Police hope to solve 41-year mystery of missing student
MIDDLEBURY — Monday, Dec. 10, brought the 41st anniversary in the search for former Middlebury College student Lynne Schulze, and with it a new set of eyes to scan some new information in the mountainous case file accumulated over the years by the Middlebury Police Department.
Middlebury police Detective Kris Bowdish is the latest in a long line of local investigators to head up the probe into what happened to Schulze, a first-year student who disappeared from Middlebury College campus back on Dec. 10, 1971.
Schulze was 18, rounding out her first semester at Middlebury, when she was last seen readying to take a final exam. But she never made it to the exam hall. Authorities found all of Schulze’s possessions — including her wallet — still inside her room.
Bowdish is still reviewing the case file and a series of personal letters loaned to the department by Lynne Schulze’s sister, Anne. The information is helping Bowdish recreate possible scenarios about what Schulze might have been doing on the last day she was seen in Middlebury, as well as clear up some prevailing misconceptions.
“A lot of people have the understanding that she was hitchhiking (the last day she was seen),” Bowdish said. “But that wasn’t true. No one ever saw her hitchhiking.”
Bowdish said that while there were reports of her being seen on Route 7, there is no evidence to suggest she was thumbing for a ride at the time. Bowdish noted that Schulze had established a good rapport with members of the Middlebury community and had been taking a whittling course at the Frog Hollow craft center. Investigators don’t believe that she felt a desperate need to leave the community on that specific day, especially without telling anyone.
Bowdish also wanted to clear up another misconception.
“Most people believe she was walking to her exam when she went back to get her pen, but actually she wasn’t,” said Bowdish, who points to accounts (from her former roommate) indicating that Schulze was looking for the pen while still in her room.
Among the evidence Bowdish is actively reviewing are some notes of a meeting that took place on Middlebury College campus on Jan. 8, 1972, involving Lynne’s father, students and professors who knew Schulze. The notes — and some of Lynne’s personal letters — were recently provided by Schulze’s sister, Anne.
The new information, Bowdish said, indicates that Lynne was last seen at 12:45 p.m. on Dec. 10, 1971; her exam was slated to begin at 1 p.m.
“When she was last seen, she was in her room at Middlebury College,” Bowdish said. “She was last seen by her roommate, Pinny Bristol. Pinny goes back (to the room) a few minutes later and sees she is not there and assumes she has gone to the exam. We know she didn’t go to the exam. She is seen later at 2:25 p.m. by a Middlebury College student, on Route 7, across from the bus station (which was then at 15 Court St. at the location of what is now the Sargent House).”
The student reported that Schulze was simply standing at the location and showed no signs of hitchhiking.
Bowdish acknowledged it was possible that Schulze was preparing to take a bus somewhere.
“She did travel quite a bit and was an avid traveler during the few months that she was at Middlebury College,” Bowdish said. “She did do a lot of hitchhiking and traveling to see different friends that were at different colleges and universities.”
Another student reported having seen Schulze at the bus station earlier that day, eating some dried prunes purchased at a local health food store located next to the bus station, noted Bowdish. That student allegedly asked Schulze where she was going.
“She says she’s going to New York, but then the bus to New York left, and Lynne said, ‘Oh well’ and went back to campus,” Bowdish said.
“So she’s on Route 7, she goes back to campus and she comes back to this area of Route 7 again, and she’s not seen after that,” Bowdish said.
The latest information compiled by police indicates Schulze “wasn’t sure she wanted to stay at Middlebury College,” Bowdish said. “She wasn’t ‘clicking’ with a lot of students at the college. But she was in downtown Middlebury a lot.”
Along with taking the Frog Hollow class, cancelled checks from Schulze’s account revealed she did a lot of shopping downtown — including at the Vermont Book Shop, Skihaus, Ben Franklin and a shop called the “Little Wing,” to name a few.
“She was very much integrating herself into the town of Middlebury,” Bowdish said.
Bowdish also called Schulze “very adventurous,” and noted she was a member of the Middlebury Mountaineers Club.
Bowdish is hoping the latest information will jar someone’s memory with some key details that could lead to answers of what happened to Lynne Schulze. Family DNA is on file in hopes of comparing it to any remains that might be recovered and eventually confirmed to be Lynne’s.
The Schulze family is still looking for closure.
Anne Schulze has met twice with Bowdish to provide possible insights into the case.
“Yesterday was the 41st anniversary of my sister Lynne’s disappearance from Middlebury College,” Anne Schulze replied in an e-mail request for comments. “Our family is very glad, thrilled in fact, that Officer Bowdish is taking a fresh look at all the information regarding my sister and her disappearance 41 years ago. Officer Bowdish, like the previous investigator Officer (Vegar) Boe, seems genuinely interested in resolving her case, even though so many years have passed.
“My sister did not just run away because she was unhappy with college, like the rumors that spread like wildfire after she was reported missing. These rumors were very unfortunate and doomed the investigation from the start, our family believes. We never believed the rumors, and knew my sister to always finish what she started. She had a close group of friends from high school and loved her family, whom she would’ve been in touch with before, if not soon after, if she had intentionally planned to leave college. Her two closest high school friends and her college friend Pinny and her husband George Kuckel have been very supportive in talking with the Middlebury police even recently to share information.”
Anne Schulze said evidence suggests her sister studied hard for the exam that fateful day and told her friends she was ready to take it.
“We do not know what happened to Lynne after Pinny left her room,” Schulze said. “Did Lynne start walking to her exam? Did someone show up that she either willingly left with or was she abducted?
“There are some key missing pieces that still need to be uncovered,” she added. “We are speculating that she knew some people who were off campus. Perhaps she had met them at Frog Hollow, where she enjoyed taking a whittling class. We are hopeful that someone or some people who knew my sister in the fall of 1971 will read this article and remember my sister and contact the Middlebury police to share their knowledge of her.”
Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact Middlebury police at 388-3191.
Reporter John Flowers is at firstname.lastname@example.org.