In 1980, I was finishing up my 7th grade year at Hastings Junior High–one of the most difficult of my youth. I had come to Hastings with a best friend who had decided a couple of months in that she no longer wished to associate with me. Suddenly, I was alone, since most of my friends were hers as well. I was also being persistently bullied by a boy in my class. I had tried out for volleyball at the beginning of the year and not made the team; I had been accepted on the basketball team (which did not require a tryout) but was a perpetual benchsitter who scored all of one point during the entire season. I’d gotten a bad perm and been teased for it. I was insecure and deeply nerdy, and at one point I was eating nothing for lunch besides 25 cent milkshakes. But by June, I had started to right things, reconnecting with an older friend from elementary school.
I didn’t hear about the events of June 3, 1980 until I was at school the day after. A girl who went to Barrington Elementary named Asenath (Seannie) Dukat had been killed. She’d disappeared on the walk home from school, a nearly mile-long route that took her through the leafy streets of Old Arlington, filled with huge homes on large lots. Her class had gotten a 10 minute detention, so she was let out late. She was last seen at about 3:25 pm on her way home. That evening, her body was found in a culvert near her house. She had been raped, strangled, and her head crushed by a rock.
It definitely changed life for ever in Upper Arlington, where school buses were rare for the elementary grades–most students could walk to class, even if it was sometimes as long as a mile away. After Seannie’s murder, kids stopped walking home from school alone. Orange and black “Safety Spot” signs appeared in houses everywhere–an evolution from the red-and white, much more sedate “Block Parent” signs I remembered from my elementary years. Although I was older and had never walked home from junior high–my mom picked me up every day–I remember well the wariness of those days–and the permanent change they wrought in Upper Arlington. And that whole summer, any male riding a red bike was viewed with suspicion. But in 1980, there was little in the way of grief counselling or acknowledgement that anything had happened. (A classmate of mine at Windermere Elementary had been murdered, along with most of his family, by his mother in December of 1976, and aside from planting a tree in his memory, there wasn’t a lot said about it.)
An investigation began immediately. There were reports of a dark-haired man with a red bicycle acting suspiciously and possibly carrying something bulky, and connections were drawn with an incident that occurred a month before, as well as another one that happened a few months later, where a man was convicted of assault. Investigators began theorizing that Seannie was abducted by a man in a car, rather than by a cyclist.
But the case went cold, and Seannie’s killer was never found. There were rumours over the years about two separate “persons of interest”–one of whom killed himself, the other who was the man convicted in the attack a few months later. These rumours cropped up periodically in the 1980s, but little else was heard. In 1990, while I was in my final few months living in Columbus, an FBI profile of the probable killer was produced that in some ways matched the second suspect. Oddly enough, I found out in the late 80s that this second man’s younger sister was an acquaintance of mine, being a couple years ahead of me in my church youth group. There were always whispers about her older brother, that he ‘wasn’t quite right.”
And then, living in Canada for most of the time, I heard nothing more about the case until last year, when I stumbled across a Facebook group and website that filled in many of the details of the nearly 40 years. Several classmates of Seannie’s had been working to bring together in a website all of the pieces of evidence gathered both on the day of the murder and in subsequent years, including police reports and drawings and information on the two possible suspects–who, as it turned out, had been neighbours at the time of the murder. The group had hoped to achieve a breakthrough by today, the 40th anniversary of Seannie’s murder; although that has not yet happened, the website has helped to bring together what is known and thus helped bring closure to many of her classmates. Today’s Columbus Dispatch includes an article about the murder, the investigation, and those who remember Seannie. Flowers and tokens are being laid near a memorial and tree planted in her memory at Barrington, and plans are being made to light lanterns in her memory tonight if the weather cooperates.
Like many of the over 600 people following the Facebook page, I have never forgotten Asenath Dukat, even though I never knew her, and I had always wondered what happened. In many ways, the website has indeed given a kind of closure, but has also reminded me of just how much her murder burst the bubble of safety that existed in Upper Arlington at the time. Reading her story, I also gained a little insight into why it was so hard for me to fit in when I moved to Upper Arlington just before the third grade–I lacked the shared history that most of the other kids had that comes from growing up together in a neighbourhood. I never really did completely find that in Upper Arlington, but some experiences ring true for me. I think one of the most poignant photos on the website is of a group of kids from her neighbourhood’s July 4th float in 1976, posing with their “Best Neighbourhood Featuring Children” trophy. She’s one of the smallest kids, in the front row, with long dark hair and overall shorts. I was in that same parade, the summer after my own third grade year, riding on my neighbourhood’s own float. So although I never knew her, I feel a connection with her after all of those years, and hope one day the case can be closed.