In its second revelation to the public in two weeks, a team of investigators probing the 1998 slaying of Yale College senior Suzanne Jovin has announced that it is seeking the identity of an individual to whom Jovin had lent GRE study materials — a potentially critical line of inquiry that lead investigator John Mannion said previous investigators on the case neglected to explore.
A mysterious, nondescript “someone,” whom Jovin mentioned in an e-mail she sent less than an hour before she was found stabbed in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood, is the target of the Jovin Investigation Team’s latest lead. But Mannion said there is nothing at this point to indicate that this “someone” is connected with the murder.
Although Jovin’s e-mail, written in German to a classmate, has been part of the murder case file for several years, Mannion said there is “no record” of previous investigators’ attempting to establish the identity of the “someone.”
“Don’t get me started on whether the initial investigation was wonderful,” Assistant State’s Attorney James Clark ’72 said, with a hint of sarcasm. “There’s no way to rewrite history, so you move forward with the different focus.”
Now, in an effort to piece together a timeline of the night of the murder, the Jovin Investigation Team is looking primarily to Yale alumni — perhaps a classmate who knew Jovin, who talked to her, who took the GRE with her in October of 1998 — who may have knowledge of the “someone” to whom Jovin lent her books.
A question never asked
Jovin had just returned to her Park Street apartment on Dec. 4, 1998, after leaving a pizza-making party around 8:30 p.m. She had organized the event, which was held at Trinity Lutheran Church, for the New Haven chapter of Best Buddies, an organization that partners volunteers with individuals who are intellectually disabled.
At 9:02 that night, Jovin sent an e-mail to a female Yale classmate of hers. In the e-mail, Jovin apologized for not returning her classmate’s phone call. Jovin wrote she had her classmate’s GRE study materials, including a book and a CD-ROM, but had lent them out to “someone” else.
It was the phrasing — “someone” as opposed to “a friend” or “Bob,” Mannion said — that initially piqued his interest in the detail. In the last decade, this “someone” has not come forward with his or her identity. Clark said that may be because the question of the person’s identity was never asked “in a public way.”
Jovin wrote that she would retrieve the books and leave them in the foyer of her apartment for the classmate to pick up, giving her classmate the code to her apartment in case Jovin was not in the building.
At about 9:25 p.m., Peter Stein ’99 ran into Jovin on her way to Phelps Gate. She was returning the keys to a University-owned car she had used to get to the Best Buddies event. Stein told the News in 1999 that Jovin told him she planned on returning to her apartment and getting some rest.
A few minutes later, Jovin was spotted near Phelps Gate on College Street by another student, who did not talk to her. It is unclear from that student’s testimony, Mannion said, whether Jovin was walking somewhere, waiting for someone or pausing to admire the holiday lights along the New Haven Green.
That eyewitness — the last person known to have seen Jovin alive — did not respond to requests for comment Tuesday. The Jovin Investigation Team has not interviewed this eyewitness directly, but multiple interviews have been documented.
Just over half an hour later, police found Jovin on the corner of Edgehill Avenue and East Rock Road. She had been stabbed 17 times in the head, neck and back. She was pronounced dead on arrival at Yale-New Haven Hospital at 10:26 p.m.
‘There’s always a possibility of anything’
Neither Clark nor Mannion offered any judgment on the fact that the “someone” was only now being pursued.
For a nearly decade-old case that has made little progress in recent years, the Jovin team’s recent inquiries offer a glimmer of insight into the workings of investigators and the history of the investigation itself.
Just over two weeks ago, the Jovin Investigation Team distributed posters and made house calls in East Rock. The investigators are still looking to identify “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” seen running two-tenths of a mile from where Jovin was stabbed on the night of Dec. 4, 1998.
Citing sources “familiar with the case”, the Hartford Courant reported on July 2 that it was a Hamden woman who gave the description of the man after he ran in front of her car shortly before 10 p.m. and glanced at her. When she originally came forward with her testimony, police took her to the office of James Van de Velde ’82 — then a Yale lecturer and the only publicly named suspect at the time — to see whether she could identify Van de Velde as the runner, according to the Courant.
She did not, and was reportedly never contacted by investigators again.
Van de Velde and his attorney, David Grudberg ’82, have long insisted that the investigation’s preoccupation with Van de Velde damaged not only Van de Velde’s personal life but the homicide case as well. Grudberg told the News earlier this month that the Team’s delayed inquiries, though welcome, are representative of the early investigation’s “tunnel-vision.”
The illustration issued earlier this month — featuring a composite of the man seen running near the scene of Jovin’s body — could match the profile of a local university student. So could the “someone” in Jovin’s e-mail.
“There’s always a possibility of anything,” Clark said. “We aren’t drawing those lines.”