Transcript: 70. The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs | USA

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Rural Missouri, the night was cold and dark. The winds were howling high as the rain showered down, the only light coming from lighting as the storm raged on. Inside a family home at the end of an isolated road, a child was sleeping upstairs while his teenage babysitter was watching TV. The phone rang and she answered. A man’s voice spoke at the other end, asking: 

Have you checked the children?’ before hanging up. 

The babysitter shrugged it off, thinking it was a prank call. But then another call came with the same voice at the other end, asking again: 

‘Have you checked the children?’ 

She hung up the phone and the man called again. And again. 

The babysitter was growing concerned and called police to tell them about the harassing phone calls. The officer on duty said that she should hang up and they would trace the next phone call, should the person dial again. She followed the officer’s instructions and before long the next call came in, telling her to ‘Check the Children’

As soon as she hung up, the police officer returned her call – he urged her to get out of the house as soon as possible… The phone call was coming from INSIDE the house. A stranger had broken in and killed the children upstairs and he called the babysitter to lure her to her death.

If this story sounds familiar… It is because of the urban legend called “The Babysitter and the Man Upstairs” that was going around in the United States, starting sometime during the 1960s. The legend captured the imaginations of many young people, so much so, that it inspired the making of the 1979 horror film When a Stranger Calls

But what if there was some truth to the urban legend? In 1950, 13-year-old Janett Christman was brutally raped and strangled while babysitting a 3-year-old boy in Columbia, Missouri. Three years later, in La Crosse,  Wisconsin, a town 400 miles to the north, 15-year-old Evelyn Hartley was babysitting when she disappeared, leaving nothing but a broken eyeglasses and a trail of blood.


These two cases prove that the truth can be far more horrifying than any urban legend…

>>Intro Music

In 1950, Columbia, Wisconsin was a thriving college town, home to the University of Missouri. About 30,000 people called Columbia home, but as more people flocked to the town, new neighbourhoods began to sprawl on the city’s outskirts. 

On East Walnut Street in Columbia’s town centre was a popular café called Ernie’s Steakhouse, owned and run by the Christensen family who lived upstairs. Charles and Lula Mae had three daughters: baby Cheryl, 11-year-old Reta and 13-year-old Janett. 

Janett was a popular 8th grader who went to Jefferson Junior High. She was an independent girl that seemed older and wiser than she was. She loved going to church and played the piano in the church choir. Easter was a highlight on her calendar, as there were many church events around that time. For pocket money, Janett routinely babysat for two families: the Romack’s and the Mueller’s.

On the 18th of March 1950 a school dance was planned for all 8th graders, but when the Romack’s asked if she could babysit their 3-year-old son Gregory, she chose the job instead. She was saving up to buy a suit for a church event at Easter and babysitting that night, would mean she’d have enough money to buy it. 

It was 7:30pm when Janett arrived at the Romack’s home at 1015 Stewart Road. The Romack’s home was on a large property on the city limits of Columbia. A small, single story home, perched on a hill. The area, being on the outskirts of town, was still undeveloped and the home was isolated.

Anne was eight months pregnant with her second child and she and Ed had decided to go out for the night, before the baby came. They were going over to the Moon Valley Villa on the other side of town to play bridge with the Mueller’s and other friends.

Little Gregory was already asleep in his room and it would be an easy night for Janett. The young boy liked sleeping with the radio on and Anne Romack told her to leave it on.

Before they left, Ed Romack wanted to make sure that babysitter Janett Christman and his 3-year-old son were safe. He had reason to be cautious, seeing as there was a series of sexual assaults that plagued the quiet town of Columbia in the last months of 1949. The first rape occurred in the days leading up to Halloween when a 16-year-old babysitter was assaulted by a man wearing a white mask. A month later, college student 18-year-old Sally Johnson was visiting her parents. She fell asleep on the sofa when she was woken up by a masked man who attempted to rape her. Fortunately for Sally, she was able to fend him off. The very next day, a couple parked in a lover’s lane was held up at gun-point by a man wearing a white hooded mask. He tied up the man and robbed him, before sexually assaulting his girlfriend. 

In December, a 26-year-old peeping tom called Jake Bradford was caught in the act of stalking a woman inside her home and arrested. After a week in prison, Bradford confessed to the Halloween-week rape, as well as the attempted assault on Sally Johnson. Because there were no more reports of rape in the area, police were confident that they had the right man in custody.

