Researcher looks to shed new light on old Lafayette murder
Published: Thursday, March 7, 2013
Updated: Thursday, March 7, 2013 23:03
Twenty-nine years ago, Alice Hall’s lifeless body was found in her home in Palmer Township. Hall, a cataloguer in Lafayette’s Special Collections, had been bludgeoned to death and gutted from her pelvis to her stomach with her own kitchen knife. Court documents named Clyde L. Haselden, her boss and longtime lover, the prime suspect.
As of March 2013, the case remains open. Noel Hotchkiss, former New York state high school principal, has been following the case for about twenty years now and believes it’s time Alice Hall got another chance at justice.
Hotchkiss became involved in the case when his former student Jennifer Drescher Riedy ‘94 discovered the story for herself when she was working in Skillman Library.
“I was completely hooked when Jenn Drescher Riedy first told me about the Boston Magazine story,” Hotchkiss said. “After all, it included a cast of many truly fascinating and diabolical characters associated with the many facets of this unbelievable tale.”
Hall’s death is often associated with the theft of a 3,600 year-old Egyptian breastplate, or pectoral, taken from the secret vaults of Skillman sometime in the late 1970s. Later, the artifact was sold to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston through Sotheby’s auctioning.
According to a New York Times article from April 1991, no one seemed to know the pectoral was stolen at the time. It wasn’t until 1987, when current Director of Lafayette Art Galleries Michiko Okaya was doing research on papyrus in her possession and realized there should have been an accompanying Egyptian breastplate.
Upon realizing the work had been stolen, police intensified their investigation of Hall’s murder from three years earlier with speculation that the two events might be connected, though no association was definitively determined.
The Egyptian artifact came to Lafayette hands in 1873 because the widow of the pectoral owner feared the object might be carrying a curse, according to an April 1993 Morning Call article. While the pectoral was once frequently on display in Skillman, in 1968, it was transferred into a vault for safe keeping.
In 1993, former Lafayette assistant librarian Robert Gennett admitted he stole the pectoral, according to court documents. He also believed he was being considered a suspect in the case of Alice Hall’s murder.
Gennett argued that Pennsylvania’s Statute of Limitations prevented Lafayette from taking legal action, according to court documents. However, the jury found in March 1995 that Gennett owed Lafayette $100,845.15.
Up until last spring, Gennett resided in Monroe County, working at the Transportation Center.
But what about Alice Hall?
In December of 2000, an Investigative Grand Jury found there was not enough evidence at the time to warrant an arrest for the potential suspects. The document also details that a hair was found in the hands of Hall, but there was not sufficient technology at the time of the murder to compare the DNA. The recommendation of the jury was to allow the investigation to remain open and follow through with forensic analysis to compare with suspects.
After years of collecting research, Hotchkiss thinks he might have uncovered critical answers.
“I strongly believe that...DNA evidence holds the keys to closing this case,” Hotchkiss wrote in his 638-page manuscript documenting his research.
Hotchkiss wants his story published and known. He said that Caitlin Rother, a New York Times bestselling non-fiction crime author and journalist, has taken interest, but the story will not be published until new advancements have been made in the case.
Hotchkiss’s goal now is to “stir up the story” in order to push for further investigation, realizing that those stories with the greatest public attention and interest are the ones most likely to be worked on and solved.
“After all this time and effort, we sincerely hope to see justice for Alice Hall,” Hotchkiss said.
Rare art thefts still occur on campus. Last April, a painting of George Washington was stolen from Kirby Hall and found in the bushes outside of the Fisher suites a few day later.