Penn State students’ documentary aims to shine a light on 1987 State College killing
What started as a school project for three Penn State film majors has become a mission to solve a Happy Valley cold case and generate discussion around a slain woman who, they said, “does not deserve to be forgotten.”
The group created an eight-minute documentary about PSU student Dana Bailey, who was fatally stabbed at her South Allen Street apartment in 1987.
The idea for the project started to take shape in October when screenwriter Aaron Salada learned about the “murder in the stacks.”
Betsy Aardsma, a Penn State student, was fatally stabbed in the university’s Pattee Library on Nov. 28, 1969. The investigation included interviews of more than 5,000 in both Pennsylvania and Aardsma’s native Michigan by at least 45 police officers. No killer and no motives have been found.
Aardsma’s death prompted Salada to look for other unsolved killings in Happy Valley, which led him to Bailey. He pitched the idea for the documentary during a class in March and Kyra-Nicole Barkley said she was on board immediately as a producer.
“It really kind of upset me that no one was talking about it. Through the process of the documentary, we got a lot of ‘nos’ to talk about it, which is very understandable because it was a gruesome crime,” Barkley said. “But for me, I want to start a conversation so we can figure out what happened.”
Bailey, a 21-year-old Philipsburg native, told her parents she returned to State College on March 4, 1987 after visiting her fiance in Washington, D.C.
Bailey’s mother, Shirley, went to visit her daughter at her South Allen Street apartment the next day during spring break. But instead of being greeted by her daughter’s blue eyes and blonde hair, she found her daughter’s dead, nude body.
The killer watched Bailey from a separate building before breaking through her apartment window and fatally stabbing her, according to State College police.
More than 800 people were interviewed, but days soon became weeks; weeks became months and months became years.
The case had few developments until borough police received an anonymous letter in December 2003. The letter mentioned two names, but otherwise made no reference to the killing, according to police.
Now District Judge Thomas Jordan was the first investigator assigned to the case. It was then handed over to Ralph Ralston and Chris Weaver, both of whom have since retired. Jordan and Ralston declined to comment.
State College police Lt. Keith Robb and Stephen Bosak are now responsible for the investigation. There have been no meaningful leads since police received the letter, Robb said.
After weeks of familiarizing themselves with Bailey and her case, Salada and Barkley contacted police for additional information, including the letter. Citing the Bailey family’s request, police declined to share more information.
Still, Salada said he hopes police eventually release more information.
“We just hope that, with this kind of discussion, you hold people who have the power to do more in these kinds of situations and cases more accountable,” Salada said. “Where everything is not just dropped because there’s something else that happened. Its ‘Alright, it’s been 32 years. Why haven’t we figured this out?’ “
The group, including editor Todd Mueller, also also reached out to the Bailey family through a friend for the documentary. The family has declined to speak publicly about the case.
The documentary was published May 11 on YouTube, but Barkley and Salada both said the project — which netted them a 100% in class and an appearance in the Rough Cut Film Festival in Philadelphia — is far from complete.
“With this film, it shows that our intentions were always about Dana and bringing light to her memory and her case,” Salada said. “Best case scenario is that, with the release of this doc, someone who knew Dana very closely would reach out to us and let us know more about her as an individual.”
Penn State assistant teaching professor Anita Gabrosek guided the trio through the five-week project and said she rarely gives out a perfect grade for the class’ final project.
“All three of them worked diligently and relentlessly on this film, and they incorporated the criticism they were given into the final product,” Gabrosek wrote in an email. “I think the final film is successful at shedding light on this mysterious and fairly unknown case. I like that they approached the material through their own eyes — the eyes of Penn State students — and what it means to live in a relatively safe place, even called Happy Valley, that still has unsolved murder cases and a fair amount of other crimes.”
In addition to Bailey and Aardsma, Centre County law enforcement agencies are still investigating the 2016 killing of Jean Tuggy and the disappearances of former Centre County District Attorney Ray Gricar, Jennifer Cahill-Shadle, Brenda Condon, Cindy Song and Dawn Miller.
A $30,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Bailey’s killer. Tipsters can call State College police at 234-7150, Centre County Crimestoppers at 877-99-CRIME or submit an anonymous tip.
“How many college students become this obsessed over a case to the point where they just want to try it as much as they can to get it out there and get people talking to her again?” Salada said. “No matter what good things come from this film, I want to focus on Dana because I made that project for her.”