True Crime – Missing: Evelyn Hartley
By Walton Golightly
Evelyn Hartley attended Central High School in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Her father, Richard, was a biology professor at the local university. Viggo Rasmusen was a professor at the same college. On that fateful evening in October, 1953, Evelyn was due to watch the Rasmusens’ 20-month-old baby.
When she left home she was wearing red jeans, a white blouse, glasses and white bobby socks.
She usually called her parents to check in while babysitting. When he didn’t hear from her, Richard Hartley called the Rasmusen home, but received no answer. Worried, he drove to the residence. After knocking on the front door and receiving no response he entered the house through an open basement window.
The baby was sleeping soundly in an upstairs room, but there was no sign of Evelyn. Hartley immediately called the police. They searched the home – and discovered one of Evelyn’s shoes, as well as her broken glasses. Blood stains were found in the yard. Bloodhounds followed the scent to the street – leading police to believe Evelyn had been bundled into a car and driven away.
A massive search commenced and even fresh graves were dug up to ensure Evelyn’s body had not been buried in secret. Authorities also announced that the back seat and boot of every car in the county would be inspected. Some 40 000 stickers were printed, each reading ‘My car is OK’; police would place a sticker on every car that had been checked and cleared.
Richard and Ethel Hartley, meanwhile, made several public pleas to their daughter’s abductor(s). A short time later a man called them, offering to trade information about Evelyn for cash. The police set a trap and arrested him – but Jack Duffrin, 20, was just after the money. He knew nothing about Evelyn.
A year after Evelyn’s disappearance Sheriff Robert Scullin estimated that his department had questioned approximately 1 200 people. The case was eventually handed over to AM Josephson, a criminal investigator from La Crosse County. He would pursue the case for years, paying particular attention to two intriguing items found during the first few weeks of the investigation.
The first clue was a pair of tennis shoes discovered alongside a highway about 15km away. Josephson believed the tread matched the footprints found outside the Rasmusen house. The second clue was a blood-stained denim jacket found a few metres from the tennis shoes. It was a small size 36, while the tennis shoes were a large size 11, leading Josephson to conclude at least two people had taken Evelyn.
While inspecting the shoes he found yet another lead. He determined that the soles exhibited a distinct wear pattern consistent with operating a Whizzer motorbike. Over the next few months he poured over sales records and receipts and even tracked down past and present owners of Whizzer motorbikes, but never found any worthwhile suspects.
The jacket and shoes were put on display throughout the region, with a plea for information from anyone who might recognise them. Calls and potential leads flooded the police station, but nothing useful materialised. Many investigators now believe the shoes and jacket had nothing to do with the abduction.
In the ensuing years numerous individuals came forward and confessed to the crime. All confessions were investigated and dismissed as false, and Evelyn Hartley’s disappearance remains unsolved.