A decade later, remembering Suzanne Jovin

At least a dozen people will gather around a granite memorial plaque in the Davenport College courtyard this morning.

The group — which includes dining hall workers, the University chaplain, Davenport administrators and University Deputy Secretary Martha Highsmith — will assemble to pay their respects to the late Suzanne Jovin ’99.

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They have met in Davenport every year for the last nine years, except during the college’s 2004 renovation, when the group met at a street corner in New Haven’s East Rock neighborhood.

It was at that very corner on the evening of Dec. 4, 1998, that police found Jovin, then a Davenport senior majoring in political science and international studies, stabbed 17 times in the head, neck and back. She had been spotted on campus — almost two miles away — just 20 minutes prior.

Ten years later, her tragic death remains unsolved. Despite their renewed efforts in the last year, investigators say they have not uncovered any promising leads. But even as the trail seems to grow colder, warm memories of Jovin, at least among those who knew her, live on.

MURDER MYSTERY

Jovin, a native of Göettingen, Germany, spent the early evening on Dec. 4, 1998, at a holiday pizza party for Best Buddies, an organization that pairs students with individuals with intellectual disabilities, at New Haven’s Trinity Lutheran Church.

After parking a car she borrowed, Jovin returned to her apartment on Park Street, where she was seen by friends at 8:50 p.m.

At approximately 9:25 p.m., Peter Stein ’99 saw Jovin walking toward Phelps Gate, he told newspapers at the time. Jovin told him she was going to return the keys to the car at Phelps Hall and then immediately return home to her apartment, he said.

Minutes later, a student returning from a Yale hockey game saw Jovin walking on College Street toward Elm Street.

At 9:58 p.m., Jovin was found stabbed on the corner of Edgehill Avenue and East Rock Road. She was pronounced dead-on-arrival at Yale-New Haven Hospital shortly after.

Within a week, James Van de Velde ’82, Jovin’s senior thesis adviser and instructor of her political science seminar, “Strategy and Policy in the Conduct of War,” became the only publicly named suspect in the case. Van de Velde lived just three-fifths of a mile from where Jovin’s body was found. The fact that a popular Yale lecturer was implicated shocked many on campus.

One month later, then-Dean of Yale College Richard Brodhead cancelled Van de Velde’s spring-term classes and told Van de Velde that he was not allowed to advise any senior essays or directed readings.

No evidence linking Van de Velde to the crime has ever been publicly presented, and he was never charged.

In September 2006, after years without progress, the case was handed over to Connecticut’s Cold Case Unit.

Approximately one year ago, Assistant State’s Attorney James Clark ’72 announced that a team of four detectives would take a fresh look at the murder. In an attempt to reinvigorate the case, the investigators wiped the slate clean and pledged to look at the case as if it had just happened.

Van de Velde has a lawsuit currently pending against 10 Yale and NHPD officials for what he claims is a violation of his Constitutional rights during the course of the investigation. He continues to push the authorities to take a more thorough look at the forensic evidence gathered at the scene.

“My lawyer will be filing a crucial motion tomorrow regarding my suit which we hope will allow me to hold the City and Yale accountable for their actions,” Van de Velde wrote in an e-mail message to the News on Wednesday.

A COLD CASE

Immediately after Jovin was murdered, there was some hope that the case would be solved. Police, for instance, were saying they had compiled a list of suspects. But as the days, weeks and months passed, that optimism slowly faded.

“The people that I know don’t have much hope that [the homicide] will be solved,” Davenport alumnus Ruth Kaplan ’99 told The New York Times a year after the homicide. “If somebody can get away with that kind of murder for this long, it doesn’t seem likely that they’re going to find some new evidence that will solve this case.”

Ten years later, prospects appear even more grim.

Over the past year, the recently convened investigation team has attempted to reach out to new sources — particularly Yale alumni who were familiar with Jovin — to get testimony from people who may have knowledge of the incident but did not report it immediately. The team has also followed up on items from the original case.

Clark said in an interview this week that the detectives have uncovered information that is “in some sense is new,” but declined to specify what the information was.

On Wednesday, John Mannion, a retired state police officer who is heading up the investigative team, reiterated that the team has “nothing great, sorry to say.” The investigators are, however, having some evidence re-examined at the state police lab, he added.

“The investigation continues on,” Mannion said. “We continue to do the small things.”

The investigators released two public requests for information this summer, but both requests were based on information that had been in the Jovin case file for years.

The team is trying to identify the “someone” Jovin referred to in an e-mail she sent at 9:02 p.m. on the night of her death. The investigators also hung posters in the East Rock neighborhood with a sketch of “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 near where Jovin was stabbed.

Clark declined to comment on whether the poster has produced any leads.

“Everyone is a suspect and no one is a suspect,” he said, echoing the motto the team has taken since its inception.

