Another Penn State Stalker

In the early 1940s at least one murder and more than a half-dozen assaults on women around and about the State College campus of Penn State had police running in circles and “co-eds” reluctant to walk alone on campus.
 
The Penn State mystery begins on March 29, 1940 when the body of 17-year-old Rachel Taylor, a home economics major at the university was discovered near the campus by a school janitor. Her head was bashed in and her body was “mutilated.” Almost immediately, police were reminded of another open homicide that occurred about 130 miles away near Tunkhannock, outside Wilkes-Barre.
 
In that case, the body of 19-year-old Margaret Martin was found nude and trussed in a burlap sack. She had been tortured in a similar manner. At the time police blamed Margaret’s murder on “white slavers” who were forcing young women looking for honest work to become prostitutes in “disorderly houses.” In some cases the girls accepted the offer voluntarily, while in others the girls were subjected to threats and physical violence. The way Margaret was lured to a job interview was similar to how other girls reported being accosted by the pimps.
 
When Rachel’s body was found near State College, Margaret’s murder had not been solved, and at first police believed the white slavery ring had simply moved west. Besides the mutilation, and the similarities in age between the victims, there was little to link the murders of Margaret and Rachel.
 
A New Jersey resident who came to Pennsylvania as one of the 1,000 women on the 6,000-student PSU central campus, Rachel was known as a shy, studious girl who was pleasant, but who generally kept to herself.
 
She had returned from Asbury Park to State College late on March 28, getting off the bus at 1:21 a.m., according to the driver. Rachel apparently encountered her killer while walking the half-mile from the bus stop to her dormitory. Her friends insisted that she must have known the person who killed her because she was found four miles off her route, and was not the type of person to accept rides from strangers.
 
The autopsy revealed that she had eaten shortly before she died, which strengthened the argument that she knew her killer. There were no restaurants open at that time near where she was dropped off and where she died.
 
Rachel’s wristwatch was stopped at 3:15 a.m., but it is unclear whether that was because it ran down or was damaged in the attack that killed her.
 
In the days after Rachel’s murder, police inspected more than 900 cars in and around the campus, looking for one that was bloodstained. They were unsuccessful. They then turned to the Penn State intrafraternity council, asking the heads of each fraternity on campus to report anyone who was “absent without explanation” from 1 a.m. until dawn on March 29. At the time half of Penn State’s 5,000 male students belonged to a fraternity.
 
Police found a bloodstained handkerchief at the crime scene, as well as a man’s footprints in the snow, but those leads never panned out.
 
Eventually, authorities abandoned the theory that Rachel knew her killer when interviews with as many friends as they could find led nowhere.
 
“Of course, there’s nothing definite on (the theory that she had been forced into the car), but we’ve questioned all of her friends, including the boys she knew, and they didn’t pick her up,” detective Wilbur F. Leitzell told the press. “But we’re certain an automobile was used by the slayer.”
 
Nearly a year passed with no progress in the investigation of Rachel Taylor’s murder when it appears the State College stalker struck again. This time, the victim survived.
 
On March 21, 1941, Lena Waite was slugged from behind while she walked on a State College street. Three days later, Grace Gray was similarly assaulted and knocked down. On June 12, 1941, Mrs. Ernest J. Teichert was struck down while she was in her garage and dragged down an embankment. Her assailant fled when he was spooked by a noise.
 
A month later, 21-year-old Katherine Breon got the first glimpse of the stalker when she was assaulted on the streets of State College. The only description she could provide, however, was that he was “clad in a shirt and dark trousers.”
 
The attacks appeared to move east after Katherine’s assault — back toward Wilkes-Barre. On August 2, 1941, Emily Williams, a 28-year-old student at State Teachers College in Lock Haven, Penn., about 30 miles east of State College, suffered a fractured skull when she was struck from behind by an unidentified male attacker. She was walking home from the movies when the man came up behind her and hit her with a blunt object.
 
The investigation turned up a pair of similar attacks in Lock Haven around the same time that the State College stalker was clubbing women there. A 17-year-old girl was hit from behind on June 23, 1941, and on June 16, 26-year-old Dorothy Orner suffered a like assault.
 
As quickly as they began, the attacks stopped.
 
Police surmised that the stalker either moved away or was drafted when World War II began. Regardless, neither Rachel’s nor Margaret’s killings were ever solved, and no one was ever charged with any of the assaults.
 
As for the Wilkes-Barre “white slavery ring,” like so many other stories, news of the world at war blew that off the front pages forever.