] It remains unknown whether Jovin was planning to or indeed did meet this unnamed person that night. At 9:10 she logged off. It is uncertain if she made or received any calls; calls within Yale's telephone system were not traceable. She wore the same soft, low-cut hiking boots, jeans, and maroon fleece pullover she had worn at the pizza party.[2]

Very shortly thereafter, Jovin headed out on foot to the Yale police communications center under the arch at Phelps Gate on Yale’s Old Campus to return the keys to the car she had borrowed. Shortly before reaching her destination, at about 9:22, Jovin encountered classmate Peter Stein who was out for a walk. Stein is quoted by the Yale Daily News as saying "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."[4] Stein also said Jovin was not wearing a backpack, was holding one or more sheets of white 8 ½ x 11 inch paper in her right hand, that she was walking at a "normal" pace and did not look nervous or excited, and that their encounter lasted only two to three minutes.[5]

Based on the timeline, it is presumed Jovin returned the keys to the borrowed car at about 9:25. She was reportedly last seen alive at between 9:25-9:30pm walking northeast on College Street, but not yet past Elm Street, by another Yale student who was returning from a Yale hockey game. The two did not speak.[2]

At 9:55, a passerby dialed 911 to report a woman bleeding at the corner of Edgehill Rd and East Rock Rd, a posh neighborhood 1.9 miles from the Yale campus where Jovin was last seen alive. When police arrived at 9:58, they found Jovin fatally stabbed 17 times in the back of her head and neck and her throat slit. She was lying on her stomach, feet in the road, body on the grassy area between the road and the sidewalk. She was fully clothed and still wearing her watch and earrings, with a crumpled up dollar bill in her pocket; her wallet was later found to be still in her room. Suzanne Jovin was officially pronounced dead at 10:26 at Yale New Haven Hospital.[6]

The Evidence

Many items and observations have been reported by the police and media as possible evidence over the eleven plus years of the investigation, much of which has either been discredited, deemed hearsay or unreliable, or been explained. The most reliable physical evidence appears to be: 1) DNA found in scrapings taken from under the fingernails of Jovin’s left hand[7] 2) Jovin’s fingerprints and an unknown person’s partial palmprint found on a Fresca bottle in the bushes in front of where her body was found [8] and 3) the tip of an estimated 4-5 inch non-serrated carbon steel blade lodged in her skull [9] The most reliable observation appears to be the sighting by more than one individual of a tan or brown van at the precise location where Jovin’s body was found.

The existence of the tan/brown van was not made public by the New Haven Police Department (NHPD) until March 27, 2001, when they wrote: “witnesses have said that as they approached the corner of East Rock and Edgehill Roads, they saw a tan or brown van stopped in the roadway facing east, immediately adjacent to where Suzanne was found.”[10] Although members of the Yale faculty had reported the police were asking privately about the van at the inception of the investigation, no explanation has ever been given why it took more than two years to release the information to the public. Although the New Haven Register reported on November 8, 2001, that the NHPD had impounded a brown van as part of the Jovin investigation, no link has ever been confirmed [11]. There have been no reports of anyone witnessing Jovin enter or exit any vehicle nor has the observed van apparently been found. Despite a lack of any corroborating witness reports, it is generally assumed that Jovin had either forcibly or voluntarily entered a vehicle, as it was virtually impossible for her to have reached the intersection of Edgehill and East Rock Roads by foot in the short span of time that elapsed between when she was last seen alive and when she was found bleeding by witnesses.

The existence of the Fresca bottle came to light on April 1, 2001, by Hartford Courant reporter Les Gura [12] The only store in the vicinity of campus that sold Fresca that was still open at the hour Jovin was last seen alive was Krauszer's market on York St. near Elm St. – precisely one block south of Jovin’s apartment. Although Krauszer's maintained a video recording of its customers for security purposes, the police never asked to view their tape and have never reported seeking assistance from store employees or customers about whether they had seen anything unusual that night. The foreign palmprint has yet to be identified.