Still, on that March night in 1950, Ed Romack felt it prudent to err on the safe side. He showed Janett how to use his shotgun, just in case there was any trouble. The gun was kept in a living room cupboard, next to the front door. He instructed her to keep the front door locked and should anyone call, she should turn on the porch light.

Janett assured them that everything would be OK and told them to enjoy their night out. Anne and Ed Romack left shortly before 8pm. Ed made sure the door was locked behind him.

With the soothing sounds of the radio coming from little Gregory’s room, Janett settled in for a night of babysitting. It was a rather eerie night outside, with icy temperatures and howling winds as the storm drew closer. One of Janett’s friends, Carlo Haley Holt, was also babysitting that Saturday and she recalled that there was something ominous to the night. She kept checking the doors to make sure they were locked, but still felt restless. Little did she know: trouble wasn’t brewing on her doorstep, but her friend, Janett Christman was in grave danger…

At 10:35pm Boone Country Sheriff’s Department received an alarming phone call. Officer Ray McCowan answered, asking what the emergency was. He could hear the wails of a woman screaming in fear. All she said was ‘Come quick!’ 

There was no way of tracing the call and all he could do is wait by the phone and hope the caller would call again. She didn’t.

Officer McCowan recalled the phone call:

“I urged her to calm down and just tell me where she was… Then there was silence – not the sound of a receiver being hung up – just silence.”

Shortly after this, Anne Romack decided to call their home to hear if everything was OK. The storm was raging and with the wind and the thunder, she was concerned that her little boy would wake up and be scared. But she could not get through, all she got was a busy signal. Anne was not too concerned, as she assumed the phone line was out because of the storm.

The Romack’s left the Moon Valley Villa in East Columbia at 1:15am and arrived back home 20 minutes later. The storm was raging and the driveway was muddy. The first thing Ed noticed was that the porch light was on. The couple got out of the car and ran through the sleet to their front porch. The venetian blind in the front room window was open, which was unusual. Ed put his key in the front door lock, but found that it was unlocked. Something wasn’t right…

As soon as they entered the house, the Romack’s discovered Janett lying in a pool of blood, with her legs spread wide open. Around her neck was an electric cord. Janett was no longer alive. In the living room, was a broken window. Anne noticed the receiver of the telephone dangling on its cord. In a panic both Ed and Anne rushed to their son’s bedroom. Fortunately little Gregory was safe and untouched. Somehow, he had slept through the violent attack that ended his babysitter’s life, only a couple of yards down the hall.

Ed called police to report his babysitter’s murder. The Romack’s home was exactly 100 yards outside of Columbia city limits, which meant that technically, the case should have been taken on by the County Sheriff’s Department. But Columbia was a relatively small town and the first responding officer was from the City Police Department. Within an hour of Ed Romack’s phone call, investigators from both agencies were at the scene. A fight over which Sheriff’s department had jurisdiction arose. It ended in a stalemate and multiple officers rolled up their sleeves, trying to gather as much evidence as possible. 

This conflict between agencies carried on throughout the investigation, defining the case. Law enforcement received harsh criticism from the public, who urged them to focus on finding Janett’s murderer instead of playing power games.

Evidence at the crime scene in the Romack home told the sordid tale of Janett’s desperate last moments. Blood smears were found all over the living room and kitchen, leading up to the back door that had been left wide open. A few feet away from where her body laid, was the phone, where she had made a desperate attempt to call for help.

Janett had been hit over the head on both sides by a blunt object and stabbed multiple times with a small pointed object, described as a ‘small lead pipe’. However, the coroner later concluded the injuries were most likely from being stabbed with a mechanical pencil. She had scratch marks all over her face and skin under her nails, showing that she put up a tremendous fight before she was sexually assaulted and strangled. 

It was not clear if she was raped before or after she died. Her legs were left wide open and the cord was around her neck. The killer had cut the cord off an electric iron using a pair of scissors and strangled her with it. Anne Romack said that the iron and scissors were kept in the sewing room down the hall. How did the killer know to find it there?

