What happened to Evelyn Hartley?
As far as I can remember I have been intrigued by mysteries and crime. I can’t pinpoint when exactly I became a true crime addict, it seems like I always just was. Maybe it started with my love of fictional mysteries. Some of my favorite books as a child were Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. My favorite cartoon? Scooby Doo.
My hometown has two unsolved cases that absolutely fascinated me as a small child of about 7 or 8. Since I can’t separate them as to which I learned first it only seems right to do it chronologically.
October usually means cooler weather, leaves changing color, and football. October 24, 1953, was no different. It was a crisp day with a high of 55, perfect weather for the homecoming game that evening. While students and professors bundled up and headed to LaCrosse State College (no University Wisconsin at LaCrosse), Evelyn Hartley, a 15-year-old junior at Central High, was preparing to babysit for a new family, the Rasmusen’s.
Viggo Rasmusen worked with Evelyn’s father at LaCrosse State College. When his usual babysitter canceled (she was headed to the game as well), he asked Evelyn’s father if she would watch his 20-month-old daughter. She agreed to watch their daughter, although later tried to back out. Her mother told her she needed to honor her commitment. Evelyn packed a few school books and she was picked up by Viggo Rasmusen about 6:30 pm.
The Rasmusen’s left Evelyn around 6:45 pm with instructions to put the baby to bed at 7 pm and cover her with a blanket at 7:15 pm. Evelyn always called home around 8:30 to check in with her parents. When she didn’t call that night her dad went over to the house to check on her. When he arrived, he found the baby asleep, blanket still folded, and no sign of his daughter. Inside the house was one of her shoes and her glasses, broken. There were scrape on window frames, a stepladder against a window in the basement, a man’s shoeprint outside and blood. So much blood her mother assumed she was dead.
Over the next several days, bloody clothing was found across LaCrosse county attributed to either Evelyn or her abductor(s). Neighbors claimed they heard a scream around 7 pm but thought it was children playing or related to homecoming excitement. Another neighbor said they almost hit a car with two males and a female who was slumped in the backseat. He assumed they were going to homecoming, like everyone else.
Every few years Evelyn Hartley is brought to the attention of the inhabitants of LaCrosse, WI. I remember billboards going up asking for information. A newspaper article published. A tape of someone claiming they did it. I am not sure we will ever know what happened to Evelyn Hartley.
I believe Evelyn Hartley was partly a crime of opportunity. There is some indication that someone was casing the neighborhood. It was a newer subdivision, not well lit, and very few houses at the time. I think he was watching the house and knew the routine and knew it was only Evelyn and the baby and the baby went to bed at 7 pm. They had a very small window. The baby went down at 7 pm and she would have been going to put the blanket on her around 7:15. That’s a 15-minute window to get in the house and do whatever his intention was. Robbert? Rape? Both? That I don’t know.
Ed Gein, a LaCrosse native, was in town visiting relatives near the Rasmusen’s home. Some people believe he was involved. He was questioned but I don’t believe there is much there. Yes, Gein was not all there but he wasn’t going to break into a home and kidnap someone. He was more into robbing graves. He shot two women but most of the weird stuff in his home was from graverobbing. As much as I would like to connect this to Gein I just can’t.
Other theories are Evelyn wasn’t the good girl everyone says she was and it was a romance gone wrong. Or the person responsible thought it was the original babysitter since she was originally supposed to be there that night. Are these possible? Of course… anything is possible.
What do you think happened to Evelyn?