Suzanne Jovin

In December of 1998, Yale senior Suzanne Jovin had a bright and promising future. Saturday, December 4, her last day on Earth, was productive. Suzanne began her day by completing applications for graduate school at Tufts, Columbia, and Georgetown.

Professor Jim Van de Velde received the revised version of her senior thesis at approximately 4:00 p.m. She then traveled to Trinity Lutheran Church in order to host a pizza-making party for Best Buddies, an international organization for the mentally disabled and their student partners. Suzanne managed the Best Buddies chapter at Yale.

After finishing the party cleanup at approximately 8:30 p.m., Suzanne drove several volunteers home. She returned the borrowed Yale vehicle and drove to Old Campus to return the keys. Peter Stein encountered her at 9:15 p.m. and recalled her joking about fatigue and the need to go to bed. Peter was the last person to see Suzanne alive who knew her.

A Life Snuffed Out

Suzanne Jovin was born on January 26, 1977, to Thomas Jovin, a molecular biologist, and Donna Jovin, a cell biologist. The senior Jovins were hired to manage the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Gottingen, Germany, and they raised their family in a Bavarian castle from the 14th century. Suzanne’s childhood was filled with travel throughout Europe and frequent trips to Mexico with her grandparents.

Suzanne embraced her position as an American in Germany and spoke English and German fluently. At her German high school, Theodor-Heuss Gymnasium, Suzanne double-majored in biology and chemistry. She became proficient in four languages and the piano and cello. Her popularity among her classmates was due to her intelligence and vivacious, enthusiastic disposition. In addition to her academic and social accomplishments, Suzanne exuded coolness; she sang in multiple rock bands.

Suzanne’s acceptance into an Ivy League institution was based on her own merit, despite the fact that her mother, Donna, had earned a Ph.D. from Yale. And at Yale, she experienced the same success as in high school. She quickly assimilated with her American peers and excelled academically and in extracurricular activities.

Suzanne worked in the Davenport Dining Hall, volunteered to tutor elementary school students, sang in the freshman chorus, and performed with the Bach Society Orchestra during her time in New Haven. She enjoyed skiing, running, and squash during her free time. She had an extensive social circle and still managed to develop a serious relationship with fellow Yalie Roman Caudillo. Caudillo was on a train when Suzanne was mu*rdered.

Suzanne, who majored in both International Studies and Political Science, aspired to alter global public policy and eliminate terrorist threats. Her senior thesis focused on Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda, and international terrorism.

On the evening of December 4, 1998, at 9:55 p.m., a passerby on New Haven’s Edgehill Road — 1.9 miles from Yale’s campus — called 911 to report a young woman’s body lying in the grass between the sidewalk and the road. When the police arrived, the woman was already dead. Life was cut short for Suzanne Jovin six weeks before her 22nd birthday. The coroner discovered 17 stab wounds to the back of her head and neck, in addition to the slit throat.

Who could have possibly wanted to hurt Suzanne? Her mu*rder left her friends and family in shock. She had no known enemies and was liked by both professors and students. Fear spread throughout the Yale and New Haven, Connecticut communities. Despite the presence of shadier areas in downtown New Haven, Yale students were intended to feel safe on and around campus.

Laser Focusing on a Suspect sans Motive or Evidence

The attacker who approached Suzanne from behind neither robbed nor sexually assaulted her. The mu*rderer left the blade of the m*urder weapon (a knife) embedded in the victim’s head.

The New Haven Police Department initially focused on a single suspect: Suzanne’s senior thesis adviser, Jim Van de Velde. Although no evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, pointed to Van de Velde’s involvement, law enforcement created flimsy theories based on their unfounded beliefs. Even the best reputations can be damaged by a public accusation, not to mention the agony of a professor who loses a brilliant student to a horrific crime.

Yale was rippled by shock waves. Van de Velde was regarded as “by the book” and strict. And although he was reserved, he had a warm personality.

James “Jim” Van De Velde was a “golden boy” from nearby Orange, Connecticut. At Amity Regional High School, he played baseball and tennis, captained the soccer team, and served as president of the student council. As an undergraduate at Yale, Jim majored in political science, completed two internships in Asia, and graduated with honors. 1987 marked his graduation from Tuft’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy with a Ph.D.

In 1993, he was the Dean of Saybrook College at Yale, and he frequently ate in the dining hall with his 475 students. He left this position in 1997 to work for the United States Naval Reserve in Italy and served as Executive Director of Stanford’s Asia-Pacific Research Center for nine months. He returned to New Haven in 1998.

Van de Velde had an exemplary track record, and his coworkers all spoke highly of him. He provided numerous students with excellent academic guidance.