Investigators looked at the side window of the home that had been broken with a garden hoe. Outside the window were several footprints, made by an adult male shoe. The intruder used a sawhorse to reach the window. Bloodhounds were brought in from Algoa Prison Farm to establish in which direction the attacker fled. The dogs picked up a scent and followed it for about one mile up from Stewart Road to West Boulevard and across West Ash Street before losing the trail.

Inside the living room on top of the piano, near the broken window, were muddy papers, possibly used by the intruder to clean the mud off his shoes. 

At first, they thought that the killer entered through the window. But other than glass shards on the floor, everything in front of the window was undisturbed. The venetian blinds were drawn down and it did not look like anyone damaged it climbing through the window. Also, when the Romack’s arrived home, the front door was unlocked. The loaded shotgun next to the door was untouched, which made police conclude Janett knew her attacker and let him into the house without any concern for her safety. 

The Romack house had a simple layout. It was a rectangular block with the front door in the middle, opening up straight into the living room. The kitchen was adjacent to the living room towards the back, with three bedrooms and a bathroom down a short hallway, to the right side of the living room, if one entered through the front door.

When the Romack’s arrived home, the front door was closed, but unlocked. The kitchen door was wide open and the living room window (to the left of the entrance) was broken. Police theorised that the killer broke the side window as a distraction, possibly to create a distraction. He wanted to force Janett to go to the opposite side of the living room, away from where Ed’s loaded shotgun was kept. Investigators felt that the intruder was familiar with the house and knew where Ed kept his firearm. 

Ed Romack was the first suspect, but he was quickly ruled out, as there were many people who could vouch for his whereabouts for the entire evening. He played bridge at the Moon Valley Villa and only left the establishment after 1am with his wife.

Law enforcement worked around the clock to solve the case. They staked out various areas and questioned as many residents in the area as possible. Officers kept covert surveillance on the Romack home, hoping the killer would return to the scene. But the hours and hours spent outside in the cold yielded no new information.

Concerned residents called in tips and police followed up on each and every one. The emergency number was changed to 112, which is easier to dial than the number in use at the time, which was 3132. However, many of the potential suspects had absolutely nothing to do with the murder and police realised that many of the calls were made out of racial prejudice. At the time, Columbia was very much a Confederate town and it was not uncommon for black people to be accused of crimes they did not commit.

After Janett’s murder, the town of Columbia was on edge. Parents tried to shield their young children from the terrible news by hiding newspapers, but sooner or later everyone knew exactly what had happened to Janett. The whole custom of babysitting came to a halt. Parents kept their teenage daughters at home and gone were the carefree days of young people coming of age, earning pocket money to fuel their budding independence.

The case was one of the most heinous crimes ever committed in the area. There was one other case, however, with undeniable similarities. Janett’s death reminded investigators of an unsolved murder that occurred less than a mile from the Romack house, four years before. 

In February 1946, 20-year-old college student, Marylou Jenkins came home to Columbia to visit her parents. On Tuesday evening, the 5th of February, her mother was caring for an elderly neighbour and decided to stay the night, as the neighbour was unwell. Marylou stayed home alone. 

Her mother could see the house from where she was and told Marylou that if anything was wrong, she should turn on the light, open the blinds and follow up with a phone call. It was late in the night when her mother noticed the light was on and the blinds were pulled up. But because there was no phone call, her mother assumed she was OK. 

When the mother returned home the following morning, she found Marylou’s body in the living room. She had been raped and strangled with an extension cord. As was the case in Janett’s murder, Marylou’s killer had cut the electric cord with a pair of scissors before strangling her with it. 

The Jenkins home was located only two blocks away from the Romack’s house. There was no sign of forced entry, which led investigators to believe that, like Janett, she must have known her assailant and did not suspect he posed a threat to her. 

Soon after Marylou’s murder, a 35-year-old local mentally disabled man, Floyd Cochran was arrested for killing his wife. He was caught moments before he could kill himself. Once in police custody, he freely admitted that he had killed his wife during a domestic dispute. But his interrogating officers were not done. Floyd was subjected to more than 10 hours of questioning, after which he confessed to killing Marylou Jenkins too. Shortly before his execution, he retracted his confession, but in the eyes of the law he had been convicted and the case was closed.

That is, until Janett Christman’s murder. Historians who have studied the two cases, believe that Cochran was innocent and that his confession was coerced. The fact that he was a black man suspected of raping and killing a white woman did not help his case much either. 

