THE GARDEN STATE PARKWAY MURDERS is the first and only historical account of the unsolved murders of college friends Susan Davis and Elizabeth Perry, who were stabbed to death in the woods alongside the Garden State Parkway near Ocean City, New Jersey on Memorial Day 1969. The discovery of the wealthy coeds three days after their slayings, as reported by Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News, touches off one of the largest manhunts in New Jersey since the Lindbergh baby kidnapping. Over the next ten years the New Jersey State Police, Atlantic County (N.J.) Prosecutor’s Office, and FBI question thousands of people, tracking leads as far as San Francisco in search of the killer. Among the suspects are infamous serial killers Ted Bundy and Gerald Eugene Stano, who were living within an hour’s drive from the murders at the time they occurred, resided next to one another for a time on Florida’s Death Row, and indirectly confessed to the murders before being executed.
THE GARDEN STATE PARKWAY MURDERS tracks the author’s decade-long obsession with seeking justice for Davis and Perry. Presented with all the information surrounding these brutal murders, including a discussion of recent technological advancements in DNA and FBI serial killer profiling, the reader is asked to consider, why hasn’t this cold case been solved?
“I know that the way the bodies were left, the person who killed those girls had an excellent knowledge of chemistry, knowing that the three things you need are heat, moisture, darkness, and the proper point of acidity to eliminate evidence. All of that was accomplished. It was remarkable.” John Divel, Ocean City Police Department
From The Book:
The horizon glowed faintly behind the wooded swamplands to the east as Susan and Elizabeth crossed the moonlit causeway over the Great Egg Harbor Bay. The giant electric arrow of Tony Mart’s nightclub and the street sign for Bay Shores Café, both dimmed at 2 a.m., stood darkly silhouetted against the indigo sky. Dock lights glimmered atop the low tide mark along the seawall as fishing boats passed under the drawbridge towers on their way out to sea. At the Somers Point roundabout, looming ahead as the women descended the Ship Channel Bridge, the perception of night hadn’t yet faded, as if captured in time within the grayness of dawn shading its edges. Carloads of youthful revelers who’d returned from seeing Gary Puckett & The Union Gap perform at the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, and then made last call at the late-night bars in Longport and Mays Landing, looped toward the Point Diner. Their headlight carouseled through the dusky tidal mist, tinted orange at the turn beneath the Gulf station sign. Lonesome stragglers and tightly knit groupings of college kids who’d been up all night partying along Bay Avenue quickened toward the diner from opposite directions. They paused along the curb until the cars passed by, then trod through the grass in the middle of the circle, aiming toward the only place to eat that was still open, or, as they knew it, never closed.
After finding a spot in the bustling diner parking lot, Susan and Elizabeth went inside. Following a short wait, they were seated at a booth near a window facing the bay just as the sun brimmed the eastern sky. The diner was filling quickly, and a waitress hurried to take their orders. At the counter stools near the pastry display patrons browsed the front pages of the Atlantic City Press, griping about the record-breaking heat. The temperature had reached ninety-nine degrees yesterday, and the forecast called for more of the same this afternoon. The aisles behind them clamored with overlapping conversations and young patrons shouting out names, jangling silverware, and Top 40 hits crackling from the table jukeboxes. Outside, the line to get in grew longer.
After being seated for a time, Susan and Elizabeth agreed to share their booth with three clean-cut college men who’d been standing by the hostess stand, waiting for a table to open. By all accounts, the girls were in good spirits as they got up to leave their table after finishing breakfast, walking unaccompanied through the front entrance of the diner at approximately 6:15 a.m. Locals seated at the counter didn’t notice any drifters who in retrospect seemed out of sorts among the regulars who ate there every morning. No suspicious-looking hippies were seen following the girls outside. No employees saw them go down the front steps, walk across the parking lot, or open their car doors and drive away.
The Ocean City Memorial Day parade began along the boardwalk at 9:30 that morning while soldiers from the local VFW Color Guard gathered for ceremonies at Veterans Memorial Park. Reverently poised, they raised their rifles to their shoulders, firing a three-volley salute in solemn gratitude of patriots slain on faraway battlefields. As the smiling Girl Scouts of Troop 37 strutted proudly along the Asbury Avenue parade route, waving the American flag toward a deepening blue sky, a brigade of station wagons tied down with bicycles and beach rafts lurched forward along the glutted inbound lanes of the Route 52 causeway.
Ninety miles distant from the pageantry and excitement marking the start of summer, far removed from the holiday crowds plunging merrily into the frigid Atlantic Ocean, a similarly buoyant mood had tensed into an unsettling quiet inside the Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, ranch house belonging to Wesley Davis Sr. and his wife Marjorie. Their daughter and her guest were two hours late, expected home long before now. They had heard nothing from either of them and were beginning to worry.