Evelyn Grace Hartley|
November 21, 1937
La Crosse County, Wisconsin
October 24, 1953 (15 years old)|
La Crosse County, Wisconsin
|Status||Missing for 64 years, 10 months and 28 days|
|Residence||La Crosse County, Wisconsin|
|Height||5 ft 7 in (1.70 m)|
|Weight||between 126-128 lb|
Evelyn Grace Hartley (born November 21, 1937) is a missing teenager from La Crosse County, Wisconsin, who disappeared on October 24, 1953. Her disappearance sparked a search involving 2,000 people. In the first year following her disappearance, investigators questioned more than 3,500 people. As of 2018[update], no trace of her has been found.
On October 24, 1953, Viggo Rasmussen, a professor at La Crosse State College (now University of Wisconsin–La Crosse), hired Evelyn Hartley, the daughter of a fellow professor, to take care of his 20-month old daughter. That evening, her father, Richard Hartley, called the Rasmussen house several times after his daughter failed to check in as planned at 8:30 PM; he received no answer. Concerned, he drove to the house. When he arrived, the doors were locked, the lights and radio were on, and items were scattered all over the house. The living room furniture had been moved around to different places, as were Hartley's school books. He found her shoes in different rooms, one shoe upstairs, and one downstairs. He also found his daughter's broken glasses upstairs. Hartley did not find his daughter in the house.
Richard Hartley also found every room in the house locked, except one in the basement that was located at the back of the house. An opened window there was missing a screen, and the screen was found leaning against an outside wall. He also found a short stepladder belonging to the homeowner positioned at the opened window. Pry marks were found on some windows, and footprints had been found in areas of the house. Blood was found both inside the house and in the yard, with bloody hand prints about 100 feet away in a garage and in a nearby house. The child Hartley had been caring for was found asleep and unharmed.
Police believed someone took Hartley through the yard, but dropped her on the ground before carrying her further. They used dogs to pick up her scent in a trail that led for two blocks, ending at Coulee Drive. Police thought that she was most likely put into a vehicle there and driven away. The police were told by one neighbor that they had seen a car repeatedly driving around the neighborhood, and another person who lived nearby claimed that they had heard screams an hour earlier. The witness thought it was just children playing. Two days after the incident, Ed Hofer, a local resident, told police that while driving his vehicle, he was almost hit by a Buick that was speeding in a westerly direction. Inside the vehicle he says that he saw two men and a girl; one man was driving and the other was in the back with the girl. He didn't think anything about it, thinking the threesome was just going to a game.
Several days later, various items of clothing including underpants, a brassiere, shoes, jeans, and a jacket, many of which were stained with blood, were found in different areas. Blood found on the jacket matched Hartley's blood type.
Over 1,000 members of the community participated in search operations in October 1953. Searchers included law enforcement officers, the National Guard, Boy Scouts, and La Crosse State College students and faculty. Civil Air Patrol and Air Force planes and helicopters were also used in the search. A vehicle inspection program was also undertaken with the intent of searching every vehicle in the county. Gas station attendants were asked to check cars for blood stains. Recent graves were reopened to determine if her remains were placed with a recent burial.
In May 1954, mass lie detector tests were conducted on La Crosse-area high school boys in an attempt to find more information about Hartley's disappearance. Authorities planned to test 1,750 students and faculty, but the testing was controversial and was halted after around 300 were tested.
After his arrest, murderer Ed Gein was considered a suspect in Hartley's disappearance since he was visiting a relative a few blocks away from Rasmussen's neighborhood at the time. However, police found no trace of Hartley's remains during a search of his property. Gein denied involvement in the disappearance and passed two lie detector tests. In November 1957, authorities announced that Gein had been cleared of any connection to the disappearances of Hartley and Georgia Weckler, an 8 year old that disappeared in 1947. After being committed to a mental institution, Gein was later declared insane, and died in 1984, yet some still consider him a suspect.
Hartley's kidnapping led to one of the biggest searches in the history of Wisconsin. Public efforts to find her have included the Charley Project and the Soddy-Daisy-Roots Project. A reward fund established in the immediate aftermath of the event reached $6,600 (equivalent to $60,000 in 2017). Hartley's parents moved to Portland, Oregon in the 1970s, and are now both deceased.
In 2004, a man named Mel Williams came forward with a tape of a conversation he recorded at a bar years previously. Although Williams' goal was to record the band that was playing, the conversation between two men was unintentionally recorded as well. One of the men implicated himself in the Hartley disappearance on the tape. Also implicated was another man who Williams gathered committed suicide shortly after the crime. On the tape, the man implicated reported that he took Hartley to La Farge, Wisconsin, where she was murdered and buried. The tape ended when the implicated man told Williams to stop recording. Williams reported that he could not remember what happened after the recorder was shut off. The two men implicated on the tape are now deceased. Captain Mitch Brohmer of the La Crosse Police Department responded to these tapes by saying, "We'll look into it". No further developments were ever made.
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- Rosso, Jerome (October 22, 1978). "Our Greatest Mystery". La Crosse Tribune. p. 9.
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- Schechter, p. 49.
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- Schechter, p. 177.
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- White, Bill (February 27, 1997). "Hartley a trace: Whatever happened to young Evelyn Hartley". La Crosse Tribune. p. A-6.
- West, Nathaniel. "Old Tape Gives New Clues in Half-Century Old Death of Former Charleston Girl". Journal Gazette & Times Courier. Retrieved 29 October 2017.
- Writer, NATHANIEL WEST, Staff. "Old tape gives new clues in half-century-old death of former Charleston girl". JG-TC.com. Retrieved 2017-10-29.
- "Evelyn Hartley – News archives 26 Oct 1953 to 27 Feb 1997". La Crosse Public Library. Retrieved August 31, 2016.
- "Mass Lie Detector Tests Planned in Evelyn Hartley Case". Deseret News and Telegram. Salt Lake City, UT. UP. May 5, 1954.
- "Police Hold man in Abduction Case". Reading Eagle. Reading, PA. UP. January 21, 1954.
- "Shoes of Abductor Found in Hartley Case". Reading Eagle. Reading, PA. AP. November 1, 1953. p. 1.
- West, Nathaniel (May 24, 2004). "Old tape gives new clues in half-century-old death of former Charleston girl". Journal Gazette/Times-Courier. Mattoon, IL.