in old mystery
Forty years ago, a Camp Hill native and her friend were killed as they were leaving New Jersey. A novel links the slayings to serial killer Ted Bundy.
THE GARDEN STATE PARKWAY MURDERS OF 1969
— John Luciew, jluciew@patriot- news.com
Serial killer Ted Bundy was executed in 1989. He confessed to the murder of at least 30 girls and women, and authorities suspect he might have killed up to 100 across the country. A new novel describes Bundys potential involvement in two 1969 slayings in New Jersey.
Susan Davis and Elizabeth Perry, who were killed in New Jersey in 1969, were last seen alive at the Point Diner. BELOW: A 1969 edition of the Atlantic City Press announces the slayings.
BY JOHN LUCIEW email@example.com
She would have been 59 this year, the woman from Camp Hill with the long brown hair and bright, aware eyes staring out from faded yellow newsprint.
But Susan Davis, heiress to a family beverage business, never returned from her post-graduation jaunt to Ocean City, N.J., with a friend.
It was the week leading up to Memorial Day 1969. The two 19-year-old daughters of privilege who had just graduated from an all-women junior college in Illinois took off in a baby-blue Chevy convertible for the beach.
After four days of sunning in the sand and strolling the boardwalk, they were heading back to Davis family home in Camp Hill early that Friday.
A 4:30 a.m. breakfast at the Somers Point Diner, and they headed north on the Garden State Parkway.
They never made it off the highway.
Three days later, on Memorial Day, a highway maintenance worker found the womens bodies in a wooded thicket 200 feet from the northbound lanes.
Theyd each been stabbed, the multiple wounds inflicted with a small knife — possibly a pen or paring knife, according to the autopsy.
The case has never been solved.
Were they early victims of a fledgling serial killer later known to the world as Ted Bundy, who preyed on coeds and was executed in 1989?
That possibility is the subject of a new novel, The Origins of Infamy, penned by a New Jersey lawyer whos been transfixed by the case since childhood.
I got to tell you, I keep looking for a reason to say Bundy didnt do it, author Christian Barth said.
Bundy never said for sure whether he committed the 1969 murders. He confessed to more than 30 others, but authorities suspect that he may have killed as many as 100 girls and women in Florida, Idaho, Colorado, Washington and Utah.
In the winter of 1969, Bundy took acting classes at Temple University. He got good grades in acting and stage makeup.
He later admitted to visiting New York City and Ocean City that May.
Bundy described the sexual stew of Times Square — the first stop on his spring trip in 1969 — as an early trigger of his violent fantasies involving women.
He also confessed that he first formed the idea of killing a woman on the boardwalk in Ocean City, Barth said.
Bundys earliest confirmed murders were committed in Washington state in 1974, when he was 27. But some Bundy experts believe he might have started killing earlier, as far back as his early teens.
Bundys victims looked like Susan Davis and Elizabeth Perry — white, middle-class women, many of them college students, most with long, straight hair parted in the middle, and almost all between the ages of 15 and 25.
But the stabbings in New Jersey differ from Bundys usual M.O. of creeping into womens rooms at night or luring them into his Volkswagen Beetle, then strangling and bludgeoning them to death.
Echo of the violence The Atlantic County Prosecutors Office and the New Jersey State Police have never closed the book on the 40-year-old case.
County Prosecutor Theodore F. L. Housel said Friday that his office recently began a fresh review of the case, including all of the physical evidence, a move he said was unrelated to publicity surrounding Barths novel.
And while Atlantic County authorities seemed to dismiss Bundys involvement in the crime, Housel said, At this point, the office cannot rule out the involvement by Bundy.
What isnt in dispute is the nature of the crime.
Davis, a 1967 graduate of Harrisburg Academy who went on to Monticello Junior College in Godfrey, Ill., died of a wound to her neck that cut her larynx. She also had stab wounds on the left side of her abdomen.
Perry, of Excelsior, Minn., Davis best friend and classmate at Monticello, died of a stab wound to the chest that penetrated her right lung. She also suffered wounds to her abdomen and neck.
Davis was nude when her body was found, while Perry was fully clothed. The autopsy report didnt reveal if either woman had been sexually assaulted.