In 1950, investigators kept Marylou Jenkins’ murder in the back of their minds while they were working on Janett Christman’s case. Both let their killer in willingly, and closed the front door once he was inside. At some point, both realised they were in danger and tried to call for help. Marylou tried to signal her mother and Janett attempted to call police. The person left both homes undetected and no neighbours reported any strange men stalking the area, which meant that the man was perhaps known in the community.

One name that kept coming up in the Christman investigation was that of Robert Mueller. He was the father of the other family where Janett occasionally babysat and she knew him well.

Ed Romack told police that he had known Mueller since high school. After graduating, Mueller did one year of college, studying acting, before signing up to serve in World War II. When he returned, he helped out at his family’s restaurant in Columbia, Mueller’s Virginia Café. He also worked as a tailor. He was always sharply dressed and many people recalled him habitually having a mechanical pencil on his person. 

Ed Romack and Robert Mueller had many mutual friends and often spent time together. Ed admitted to police that Mueller had quite the roving eye and was known to make inappropriate comments about young women. He had a particular interest in his babysitter Janett and mentioned to Ed that he appreciated her young female form: her hips and budding breasts. He also speculated whether she was a virgin or not, a conversation that left Romack with a bad taste. On another occasion Mueller said to Romack that he had fantasised about having sex with a young virgin.

Anne Romack told investigators that Robert Mueller made her feel uncomfortable. The day before Janett’s death, he went to the Romack’s home to measure Anne for alterations she needed to be made to a dress. Anne claimed that he groped her breast on that occasion and she sent him away. According to Anne, Mueller was a man who didn’t use words, he used his hands. She did not tell her husband about the incident, as she feared what he might have done to Mueller. The groping incident happened inside the Romack-home, in the sewing room, the day before Janett was killed. The iron and scissors that cut the cord were kept in this room…

On the morning of Janett’s death, Mueller’s wife called her and asked her to babysit for them. Janett said that she had already promised the Romack’s she would look after Gregory. The Mueller’s had to find another sitter, so Robert Mueller knew where Janett was going to be and that she would be there by herself. 

The Mueller’s attended the same bridge night as the Romack’s that night and witnesses told police that Robert Mueller disappeared for about an hour or two. When he returned he said that he had to go home, because the doctor was called to check in on his sick child, and he wanted to be there for the consultation.

However, when police questioned the Muellers’ home doctor, he denied seeing Robert that night, or visiting the Mueller home. Robert’s story for leaving the Moon Valley Villa did seem a bit weak… If one of the Mueller children were sick, in fact sick enough to call out a doctor late on a Saturday night, would both Mueller and his wife not have called it a night and gone home? 

Another fact that made Mueller look even more suspicious was the fact that he called Ed Romack at 9am the following morning. He offered to help him clean up all the blood at his home. However, the news of the murder had not been made public. And even if the rumours we floating around town, how did he know there was so much blood at the scene, when Janett died of strangulation?

Romack told investigators, that in the days after the murder, Mueller liked to theorise about Janett’s death. He said that it would have been easy to convince Janett to open the door, all he would have had to say was… 

“Ed sent me to pick up some poker chips.” 

Ed found it odd that Mueller would say something like that and felt that it implicated him in the murder. According to Ed, Robert Mueller even went so far as to say

 “I might have done it and then forgotten it.” 

Boone County Sheriff Powell along with an arresting deputy took Mueller in for questioning. But they did not work by the book and instead of taking him in to the Boone Country Sheriff’s Department, they took him to the arresting officer’s farmhouse where they questioned him relentlessly, through the night. When morning came around, they transported him to Jefferson City and asked to take a polygraph test, which he passed. 

At the time, polygraph tests carried a lot of weight in an investigation. The fact that Mueller passed the test, meant that he was telling the truth and therefore investigators had to release him. In the 1950s polygraph testing was a very sophisticated investigative tool and the results derived from tests were considered to be indisputable. However, over the years, scientists have questioned the validity of lie detector tests in criminal investigations. There are ways to cheat the test and results are often dubious. Also, if a person is a psychopath, lies are not so easy to detect. Especially not with older versions of the polygraph like the ones used in the around the time that Mueller was tested.