The first mention of the existence of the DNA was on October 26, 2001, following a solicitation by the New Haven police for colleagues, friends and acquaintances of Jovin to come forward and give DNA samples voluntarily [13] No explanation has ever been given as to why it took nearly three years for the fingernail scrapings to be tested for DNA. On September 14, 2009, Jovin's parents wrote to Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell that "potential forensic investigations, made possible by significant advances in technology in the intervening decade, are not being carried out due to shortcomings in the Connecticut Forensic Science Laboratory." Rell's office admitted that the lab also had a backlog of 12,000 DNA samples that needed to be tested. [14] The DNA results from material collected under a fingernail of Jovin's left hand remained unmatched to any suspect until November 2009. It was determined at that time that the collected DNA matched that of a trace evidence technician in the Connecticut State Police Forensics Laboratory, a Mr. Kitti Settachatgul, who has since retired and moved to Thailand. [15]

The Investigation

Four days after the murder, the name of Jovin’s thesis advisor, James Van de Velde, was leaked to the New Haven Register as the prime suspect in the case. Fifteen months later, criminologist John Pleckaitis, then a sergeant at the New Haven Police Department, admitted to Hartford Courant reporter Les Gura: "From a physical evidence point of view, we had nothing to tie him to the case ... I had nothing to link him to the crime." [16] Famed criminologist Henry Lee’s offer to reconstruct the crime scene was accepted by the police but not carried out.[17]

Based on subsequent questioning of the Yale community, and on Van de Velde’s name being released prior to the completion of his police interrogation, it became apparent the NHPD had for undisclosed reasons become convinced that Van de Velde and Jovin must have been having an illicit or unrequited affair – a notion that friends of Jovin, including her boyfriend, considered wholly unlikely.[18] Nevertheless, though not revealing any physical evidence or a motive, the NHPD continued to maintain that their naming of Van de Velde was not presumptuous. Yale, under the guidance of Dean Richard H. Brodhead, then chose to cancel Van de Velde’s spring 1999 classes citing his presence as a “major distraction” for students, damaging his reputation and academic career.[19]

In 2000, Van de Velde and colleagues strongly and eventually publicly encouraged Yale to hire their own private investigators to study the case. In December, 2000, under additional pressure from the Jovin family, Yale relented and hired the team of 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 Department's major crime squad[20] It was at their insistence that the NHPD allowed the state forensics lab to analyze Jovin’s fingernail scrapings for DNA. Neither the resulting DNA nor the Fresca bottle fingerprint were a match to Van de Velde, prompting Harnett to label Van de Velde “Richard Jewell with a Ph.D.,” a reference to an innocent man whose life was ruined by police publicity in 1996.[21] Yale has not made its investigation public, nor explained its secrecy.

The NHPD responded by contacting the US Navy, Van de Velde’s primary employer at the time, urging them to reconsider their contract work with him—going so far as to travel to Washington, DC to meet with Navy officials. A thorough review was conducted that resulted in Van de Velde being allowed to keep his job and his security clearance. [22] Sensing the investigation had dead-ended on him, Van de Velde undertook a letter writing campaign urging the Connecticut State cold case unit to take over the case.[23] When the Chief State’s Attorney refused, Van de Velde began pressing the police to undertake additional state-of-the-art forensic tests on the evidence.[24]

On September 1, 2006, nearly eight years after the murder, the Jovin investigation was officially classified a cold case and moved to the Connecticut’s Cold Case Unit.[25] However, the case was never added to the Cold Case Unit web site nor was there any mention of the reward being offered—prompting Van de Velde once again to write letters of complaint. On November 29, 2007, Assistant State’s Attorney James Clark admitted that the case had been secretly reassigned back to New Haven in June of that year, this time under the auspices of a handpicked team of four retired detectives. According to Clark: “no person is a suspect in the crime, and everyone is a suspect in the crime.”[26]


On January 12, 2001, Van de Velde sued Quinnipiac University for wrongfully dismissing him from a graduate program he was enrolled in there.[27] Van de Velde agreed to drop the lawsuit on January 26, 2004, in exchange for $80,000.[28]

On December 7, 2001, Van de Velde sued the NHPD in federal court in Connecticut claiming they violated his civil rights by naming only him publicly as a suspect while claiming that other suspects existed as well.[29] Van de Velde added Yale as a defendant on April 15, 2003.[30] U.S. District Judge Robert Chatigny dismissed the federal claims with prejudice and the state law claims without prejudice on March 15, 2004.[31] 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.[32]


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