Years later, an echo of the violence touched Barth.
Driving down the Garden State Parkway on a family vacation to Stone Harbor, his mother made a chance remark as the car zoomed past mile marker 31.9, where the womens bodies were discovered.
I just recall my mother saying, They never did find who did those murders, did they?¤ Barth said. You could stare into the woods and wonder what happened there.
In researching the book, Barth retraced the womens steps — the Ocean City rooming house where they stayed, the Somers Point diner where they were last seen alive, and the wooded spot off the parkway where their bodies were found under a light covering of leaves among oaks and scrub pines.
Barth contacted members of the Davis family, owners of Davis Beverage Group, which still has operations in the Harrisburg area and is headquartered in Bethlehem.
I have tremendous respect for these families, Barth said. All I can say on the record is they were supportive of my efforts.
Phone messages left for Susans father and brother at their corporate offices in Bethlehem werent returned.
Barth changed the victims names in his book out of sensitivity to the families.
Desperate for leads In Ocean City, a family-centered boardwalk town where you cant even buy a beer, and in Somers Point, its sister city across the bay thats home to many Atlantic City casino workers, the unsolved case still resonates. Barth described being swamped at book signings by residents. People were coming off the street saying, I was 20 years old then, I remember that,¤ Barth said. So many people remember and were fascinated by it and wonder what happened.
One who never forgot is Somers Point journalist William E. Kelly Jr.
In 1969, Kelly had just graduated high school. He took a summer job in an Ocean City pizza shop and was living a half-block off Ninth Street, near the rooming house where the murdered women stayed.
Memorial Day was a great holiday weekend, Kelly said — the festivities unmarred by early reports of the missing women.
Nobody gave a second thought, he said, even as Davis and Perrys parents chartered a helicopter to comb the Parkway from the air in search of a wreck that might be invisible from the road.
But when the bodies were found Monday, everything changed.
The New Jersey State Police set up a trailer in the parking lot of the Point Diner and tried desperately to develop leads, Kelly said.
But every tip was a dead end. So were the anniversary attempts made by police on Memorial Day weekends to pass out fliers and question the beachgoing throngs.
Kelly never gave up. He wrote about the case throughout his career. He, too, explored the connection with Bundy, interviewing the serial killers psychiatrist.
Last year, Kelly received a call from a reader claiming the women had a fender-bender with a Volkswagen van with Arizona or New Mexico tags the day before they were murdered. It led nowhere. (yet).
Does the case have a chance of being solved?
One of the problems is the police dont want to positively identify Bundy as the parkway killer because they would feel responsible for not solving this case and preventing the other [murders], Kelly said.
Another problem is the summer of 1969 itself.
It proved to be a roll call of momentous events — the moon walk, Woodstock, mounting protests against the Vietnam War. For many, any memory of the murders was quickly displaced, Kelly said.
And now, 40 years later, almost nothing is the same.
The hotels and cheap boarding houses in Ocean City where the college kids once stayed for $8 a night have been replaced by condos renting for $2,000 a week, Kelly said. The old rock ¤n roll nightclubs in Somers Point are now restaurants.
Only the two victims remain unchanged.
Forever smiling in those newspaper photographs, Susan Davis and Elizabeth Perry have never aged.
Best seller? The 1969 murders of 19-year-old Susan Davis of Camp Hill and classmate Elizabeth Perry along New Jerseys Garden State Parkway is the basis for a novel, The Origins of Infamy.
New Jersey lawyer- turned-author Christian Barth centers his fictionalized account of the so-called Parkway murders, on the much-debated involvement of serial killer Ted Bundy, then a Temple University student who admitted being in Ocean City, N.J., around the time the women were vacationing there.
The bodies of both women were found on Memorial Day about 200 feet from the northbound lanes of the expressway north of the Somers Point/ Ocean City exit. Both had been stabbed to death the previous Friday, shortly after departing Somers Point for Camp Hill.
The book, published last month by iuniverse.com, takes the reader into Bundys mind, but leaves open the question of whether this crime was Bundys first as a serial killer.
The book is available in softcover for $17.95 on amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.