Consider the fact that the “Green River Killer” Gary Ridgway passed his polygraph test in 1984. He confessed almost 20 years later, having killed seven women in the time after he passed his polygraph.

In June of 1950, a grand jury investigated the probability that Mueller was the one who had raped and murdered Janett Christman. Most people felt that Mueller was guilty, but in a strange turn of events, he was NOT indicted. Instead, the grand jury reprimanded the County Sheriff’s Department and the City Police for their inefficiency. Nothing more was said or done about Robert Mueller.

Mueller was furious about the way he was treated by police and sued the Sheriff’s Department for detaining him unlawfully, but he lost the lawsuit. County Sheriff Powell explained that they took Mueller to a deputy’s residence in an attempt to avoid publicity. However, most people reckoned it was done so that Columbia City Police would not know what they were up to.

The community did not have a good feeling about Robert Mueller. Despite so much circumstantial evidence against him in the Christman case, he was still a free man. People started talking and his past came back to haunt him. 

In his senior year in high school, he was the chairman of the Senior Play Stage Set Committee at Hickman High School in Columbia. His classmates remembered that he was in charge of making masks for the school play. He used white sacks and cut out holes for eyes – just like the mask the 1949 rapist wore when he attacked. Was it possible that Mueller was not only Janett’s killer, but also Columbia’s serial rapist? And of course, possibly also responsible for the death of Marylou Jenkins?

The Mueller family left town and moved to Tucson, Arizona where Robert Mueller joined the US Air Force. He lived to the age of 83 and passed away in 2006. No more rapes or murders occurred in Columbia after he left.

The Romack’s, traumatized by Janett’s death sold their home and relocated to Idaho. Many years later, Gregory Romack, the boy who was inside the home when Janett was killed revisited his former family home to pay his respects to the babysitter that lost her life while caring for him.

The Christman family remained in Columbia and kept Ernie’s Steakhouse running for many years. They only moved away when Janett’s father, Charles passed away in 1974.

Although most people in Columbia believed that Robert Mueller was the one who had murdered Janett Christman on that stormy night in March of 1950, he was never charged and her case remained unsolved to this day.

Another murder with many similarities took place in the college town of La Crosse, Missouri, only three years after Janett’s death. These cases are not related in any way and investigators never believed that the crimes were committed by the same person. However, the disappearance of Evelyn Hartley also played a part in the emergence of the Babysitter and the Man Upstairs urban legend.

15-year-old Evelyn Hartley was the daughter of a professor at La Crosse State University. Today it is better known as the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. Evelyn, or Evie as she was called, had an older brother and a younger sister. She was a straight-A student at Central High School and did as many activities she could at school. She loved going to church and played the piano in the church choir. 

On the 24th of October 1953, one of her dad’s colleagues, professor Viggo Rasmussen, asked Evelyn if she could babysit his 20-month-old daughter, Janice. His regular babysitter had cancelled, because it was the night of the local homecoming game. Evelyn was also supposed to go, but decided she could do with the money and accepted the job. She would also use the opportunity to study and took a couple of textbooks with her.

On the day, she was reluctant to go, but her mother told her that she could not let the Rasmussen’s down at the last minute and Evie agreed.

At 6:30pm Professor Rasmussen picked Evie up at her family home on Johnson Street. They lived only five minutes away on Hoeschler Drive in – what was then – the new Coulee Drive addition – a newly developed neighbourhood with many homes still under construction. 

When they arrived, Madeline Rasmussen welcomed Evie, because this was the first time she ever babysat for them. Madeline instructed Evelyn to put little Janice to bed at 7pm and cover her at 7:15. At 6:45, the professor and his wife and their oldest child left for the homecoming game. 

Evie’s dad, Richard, asked her to call home at 8:30pm, to check in. From the moment Evie left, her mother felt uneasy – she had an impending sense of doom, but Richard assured her that everything was OK. He was certain Evie would call and soon she’d be back home. 

8:30 came and went and Evie never called. Concerned, Richard called the Rasmussen home, but there was no answer. He tried to call a couple of times, but there Evie still didn’t pick up. He decided to drive over there to check in on his daughter. 

When he arrived at 9:20pm, the lights were on inside the Rasmussen home and all the doors were locked. He rang the doorbell, but no one came to answer. He walked around the house and saw an open basement window of which the screen had been removed. Three other windows had pry marks too. Whoever the intruder was, was determined to get inside.

