On the 16th anniversary of the unsolved murder of then-Yale College senior Suzanne Jovin ’99, investigators will convene to re-examine her fatal stabbing.
The Jovin investigation team has scheduled a community meeting at Wilbur Cross High School for Dec. 4 at 6 p.m. The event is intended to allow members of the public to come forward with any information they may have regarding Jovin’s murder, which remains a cold case. The 21-year-old Yale student was found dead near the corner of Edgehill and East Rock Roads on the night of Dec. 4, 1998, with a slit throat and 17 stab wounds to the back of her head and neck.
“The purpose of this community meeting is to find people in the community who may remember details which, to them, may seem inconsequential but could be important to the investigation,” said Mark Dupuis, communications and legislative specialist at the Office of Chief State’s Attorney. “We will not be making any announcements or discussing any details of the investigation.”
The team probing the murder — which includes representatives from the New Haven Police Department, the Division of Criminal Justice, the Office of Chief State’s Attorney’s Cold Case Unit and the Office of the New Haven State’s Attorney — will seek information on three principal leads, the New Haven Register first reported.
The first concerns a passenger in a taxi near the scene of the crime. At 9:30 p.m. on the night of the crime, less than 30 minutes before police were alerted to Jovin’s murder, a female passenger — a potential witness — rode a taxi from the Blatchley Avenue area to Newhallville. The taxi’s route cuts through Whitney and Prospect Avenues, one of which Jovin would have had to travel up to reach Edgehill and East Rock from Phelps Gate, where she was last seen.
The second concerns an individual who communicated with the couple that found Jovin’s body. A recording of the call made to police at 9:55 p.m. to notify authorities of Jovin’s murder may also contain an additional witness. The couple that heard Jovin’s screams and found her body called 911 and spoke to police. But another person driving by was overheard on dispatch asking the callers if they needed help. Investigators believe the person in the vehicle may have seen or heard something relevant to the crime.
Finally, authorities are looking for an individual from whom Jovin was, according to her own email correspondence, planning to collect study materials for the Graduate Record Examinations the night of her murder.
The only suspect whose identity has been made public in the case is James Van de Velde ’82, a former political science lecturer at Yale and Jovin’s senior thesis adviser, who was questioned days after the killing. On June 6, 2013, Michael Dearington, the New Haven state’s attorney, confirmed to the News that Van de Velde was no longer a suspect in the Jovin case. In 2013, Van de Velde settled a 12-year defamation lawsuit against the city and the University. Since then, no new suspects’ identities have been disclosed to the public.
New Haven Police Department spokesman David Hartman said he was not aware of the upcoming meeting but agreed with Dupuis that though the Jovin murder is a cold case, it remains an ongoing investigation. He said details of such cases are typically not revealed.
“There are cold cases that are decades old that are solved from time to time,” Hartman said. “As a case gets older the possibility of new leads arising is weaker, but that does not mean at all that things don’t happen.”
Franz Douskey — a resident of the greater New Haven area and a former creative writing professor at Yale — said he has pushed for a public forum to discuss the Jovin case for 15 years. His interest in the case stems from being a former resident of East Rock, the neighborhood where Jovin’s body was found. Although he taught at Yale while the victim was a student, Douskey said he did not know Jovin.
Douskey has privately organized periodical meetings at Gateway Community College since Jovin’s murder. These forums, attended by community members and investigators, have followed a similar format to the upcoming gathering at Wilbur Cross — inviting people to share information regarding the murder.
“I’m all for [the meeting] because, no matter how it happens, we really need to get information out,” Douskey said. “There might be somebody who has some information but has been reluctant to speak up. Some folks have been here a long time.”
Douskey said he plans to attend the forum on Dec. 4 to urge investigators to go house-to-house to hunt down any fragment of pertinent information on the case. The investigators have the access and the authority to ask people to talk if they know something, he said.
Students from James Hillhouse High School applied the house-to-house approach on Saturday and walked around the East Rock neighborhood where Jovin was stabbed. They passed out flyers advertising the upcoming meeting and calling for community members to come forward with further information on the leads outlined by Jovin’s investigation team or any other aspect of her murder.
Jovin was a member of Davenport College and studied political science and international relations at Yale.