Jovin murder investigation takes new twist

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 jovincase@gmail.com.

Comments

  • Anonymous

    HOW are they going to find someone who was jogging 10 years ago? He could be dead, out of the country, or -- even if he is still in New Haven, still at the scene of the crime -- completely indiscoverable.

  • JHC

    It sounds like the new investigators are throwing a bone out to the public.but if it helps resolve the case then go for it.
    But many ,many people were out and about that night because it was about 60 degrees.
    maybe this dude hitchhiked his way out of there,and someone might recall picking him up ? do you notice however how the locale of the runner keeps changing ? clearing certain area residents who might look just a little like the Man of interest.
    To the highest contributor goes the direction of the mystery man. like a weather vane being spun around.
    How do you throw away the "VAN" and the rideshare buddy hopalong from Park street? here's a geeno ,now put a moustache and hat on him

  • Hopeful

    I'm not going to get all excited about this new lead, but it's good that the new team is actively working on it. This case is spookier than a Hollywood spy movie, and it would be great to have some closure.

  • Anonymous

    YDN editors,

    Isn't it unethical to change an article after it has been published, especially if you're not going to publish a correction?

    Somehow, my comment about your incorrect headline ("a more broader look than ever before") didn't get posted, but the headline was changed.

    Apparently the Yale Daily News needs to work not only on grammar, but also on journalistic ethics.

  • Anonymous

    To interested readers,

    This story presents an opportunity to explain YDN policy regarding updates to online exclusives. On occasion, a fast-moving story will see several updates over the course of a day. The story will not be changed, however, without clear indication that it has been updated. (See "Updated 6:45 p.m." in today's story.) In the case of this Jovin piece, we also tweaked a subhead, which a commenter keenly exposed as ungrammatical in the original version. ("A More 'Broader Look' Than Ever" changed to "A 'Broader Look' Than Ever Before.") We did not publish a correction for that tweak, even though we indicated the story had been updated, because the alteration had no bearing on the factual accuracy of the story. Had the tweak — whether pointed out by a reader, the reporter or an editor — impacted the accuracy of the story, we would have published not only an "updated" tag, but also a correction.

    The fact is that we're human, and we make mistakes; hence, the ungrammatical section headline. So we most definitely continue to appreciate feedback in this still relatively new comment section. Whenever an error is identified — and we will aim always for none in the original — we will correct it with an "updated" tag and a correction. Whenever a stylistic error is identified, we may improve the passage depending on its centrality to the story, yet we will still indicate that an alteration has indeed been made. Thanks for your understanding. Don't hesitate to contact me directly at editor@yaledailynews.com with further questions.

    Sincerely, Andrew Mangino, Editor in Chief

  • anon

    It looks like a photograph of Van de Velde. Who happened to be her thesis advisor and live a few hundred feet away from the murder. Coincidence?

  • joey

    Did he stop and comb his hair on Whitney Ave.? use the Ladies mirror ?

  • joey

    "no one is a suspect and everyone is a suspect" so said Mannion,the current investigator in the case.
    Now they have a sketch that looks like everyone but no one. i wonder if the Bd.of Alders (new haven)has allocated any consultant fees for this.
    Ya know there is someome of way more interest that resided a few feet away from her body ,someone with a relative down around Livingston street. yes we don't want a witch hunt,ya know a lot of this is from the police not following proceedure in the first place.
    far fetched as it sounds -will some contractor halt the school project at the end of Huntington on Whitney ?

  • Anonymous

    To recap: The DNA doesn't match the originally named suspect, nor do the fingerprints, nor does said person drive a van, both original motives were disproven, and now we have sketch of a guy 10-20 years younger who the witness specifically said -- nearly 10 years ago -- was not that suspect. Yet the NHPD and Yale have spent years pretending they hadn't made a huge mistake and thus have never issued an apology… allowing morons to believe they see things that were never there. Coincidence?

  • William Anderson

    From what I understand, the poster does NOT look like Van de Velde. This is the kind of irresponsible commenting that led police to falsely accuse Van de Velde in the first place.

    I would be interested in the identity of Anon #6. If that person has real information, then perhaps he or she should have the guts to make that known instead of throwing about accusations.

    What I do find curious is that there have been two instances in which a university tried to falsely link one of its own to a crime. This is the first incident, and the second is the infamous Duke Lacrosse Case.

    In both instances, a central figure was Richard Brodhead. Now, I find THAT to be a most interesting coincidence.

  • Bheader

    Yah: the Bhead seems to leap to conclusions when it comes to ooh the manlies…baddy boys so jealous

  • joey

    Maybe Mr.Brodhead knows something that John Q public does'nt.It would be nice to hear just what lead Mr.Brodhead to these conclusions.
    One thing i know for certain ,there was a lot of pandering to the University from disreputable folks :Realtors/Developers, Police Dept.affiliates.At that time you had a creation of Yale benifits program,University Properties. A mad scramble to obtain positions in these, A literal fight over a privelege to sell you a home.
    Does Richard Brodhead have a brother named David ?
    There's a high falutin Law office on the Ave.of Americas (NYC). probably irrelevant but interesting nonetheless.
    Was money being solicited by our Mayor from Yale Faculty, Alum and any visiting friend of ? A lot of other questions as to what they (Yale) thought of Susan,what was said if anything. Did they not understand (either) as to what Susan was doing with these unfortunates or Non University townies
    Not knowing about the Best Buddies perhaps.
    One report had her walking towards Hillhouse ave.-Where one of her classes was, another had her walking towards her apartment on Park street at 9:25…