Richard went back to the front porch and called for Evie, but there was still no reply. When he peeped through a window, he saw one of her shoes in the living room, along with her eyeglasses – it lay on the carpet, shattered.

Determined to get inside, Richard climbed in through the basement window, dreading what he might find. Inside was a step-ladder, belonging to the Rasmussen’s. Near the window, inside the basement, Richard found Evie’s other shoe.

The living room was turned upside down. All the furniture had been moved; Evie’s books were strewn on the floor… But there was no sign of her. Richard rushed to the nursery and found the Rasmussen’s baby sound asleep and untouched. She was not covered with her blanket, which meant that whatever happened to Evie must have taken place sometime between 7 and 7:15pm.

Richard felt numb with shock and went to a neighbour’s house to ask for help. It was ten minutes to ten when they called the police. First officers were there within a matter of minutes.

They entered the strange scene… All the doors were locked and the only way anyone could have entered or exited was through the basement window. Every door inside the house was locked, except for the door leading to the basement. 

In the yard outside the window were two pools of blood. The largest of the two stains were about 18 inches in diameter. On the wall of a neighbour’s garage was a bloody handprint, four feet off the ground. Investigators concluded that Evelyn was either dragged or carried and that her abductor stopped to catch a breath before continuing on his way. Every time he stopped, a large puddle of blood stained the ground. 

Police dogs were able to trace Evelyn’s scent for two blocks, all the way up to Coulee Drive. She was most likely placed into a vehicle and taken from there.

In the Rasmussen’s yard were footprints made by a size 11 tennis shoe. Investigators followed the tracks and also found some clear footprints around other homes. Police suspected that a prowler was staking out the area, looking for the best house to hit. They believed that Evie was not necessarily the prime target, but that her abduction was a crime of opportunity.

Talking to neighbours, some reported seeing a suspicious car driving around the neighbourhood earlier that evening. It was light-coloured, but nobody was 100% certain about the make of the car.

One neighbour recalled hearing screams around 7:15pm, an hour before Richard Hartley arrived, looking for his daughter. The neighbour recalled the scream was interrupted suddenly, but he thought that it was neighbourhood kids who had been called inside by their parents and told to keep quiet. A crime like Evie’s disappearance was such an unusual occurrence in La Crosse, if people heard screams, it wasn’t unusual to assume it came from kids playing in the streets. 

Police searched the area, till just after 1am, then called it off with the intention of resuming the search the following day. More than 1,000 people showed up at the Rasmussen home around noon the following day, offering to assist in the search. However, Evelyn was nowhere to be found. 

Mrs Hartley had a premonition the night before that something terrible was about to happen at exactly the same time a witness told police they heard someone screaming. When she saw the blood stains in the Rasmussen’s yard the following day, she told a reporter at the scene that she knew her daughter was no longer alive.

Air searches as well as ground searches continued, despite hope of Evie still being alive waned. The general unspoken feeling was that they were looking for a body, not for an abducted teen. Detectives searched everywhere, even the sewers. All known sex offenders were questioned, but there was still no prominent suspect.

Police had the uncomfortable task of having to question Evelyn’s father, so as to exclude him as a suspect. If Evelyn was still alive and well when he arrived shortly after 9pm, he could have been the one who harmed her. He was cleared by the crime lab on Friday October 30th – a week after his daughter disappeared.

Another witness came forward, saying that he saw a two-toned green 1941 or 1942 Buick driving recklessly on the night in question. There was a driver in the front and a man and a girl in the back. The girl was slumped forwards with her head against the front seat.

Police sent out communication for all cars in the area to be searched. Gas station attendants were to look in every car for blood or other suspicious evidence. If the owner refused, they would be reported to police. Once a car had been searched, they stuck a sticker on the windshield that read: “My car is OK.”

In the days that followed, pieces of blood-stained clothing were found in various locations. A pair of women’s underwear, like the kind Evie wore, as well as a bra were found on Highway 14, just south of town. 

Police caught a solid break when they discovered a pair of tennis shoes and a cut-off denim jacket further along Highway 14. Both the jacket and shoes were covered in blood. Blood that matched Evelyn’s blood type. The shoes matched the prints found outside and inside the Rasmussen home and dirt from the Rasmussen’s yard, matched dirt on the shoes. The shoes were worn in by two people with different sized feet, which made investigators wonder if it was perhaps a stolen pair.