REMEMBERING JOVIN

Although the murder stunned campus at the time, all five students interviewed yesterday at breakfast in Davenport were not familiar with Suzanne Jovin: none of them recognized her name.

But Jovin has not been forgotten by the dining hall workers who knew and worked alongside her: She was a student worker in the dish room of the dining hall, a common job at the time.

Davenport dining hall worker Pat McGloin said she remembered Jovin as a hardworking employee and “a beautiful human being.”

“She was an amazing worker. Her work ethic was unbelievable. Everything had to be perfect,” McGloin said Wednesday.

Jovin’s former classmates spoke fondly of her in interviews over the last week.

“She was just a really nice person who went out of her way to help others,” Risa David ’99 said, noting Jovin’s volunteer work with disabled children.

Jacob Bittner ’99 remembered Jovin as smiling, energetic and sweet.

“My last memory of her was leading a blood drive,” Bittner said. “I signed up to give blood — and I had to go to football practice — this beautiful girl in the dining hall asked me to. She always had a smile on.”

“For me, it’s hard to imagine that it happened,” he added. “She was such a nice girl. Who would ever want to do something like this to her?”

Bill Hinners, a cook in Davenport at the time, said the evening Jovin was killed, everyone in the Davenport community was in tears. It was, he said, “one of the saddest nights of my life.”

McGloin remembers feeling numb. Every year at the vigil in the courtyard, McGloin said, the feelings of that day come back to her.

“I wonder what she would have been, what she would have done,” she said. “We love all the students, but she just stood out.”

University President Richard Levin named the incident as one of the two most difficult of his tenure, on par with a 2003 automobile accident in which four Yale students were killed and five others were injured.

“It was horrendous,” Levin said Wednesday. “It was a terrible campus tragedy, and the murder remains haunting to all of us because the murderer has not been identified.”

A ‘SWEET GIRL’

Every morning, Jovin would enter the Davenport dining hall ready with a joke, desk attendant Joanne Ursini said. Even though “some of them were really lame,” she said with a chuckle, Ursini said she missed Jovin’s jokes, hugs and “twinkling eyes.”

The longtime worker still has everything Jovin gave her — including a scarf Ursini is still too upset to wear — and pictures of the “sweet girl” whose life was taken.

Ursini recalled the day she and Jovin sat together at a table in the dining hall, “poking [fun] at each girl’s shoes that walked by, saying which ones looked good, which ones were ugly.” There was one girl whose shoes Jovin really liked, Ursini recalled.

Jovin told the girl how much she liked her shoes, and the two soon realized they wore the same size. Before breakfast was over, the girl came back to the dining hall with the shoes in a bag, handing them to Jovin.

“And she took them!” Ursini exclaimed.

One picture, in particular, of a dance Jovin attended in Commons stands out in Ursini’s mind — she was wearing those shoes.

Investigators continue to search for new leads in the case and will meet at the state’s attorney’s office today to mull over the case yet again, Mannion said.

“There is a commitment on my behalf to pursue every lead that we can generate,” Mannion said Wednesday.

The peace of mind of the student’s family is a prime motivator for the investigation, University Deputy Secretary Highsmith said. (Jovin’s father declined to comment for this story.)

“Many people here on campus as well as friends and family elsewhere continue to grieve her loss,” said Highsmith, who communicated closely with Jovin’s parents after her death. “It’s just a sad, tragic situation.”

A conviction, she added, “would bring a measure of peace to her family.”

Highsmith expressed hope that even after 10 years, the case might still be solved.

Remarked McGloin: “Every time I read about the case, I hope.”

Greta Stetson, Kaitlin Paulson and Lacey Gonzales contributed reporting.

Comments

  • Flabberghasted

    Someone out there must know who is responsible for killing Suzanne. The killer or killers must have told someone or someone must have connected the dots by now. How can they live with themselves and not come forward. Signed "Flabberghasted"

  • Mark 02

    Your right Flabbergasted.there might be a few explanations as to why they have not come forward. (1)They cannot be bought out via the reward because they are rich.
    (2)Their DNA is not on file so no match can be had.
    (3) they feel protected by the university who they thought and still feel will do what it can to protect them from inquiries. (4) they can feel safe knowing that their accomplice(s) are well to do University people.
    (5) it was a brutal act of hatred by someone who has a religous calling,hence no rape attempt.
    (6) it was a mob hit (7) it was a mob cop hit (8) The University in it's hires where no background checks are done and these types were ordered to clean the area and took it on themselves to decide who should stay and who should go

  • Scared

    Before I read the book about Suzanne Jovin my Dream was to attend Yale and study law, my dream is still alive but im terribly frightend what happened to suzanne is going to happen to me. May Suzannes soul rest in peace and i hope her family the best.Also Someone out there knows who murderd her i just hope the police figures it out or they turn themselves in.