Sixteen years after the body of Suzanne Jovin ’99 was found on the corner of Edgehill and East Rock Roads, the team still investigating her murder is calling on New Haven residents for information that could help identify a culprit.
A couple found the 21-year-old on the night of her murder with 17 stab wounds to the back of her head and neck and a slit throat. Investigators convened Thursday evening at Wilbur Cross High School to gather information and potential leads from nearly 50 members of the public.
“We’re reaching out in a last-ditch hope that somebody will remember something,” Chief State’s Attorney Kevin Kane said. “We, just as much as you, want to know answers.”
The investigation team, which is comprised of representatives from the New Haven Police Department, the Connecticut Division of Criminal Justice, Office of Chief State’s Attorney’s Cold Case Unit and the Office of the New Haven State’s Attorney, did not reveal new information at last night’s meeting. Kane said that the team did not want to “contaminate” witnesses’ memories.
Kane sought further information on reports of a couple seen arguing shortly before the murder. According to the reports, the couple was outside the Eli Whitney Apartments on Whitney Avenue — a block from where Jovin was found. Kane said the investigators had reason to believe that Jovin was one of the two people arguing, and he asked attendees at the meeting if any of them had witnessed the argument and remembered the words or tones of voice from the argument.
“No detail is too small; no detail is too trivial,” Deputy Chief State’s Attorney John Russotto said. “It might cause us to look at something differently.”
The team is also looking for an individual who may have seen the murderer fleeing the scene of the crime. This individual was a woman driving by the couple who found Jovin as they called the police. A police recording of the couple’s phone call reveals a voice of the driver asking if the couple needed help. The woman in the couple, a doctor, was tending to Jovin, who was still alive when they found her. She noticed that the driver had young children in the car and refused her help in order not to frighten the children. Police believe that the driver may have seen Jovin’s murderer leaving the corner of Edgehill and East Rock roads either by foot or by car.
The investigators required attendees to sign in at the door, where they were handed a form that had questions about their observations on the night of the murder and potential knowledge about the victim. One question asked whether members of the public knew the individual to whom Jovin had loaned her GRE study materials. On the night she was killed, Jovin had sent an email to a friend saying she was going to pick up her materials from someone, but that individual’s identity is still unknown.
Russotto asked that members of the public share their observations either through the questionnaire or privately with the investigation team to avoid confusing their stories with those of other witnesses.
Although attendees were discouraged from openly sharing new information at the meeting, they posed a number of questions to the team about the facts of the case that have already been made public.
New Haven resident and local attorney Emmet Hibson said he attended a Yale vs. Princeton ice hockey game at Ingalls Rink — less than a mile and half from where Jovin was found — at 7:30 p.m. that night. The game ended around the time of the murder, he said. Hibson asked investigators whether they had considered asking attendees of the game if they had seen anything abnormal.
New Haven resident Trowbridge Ford said it was unusual that the student who had borrowed Jovin’s GRE materials had not come forward after her death. He asked if investigators had considered the student to be a possible suspect.
“Don’t jump to conclusions,” Kane said in response to Ford. “You can’t assume that there isn’t an innocent explanation.”
Ford added that he believes the police should consider Al Qaeda as a potential suspect. He said that the topic of Jovin’s senior thesis — Osama bin Laden — could have prompted the terrorist organization to assassinate her.
“I see Al Qaeda as a prime suspect; they fooled the Americans,” Ford said. “Jovin’s stab wounds indicate that this is a Jihadist killing.”
Kane said in response that observations from community members rather than theories were more helpful for the investigators.
Since the murder, only one suspect’s identity — that of Jovin’s senior thesis advisor James Van de Velde ’82 — has been disclosed to the public. On June 6, 2013, New Haven state’s attorney Michael Dearington said that police no longer consider Van de Velde a suspect. Last year, Van de Velde settled a defamation lawsuit against the University and the city.
Dearington declined to say whether or not the identities of any future suspects would be disclosed. Some remain doubtful that last night’s meeting will give investigators useful information.
“I think the meeting is a great idea,” said Gilles Carter, a documentary filmmaker living in East Rock. “But, at this point, I think it might be more theater than anything else.”
This year’s meeting does not mark the first time that the investigation team has deferred to the public for additional information. Investigators reached out to the New Haven community members last year to gather tips about the case as well.
NHPD Chief of Police Dean Esserman said that although the case has been classified as cold, investigators will continue to push for information.
“You’re going to see more of this in New Haven,” Esserman said. “There are more unsolved murders, and the New Haven Police Department is going to look into them.”