Suzanne was overjoyed to have Van de Velde serve as her thesis advisor. As the deadline for her thesis, December 8, approached, she began to feel as though he was ignoring her. She complained about Van de Velde in a casual manner during phone calls with her mother and friends, but she never expressed fear or creepy feelings about him. Before naming Van de Velde as a suspect, law enforcement was unaware of these conversations as well.

Four days after the mur*der of Suzanne, the NHPD questioned Jim Van de Velde. He was interrogated for four hours and was completely cooperative with the police. He offered up the car’s keys. He volunteered for a lie detector test. The police rejected these offers and continued to focus on Jim as their primary “suspect.” However, he was never brought in for further interrogation. A heavy cloud of unjustified suspicion hung over Van de Velde.

Members of the student body speculated that a fellow student may have been the perpetrator in the absence of any confirmed leads.

The New Haven Police Department had no physical evidence against Van de Velde and no evidence of a pattern of anger or threats of violence against Suzanne. Van de Velde became their guy for no obvious reason.

My thesis advisor in college once informed me that he had a dog named Sarah. If he forgot my name, I was instructed to howl like a dog. I vented to my friends about this incident, but I had no animosity or fear toward the professor involved. Seniors working on their theses are frequently under a great deal of pressure; frustration is par for the course.

Yale University canceled Van de Velde’s Spring classes, and he never returned to campus after the holiday break.

Van de Velde filed a lawsuit against New Haven and Yale, which was settled out of court. He is currently a lecturer at Johns Hopkins’ Center for Advanced Governmental Studies, an adjunct professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, and a lieutenant in the US Naval Reserve. He’s since gotten married. The New Haven Police Department has never expressed regret for unfairly suspecting him.

Michael Dearington, the chief state’s attorney of Connecticut, claimed Van De Velde was no longer a suspect in 2013, fifteen years after the mu*rder of Suzanne Jovin, but issued neither an apology nor a retraction of previous statements.

Botched Leads, Ongoing Attention, and Where the Case Stands Now

As the police pieced together Suzanne’s timeline for December 4, 1988, they discovered an email she sent to a friend at 9:02 p.m. on that date. Suzanne was asked to lend her friend her GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) study materials. Suzanne responded that she had lent them to someone who was expected to return them by the end of the weekend. If the borrower without a name has come forward or been questioned by law enforcement, their name has never been made public.

Again, Suzanne’s fully clothed body exhibited no signs of sexual assault, and she had not brought her wallet with her; therefore, if robbery was the perpetrator’s motive, no money was taken.

A Fresca bottle discovered in the bushes contained Suzanne’s fingerprints and a partial palm print of an unknown individual. In 1998, only one local grocery store, Krausser’s Market on York Street, carried Fresca. The police never questioned Krausser’s employees or analyzed his surveillance footage from the night of the m*urder.

2001 also saw the discovery of unknown DNA under Suzanne’s left fingernail scrapings. This DNA was later determined to be the result of cross-contamination in the lab that was working on the case. Dr. Henry C. Lee, a renowned forensic scientist, offered his assistance to the New Haven Police Department. The department initially declined his offer, but later asked him to review some evidence.

Possibly the most substantial lead was generated by a female driver. On the night of the m*urder, the driver was near Edgehill on Whitney Avenue. A man approached the door on her car’s passenger side, pressed his face against the window, and then fled into the night. She observed that he was white, muscular, and wore a loose green jacket, but did not observe his facial characteristics.

Andy Rosenzweig and Patrick Harnett, both retired high-ranking New York City police officials, were hired as Yale’s own investigators in 2000. Rosenzweig and Harnett are still working on the case. Both investigators agree that Suzanne’s m*urder can be solved; Harnett has publicly criticized the NHPD’s treatment of Van de Velde, and both investigators agree that the m*urder can be solved. They have also made public statements regarding the NHPD’s investigative errors.

Giles Carter, a New Haven resident, came forward with information in 2011. An unidentified former Yale graduate student and acquaintance appeared at his door in a distressed state. He requested a walk with Carter and admitted he was obsessed with Suzanne Jovin’s mu*rder. The man bore a striking resemblance to a suspect sketch that had been circulated. A few months later, he died of an apparent suicide.

Jeff Mitchell, a childhood friend of Van de Velde, produced the 2019 documentary The Green Jacket Killer in an effort to finally solve the case.

Nearly twenty-three years later, the mur*der of Suzanne Jovin remains unsolved. A few times per decade, local and national news outlets highlight Suzanne’s case. Suzanne’s case is still open. Someone in the New Haven, Connecticut metropolitan area knows something. Even though nothing can bring Suzanne Jovin back to her family and friends, they deserve to see justice carried out.

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