An unassuming black-and-white 8.5″ x 11″ poster, now taped to the wall behind the cash register at Nica’s Market on Orange Street, may help solve a murder that has eluded local investigators for nearly a decade. But it also raises questions about a potential misstep in the early days of the case.
John Mannion, the head of a state-appointed task force currently investigating the 1998 slaying of Yale College senior Suzanne Jovin, confirmed this week that his team is now seeking the identity of a man seen running near Huntington Street and Whitney Avenue at the time of the murder.
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According to the description, the man in question (pictured at right) is a “physically fit and athletic looking white male with defined features, 20 to 30 years of age, with well groomed blond or dark blond hair. He was wearing dark pants and a loose fitted greenish jacket.” Although the individual seems young enough to be a student at a local university, investigators declined to speculate beyond his physical description.
Police found Jovin on the ground at 9:58 p.m. on Dec. 4, 1998 near the intersection of East Rock Road and Edgehill Avenue — two-tenths of a mile from where the man in question was allegedly spotted by an eyewitness — with 17 stab wounds in her head, neck and back.
The development marks the investigation team’s first public acknowledgment of any twist — or possible modicum of progress — in the investigation since its formation in mid-2007; so far, members have interacted with residents and media only to request information. And although the Office of the State’s Attorney would not classify the man on the flier as a suspect, pending evidence that directly ties him to the murder, the posters also mark the first public development in Jovin’s often-hyped but mostly stagnant homicide case in years.
Click here for an in-depth account of the original — and ultimately unsuccessful — investigation of the homicide, which resulted in the leaking of the name of Jovin’s senior-thesis advisor, James Van de Velde ’82, as a possible suspect even though no hard evidence has ever tied him to the crime.
Citing sources “familiar with the case”, the Hartford Courant reported Wednesday that it was a Hamden woman who gave the description of the man after he ran in front her car shortly before 10 p.m. and glanced at her. When she originally came forward with her testimony, police took her to Van de Velde’s office to see if she could identify him as the runner, according to the Courant.
She did not, and was reportedly never contacted by investigators again.
David Grudberg’ 82, Van de Velde’s attorney, welcomed the development Tuesday afternoon, but he qualified his remarks with a sharp rebuke of the investigation’s ten-year course.
“Any positive step towards solving the crime is always a very welcome development,” he said. “On the other hand, the fact that it took nearly ten years to turn a witness’ description into a request for relevant information is a little puzzling and, I think, illustrates the tunnel-vision that afflicted this case for far too long and perhaps did irreparable damage.”
A ‘Broader Look’ Than Ever Before
Assistant State’s Attorney James Clark ’72, who is overseeing the team’s investigation, emphasized that the man pictured has not been tied to the murder and therefore cannot be labeled a suspect. He would not comment, however, on the team’s general progress. (Although the Jovin Investigation Team was announced last December, it had already been reviewing the case for seven months.)
“What’s being done is a broader look than what’s ever been done at people who could have had some contact with Suzanne Jovin,” he said. “In terms of any big, new discoveries, we wouldn’t tell you if we had made them.”
The composite image on the poster is based off an eyewitness account originally documented in 1998, Clark said. The investigation team, he added, has since met with the same eyewitness to confirm the account.
Asked why the account was made public only in June, Clark said that “now is [the] time that we believe public disclosure can be helpful for the investigation of this piece of information.
“Generally it is poor investigative practice to make public everything you know unless the cost-benefit analysis favors disclosure,” he said.
Jovin was seen near Old Campus just a half an hour before being found stabbed nearly two miles away. The limited information the investigation team has compiled on the man in question is not significant enough to draw conclusions about why Jovin was killed or how she got to East Rock, Clark said. As such, he said the public should not be discouraged from sharing information about possible suspects just because they do not fit the man’s appearance.
‘Everyone’ Is A Suspect
This Dec. 4 will mark the ten-year anniversary of Jovin’s death. Since Jovin’s slaying in 1998, the New Haven Police Department, private investigators, the state’s Cold Case Unit and now, the Jovin Investigation Team have each attempted to solve her mysterious homicide.
Despite the vast resources that have been committed to the case, a hefty $150,000 reward offered by the city in conjunction with the University and persistent media and public pressure, just one man, Van de Velde, has been publicly named in connection with the homicide. Details about the evening of Dec. 4, 1998 are scarce. Few promising leads have publicly emerged in the last decade.
Last winter, Clark said the investigation team would both re-evaluate all existing evidence and seek out new information. In a manner of speaking, he also absolved Van de Velde of his suspect status. It was a fresh start; the case would be explored as if it had happened yesterday.
“No person is a suspect in the crime,” he said, “and everyone is a suspect in the crime.”
The Jovin Investigation Team can be directly contacted by phone at (203) 676-1575 or by e-mail at email@example.com.