Friday, February 22, 2008

Parkway Murders Revisited

The 1969 Parkway Murders Revisited - By William Kelly

When the bodies of four young women were found in a ditch off the Black Horse Pike, more than a few people had a déjà vu.

On Memorial Day, 1969, parkway maintenance worker Elwood “Woody” Faunce discovered the bodies of Susan Davis and Elizabeth Perry in the secluded underbrush off the Garden State Parkway.

The two nineteen year old college coeds were missing since the previous Friday, when they failed to return to Pennsylvania after a few days vacation at the Jersey Shore. They stayed in Ocean City at a 9th street rooming house, toured the boardwalk, went to the beach and after dark they hit the Somers Point nightclubs, just as thousands of other young people were doing.

But unlike the thousands of others, after leaving early Friday morning to beat the holiday weekend rush, they would drive onto the Parkway, never to be seen alive again, except by their killer.

When the girls failed to make it to Pennsylvania and home Friday night, their parents knew something was wrong, and notified authorities, but the police put a low priority on missing teenage girls on the biggest holiday weekend of the summer. While the police searched for their car, a powder blue 1966 Chevrolet convertible, the fathers of the missing girls rented a plane and flew over the route they would have taken, looking for the car in the weeds off the road, in case they had an accident.

Then Howard Blazer of Blazer’s Garage on Tilton Road returned from an out of state fishing trip and learn about the missing girls from news reports. He had towed the convertible, found on Friday with the top down off the side of the Parkway around mile marker 31.9. A New Jersey State Trooper, Louis Sturr had found the car abandoned on the Parkway early Friday morning while on patrol. When he called the tags in, there was no report of the car being stolen, so Blazer was called to have it towed to his Northfield garage.

Blazer went fishing and Trooper Sturr left the area for the weekend and everyone forgot about the towed car, until the following Monday, Memorial Day, giving the killer or killers a three day lead before the bodies were discovered.

Despite a massive investigative effort, with police interviewing thousands of witnesses and dozens of suspects, the case remains unsolved, one of a few high profile unsolved murder cases in South Jersey.

As the years stretched into decades, there were periodic peaks of media and public interest, like when a new suspect emerged or a mass murder confessed to the crime. Both Gerald Eugene Stano and Ted Bundy, two of the most prolific mass murders in history, claimed credit for the Parkway murders.

The police took the Stano confession serious enough to send two detectives down to Florida State Prison to interview him, but he didn’t know any of the specifics of the case, had the murder taking place on the wrong side of the Parkway and got all of the details wrong.

Bundy however, proves a more elusive suspect. After being caught in Colorado for the murder of a number of young women, and escaping twice, Bundy went to Florida, where the capitol punishment laws remained in effect. Captured again after going on a rampage of murder, Bundy settled into Florida’s death row.

Before being executed in Florida on January 24, 1989, Bundy had gone through a series of taped psychological counseling sessions with a court approved forensic psychiatrist, Dr. Art Norman. .

Because of patient – doctor confidentiality, he couldn’t reveal what Bundy had said, but after he was dead, Norman reported that Bundy had told him, in a taped conversation, what it was like for the killer, sort of like, ‘how OJ would have done it.’ While talking in the third person, Bundy was saying what it was like to leave Philadelphia for California, when he, “….decided to leave and go back home to the west coast, sort of like a defeated state of mind. But before he does he decides to take a little bit of a jaunt to what they call the Jersey Shore.”

Bundy told Norman, “This is early summer. So after being more or less detached from people for a long period preceding period of months, he didn’t have many friends, didn’t go anywhere, just more or less had school and walks on the beach, and just gets a – (mumble)…, sees young women lined up like a vision, like a you know,…Eventually he found himself tearing around the place for a couple of days. So without really planning anything, he picked up a couple of young girls and ended up with…the first time he ever done it. Sort of a spontaneous kind of something he hadn’t planned, but something that had been building that was the edge…so when he left for the coast, it was not just getting away, it was more like an escape.”