Despite the clothing and a clearer timeline of events on that night, police were no closer to solving the mystery of what had happened to Evie Hartley. Opinion in the town was divided: was Evie dead, or was there a chance that she could still be alive?

The Hartley’s received many letters, a lot of them expressing their sympathy and pledging support. But there were also some sinister letters, like one sent from Devil’s Lake, North Dakota. The person wrote:

“Just a note to let you know That Miss Hartley is in my power. Don’t try to trace this letter, because I didn’t leave any evidence. I’ll let you know the ransom later. You stupid people almost had me back there, but I managed to escape.”

The letter was signed with a skull and cross-bones and could never be traced. Another letter read:

“Don’t worry anymore about that Evelyn Hartley. She went away with a man from La Crosse, is fine and well and after all that commotion is afraid to come home, phone or write. You will hear from her when all has calmed down. All that so-called evidence was planted to mislead. She wanted to be forgotten – is already sorry of her bargain. I would have written you before, had I known.” 

Signed MM and sent from Saint Paul. It was written in different handwriting from the other letter and experts confirmed that it was not sent by the same person. Police and Evie’s family did not think it was plausible that she would run off – it would have been out of character for her. She was a diligent student and close to her family.

On November 22nd, the day that would have been her 14th birthday, a memorial service was held for Evelyn. Despite tip-offs and taunting letters her family felt that she was no longer alive and they had to accept it. 

Dead or alive, police were not about to give up. In May 1954, mass lie detector tests were planned for all college-aged young men and teenage boys in the La Crosse area. Police planned to test close to two thousand people, but the school board objected and in the end, only 300 were tested.

Police decided to bring in a special investigator to assist, because they simply could not come up with any new clues. Former detective, AM Josephson was given the full-time job of working on Evelyn’s case. After many years of painstaking investigation, even after his contract with the police had expired, he concluded that the intruder at the Rasmussen home was a steeplejack. He based this on marks found on the denim jacket (with the tennis shoes). It had a distinct faded line, like the person who wore the jacket, often wore a harness. The type of harness used by people working on scaffolds or on high buildings. Josephson could never find any additional evidence to support his theory – and he was dismissed by the county.

Everyone in La Crosse was scared, fearful of who could be prowling the streets at night, taking their teenage daughters. 

As a matter of interest: Ed Gein was considered to be a suspect in Evelyn’s disappearance. At the time, he was visiting a relative who lived about two blocks away from the Rasmussen home. When he was arrested, he denied any involvement. There was also no physical evidence linking Gein to Evelyn at his home, where he kept all the macabre souvenirs of his victims. When he passed two lie detector tests, police were satisfied that he was not Evie’s abductor.

Despite many efforts and generous rewards posted, the case remained unsolved.

In 2004, a recording of a conversation surfaced that could possibly solve the mystery. A man meant to record a band playing at a bar, but when he listened to the tape, a conversation could be heard. A man named Clyde ‘Tywee’ Peterson implicated himself, Jack Gaulpair and an unnamerd third man in Evelyn’s disappearance. He claimed that they buried her body in La Farge, Wisconsin. By the time the information was given to police, Gaulpair and the unnamed man were already deceased and could not verify the story. Police followed up, but have not found any evidence to support Peterson’s claims. 

Another unsettling theory emerged when the body of an unidentified woman was found, dumped off the side of a road in Varoqua, Wisconsin in 1984. Less than an hour’s drive south of La Crosse. The woman had been badly beaten before she died and her hands were cut off. Pathologist reports estimated the woman to have been in her 50s or 60s. Forensic artists were able to draw a facial impression of what she looked like. The picture had a resemblance to the young Evelyn, and more strikingly to her mother when she was in her 50s. In 1984, Evie Hartley would have been 51 years old. This theory implied that Evelyn was captured on that fateful night in 1953, kept and abused for thirty years before she passed away.

Whoever it was that was responsible for the disappearance of Evie Hartley and the rape and murder of Janett Christenson managed to get away with it. Their deeds were so heinous and heartless that it made its way into a nation’s folklore. Parents warned their daughters: you can never be too cautious, when a stranger calls…

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