On the eerie eve of October 24, 1953, Evelyn Hartley, a sophomore of tender age, mysteriously disappeared while en route to a babysitting engagement, leaving behind no trace to follow. It resembled a chilling tale straight out of a haunting Halloween folklore, but regrettably, this was a grim reality.
Evelyn, a comely and amiable scholar attending La Crosse’s Central High School, hailed from a respected lineage. Her father, Richard, a learned academic in the field of biology, imparted knowledge at La Cross State College, while her mother, Ethel, diligently maintained their household. As twilight descended on that fateful day, Evelyn consented to babysit the infant child of Viggo Rasmussen, an esteemed colleague of her father. Adorned in scarlet-hued denim trousers, a pristine ivory blouse, bobby socks as pure as snow, and bespectacled eyes, she embarked on her venture.
During her hours of babysitting, it was customary for Evelyn to establish contact with her mother. Alas, as several hours elapsed without a word, Ethel grew apprehensive and implored her husband to reach out to the Rasmussen residence. Alas, their attempts were met with silence. Richard, fraught with worry, drove to the dwelling, only to discover its entrance locked. Knocking persistently yielded no response. Persistence compelled Richard to search until he stumbled upon an unfastened basement window, granting him access to the dwelling.
To his dismay, he discovered that the sole inhabitant of the abode was the slumbering infant, resting serenely in a crib on the upper floor. Evelyn, however, was nowhere to be found.
Richard, in a state of distress, promptly contacted the authorities. Upon their arrival, the premises were meticulously scrutinized. Among the findings were a solitary shoe belonging to Evelyn, along with her broken spectacles. Another shoe was discovered in a separate chamber of the house. Additionally, traces of bloodstains were detected both inside and outside the residence, with ominous bloody footprints adorning the pavement in proximity to the garage. Canine trackers were summoned to trace the scent, but their efforts abruptly halted at the street. Detectives postulated that Evelyn had been forcefully transported away in an automobile.
Commencing that very night, an extensive search operation was launched. Police officers and zealous volunteers combed the town’s streets on foot, while the National Guard, Civil Air Patrol, and the Air Force extended their search from above. Men scoured the nearby riverbanks, delving into the heart of the wilderness. The collective endeavor of college and high school students further swelled the ranks, amassing a staggering 2,000 individuals dedicated to finding Evelyn within the initial days of her vanishing.
The search efforts extended beyond the confines of the town. Hunters were urged to maintain vigilance while traversing the fields, while farmers were implored to scour their lands for any sign of Evelyn’s presence or, more ominously, indications of freshly disturbed earth concealing a clandestine grave. This line of inquiry compelled law enforcement officers to survey local cemeteries, exhuming freshly disturbed graves in the hopes of uncovering any trace of Evelyn’s presence.
Roadblocks were strategically established around La Crosse, enabling officers to thoroughly inspect the trunks and backseats of each passing vehicle, seeking telltale signs of recent bloodshed or any other peculiarities. Over 40,000 pamphlets bearing the inscription “MY CAR IS OK” were printed for this purpose, with officers affixing a sticker to each vehicle that had undergone a satisfactory inspection.
In a striking measure, gas station attendants were deputized to report any suspicious vehicles and provide the license plate numbers of drivers refusing mandatory searches.
Richard and Ethel resorted to numerous public pleas, imploring individuals with information to come forward and beseeching their daughter’s captor to release her unharmed. Their impassioned appeals garnered attention, resulting in two telephone calls received by the Hartleys. A male caller offered to provide information regarding Evelyn in exchange for a sum of $500. Authorities orchestrated a plan to ensnare the caller, leading to the apprehension of Jack Duffrin, a 20-year-old, but his knowledge regarding Evelyn’s whereabouts proved futile. He was subsequently charged and convicted of attempted extortion.
In a remarkable show of support, friends, neighbors, local businesses, and civic organizations rallied together, accumulating funds to establish a reward for any valuable tips leading to Evelyn’s safe return. The reward fund quickly swelled to an impressive $6,600. The police station was inundated with hundreds of tips, each diligently investigated before being dismissed. Seemingly, no one possessed any inkling of what had transpired, rendering the search fruitless.
As time passed, the investigation grew cold, but authorities refused to abandon their pursuit of justice. A year following Evelyn’s disappearance, Sheriff Robert Scullin estimated that his department had interrogated approximately 1,200 individuals. Detective Captain Leo Kihm, the intrepid leader of the initial inquiry, asserted a higher figure, claiming to have questioned around 3,500 individuals. Alas, despite their relentless efforts, no new leads emerged.
The case eventually transitioned to A.M. Josephson, an indefatigable investigator hailing from La Crosse County. For years on end, he tirelessly pursued the case, placing particular focus on two intriguing discoveries made during the early stages of the investigation: a pair of sneakers found alongside Highway 14 and a denim jacket stained with blood, uncovered in close proximity. Josephson ardently believed that these artifacts held crucial clues vital for unraveling the mystery.
The shoes had been unearthed approximately 10 miles southeast of La Crosse, near Shelby, Wisconsin. Detectives postulated that the peculiar tread pattern imprinted on the shoe soles bore a resemblance to mud traces discovered within the Rasmussen household. Josephson further deduced that the shoe soles exhibited a distinctive wear pattern consistent with operating a Whizzer motorbike. Over the ensuing months, he meticulously scrutinized sales records, receipts, and diligently tracked down past and present Whizzer bike owners. Regrettably, this line of inquiry failed to unearth any substantial suspects.
Photographs of the jacket and shoes were widely circulated throughout the region, accompanied by a plea for information from anyone who might recognize these items. Once again, the police hotlines were inundated with calls, yet none of them furnished new leads.
As time wore on and the investigation grew colder, most investigators dismissed the significance of the shoes and the bloodstained jacket. While the shoes were sized 11, the jacket was merely a small, measuring 36. Many detectives believed them to be unrelated. However, Josephson steadfastly clung to his conviction that two abductors had seized Evelyn. His pursuit continued, but alas, it yielded no meaningful breakthroughs.
Years turned into decades, each passing without answers. By 1959, the remaining vestiges of investigative efforts dwindled, and while the Evelyn Hartley case remained open, it appeared destined to forever elude resolution.
In subsequent years, a slew of individuals emerged, claiming responsibility for the crime. In 1971,a transient wanderer named Tommy Thompson, aged 51, was apprehended in Casper, Wyoming, for passing fraudulent checks. While in custody, he divulged details of a rape and murder committed in 1953, naming Evelyn as his unfortunate victim. Authorities diligently examined Thompson’s claims and ascertained that he had been incarcerated in Minnesota at the time of Evelyn’s disappearance.
Other confessions emerged over time, only to crumble under scrutiny. In 1957, certain investigators endeavored to connect Evelyn’s vanishing with the heinous deeds of Ed Gein, a Wisconsin resident who had recently confessed to the grisly murders of two women, fashioning macabre trophies from human remains. Further investigation revealed that Gein had been visiting relatives in La Crosse during the period of Evelyn’s disappearance. However, thorough searches of his property and multiple polygraph examinations conclusively ruled out any connection to the kidnapping. Authorities officially absolved Gein of involvement in the case.
Evelyn’s parents, Richard and Ethel, carried the burden of their daughter’s disappearance throughout their remaining years. In a poignant interview they granted in 1978, they confessed to having relinquished hope of ever unraveling the fate that befell their beloved child. Their public statement marked the final expression regarding the case.
To this day, the enigma surrounding Evelyn Hartley’s vanishing persists, haunting the collective consciousness with unanswered questions.