“Is this just a amazing coincidence?” Norman asked at the time of Bundy’s execution, “That he just happened to be there on Memorial Day before he went back to the west coast and two girls disappeared in that area at the time?...I believe that this is where he really started. And it may not be enough for the DA, but I think its enough to raise some curiosity.”

Robert N. McAlister, Jr. was the Atlantic County Prosecutor at the time of the murders, and kept the case open while he was in office. The current prosecutor Jeffrey Blitz has been periodically reviewing the case for the past few decades. Blitz said, “I spoke to Dr. Norman. He relayed information that he had interviewed Bundy years ago and that he had come to the conclusion that Bundy was responsible for the Co-Ed murders. I asked him if Bundy said he did it, and Norman said no. But based on what Bundy said, Norman believed he could draw the conclusion that Bundy was responsible. That’s not satisfying.”

What is convincing to a psychiatrist is not satisfying to the lawyer. But according to Norman, more specific details did come out of his interviews with Bundy, details that could be investigated, linking him to or absolving him of the Parkway Co-Ed murders.

Bundy at the time, was a Temple University student, who said that instead of taking a professor’s car to California right away, he drove to New York City, visited the sex shops off Broadway, and then drove down to Ocean City and looked at the girls on the boardwalk and beach.

Bundy was convicted on circumstantial evidence in Colorado, a without eyewitnesses, based entirely on Bundy’s gas credit card receipts that placed him in the vicinity when the murders took place. Most of the murdered girls, who fit the same profile as Perry and Davis, were found in the woods just off major highways.

While Bundy’s fingerprints on the car or his DNA evidence at the crime scene could prove conclusive, the NJ State Police and Atlantic County Prosecutors Office are reluctant to pin him to the crime, as if it was Bundy, the failure to catch him then led to the deaths of fifty more beautiful young women. No one from New Jersey even attended the Bundy Conference, a meeting of federal, state and local law enforcement officers who met at Quantico, Virginia to review unsolved crimes that could possibly be attributed to Bundy.

One thing is for certain, according to those who investigated the crime, whoever was responsible for the 1969 Parkway murders, killed again.

After local police were publicly criticized for the “tragedy of errors” during the initial phase of the investigation, Elizabeth Perry’s father wrote a letter to the editor of local papers saying, “I comprehend their abilities quite more clearly than does other residents who presume to criticize them. This is not to suggest that every last man on the force is a Sherlock Holmes, but it was apparent to me, and I’m sure I can speak for Mr. Davis, that they are dedicated and competent people trying to do a job against great odds.”

Unlike most cold case detective television shows, not all murders are solved, but sometimes, old cases are resolved, sometimes decades after the crime is committed. Solving such multiple murders quickly however, will most certainly prevent the killer, like Bundy, from continuing to commit crimes in different jurisdictions, over long periods of time.

While few officials today actually recall the details of the 1969 Parkway murders, the still unresolved nature of that case stands out as a reminder to local police detectives and state and federal investigators as they continue to pour over the evidence in the recent Pike murders.

Like the Parkway murder, the girls all fit a specific type, their bodies were discovered off the side of a major highway, and their killer or killers have had a good lead time before their bodies were discovered.

Christian Barth, a Cherry Hill attorney who is writing a novel based on the 1969 Parkway murders says that while there are some similarities, the two crimes are not likely related. “The distance in time between the two cases, and the difference in the types of victims, make it unlikely that the cases are related,” said Barth, “but the similarities make you remember them, and perhaps we can learn something from the unsolved case from so long ago.”

Although forensic science has developed new investigative techniques and types of evidence like DNA that didn’t exist in 1969, who knows what new evidence, new witness, what clue could lead to the perpetrator?

And perhaps with renewed media and public interest, the 1969 case will eventually one day be solved.

William Kelly -



Bill "Memo" Wilson said...

Was a reporter in Bucks County when this happened and had a summer home with my wife also a journalist. recall it well.

Unknown said...

I hope that this tragic case is solved and some peace is eventually provided to the families. When this happened I was a young teenager living only a few blocks from the 9th Street rooming house in Ocean City where the girls stayed. I remember it very well.