The shocking disappearance of Evelyn Hartley: A cold case that haunts La Crosse, Wisconsin

Evelyn Hartley's disappearance sparked a search involving 2,000 people. In the first year following her disappearance, investigators questioned more than 3,500 people.

The year was 1953, and the small town of La Crosse, Wisconsin, was about to be gripped by a tragedy that would leave an indelible mark on the community. On the fateful night of October 24th, 15-year-old Evelyn Grace Hartley vanished without a trace, sending shockwaves through the tight-knit community. Decades later, her disappearance remains unsolved, leaving behind a haunting mystery that continues to captivate the minds of both locals and true crime enthusiasts alike.

Evelyn Grace Hartley (born November 21, 1938) was an American teenager who mysteriously disappeared on October 24, 1953, from La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Evelyn Grace Hartley (born November 21, 1938) was an American teenager who mysteriously disappeared on October 24, 1953, from La Crosse, Wisconsin. Wikimedia Commons

In this article, we will dig into the details surrounding the disappearance of Evelyn Hartley, exploring the events leading up to her vanishing, the investigation that followed, and the lingering questions that still surround the case. So, let’s unravel the enigma of what happened to Evelyn Hartley on that fateful night.

The strange disappearance of Evelyn Hartley

Restored photo of Evelyn Hartley
Restored photo of Evelyn Hartley. Fandom

Evelyn Hartley, a bright and promising 15-year-old girl, was an honor student at Central High School in La Crosse. The daughter of a respected biology professor at Wisconsin State College, Evelyn had a reputation for her intelligence and kind-hearted nature. On the evening of October 24, 1953, Evelyn arrived at the home of Professor Vigo Rasmussen, a colleague of her father, to babysit their twenty-month-old daughter, Janis. Little did anyone know that this night would forever change the lives of those involved.

Evelyn had been babysitting for only a year, but it was her practice to check in with her parents by phone at some point during the evening. When the clock struck 9 PM and there was no word from Evelyn, her father, Richard Hartley, grew worried. He quickly drove to the Rasmussen home, only to find the doors and first-floor windows locked. It was through a picture window that he caught a glimpse of his daughter’s eyeglasses and one of her canvas loafers lying on the living room floor. Panic set in as he noticed footprints and bloodstains leading away from the house. With a sinking feeling in his heart, Richard knew something was terribly wrong.

He crawled through an open basement window, discovering Evelyn’s other shoe lying on the basement floor. Upstairs, the living room rugs were disheveled, evidence of a struggle. Richard wasted no time and notified the police, igniting a search that would grip the region for days to come.

A never ending search

The shocking disappearance of Evelyn Hartley: A cold case that haunts La Crosse, Wisconsin 1
A restored photo of Evelyn Hartley wearing her eyeglasses. Fandom

The disappearance of Evelyn Hartley sent shockwaves through La Crosse, prompting an unprecedented search effort that involved over 2,000 people. Law enforcement officers, volunteers, and even Air Force helicopters scoured the five-mile radius around the Rasmussen home, leaving no stone unturned in their quest for answers. River patrols combed the waterways, while search parties explored the bluffs and woodlands. Every swamp and cave was meticulously examined, as hope dwindled with each passing day.

Despite the tireless efforts of the search teams, Evelyn’s whereabouts remained a mystery. The police chief, George Long, shared his grim theory that she had been kidnapped, but not for ransom. The evidence at the scene seemed to support this theory, with bloodstains and a palm print found on a neighbor’s house. As the days turned into weeks, the community held onto a glimmer of hope that Evelyn would be found alive.

The suspects

In the years following Evelyn’s disappearance, several suspects emerged, casting a shadow of suspicion over the case. One notable figure was Edward Gein, a notorious farmer from Plainfield who had committed heinous crimes in the area. Gein’s proximity to La Crosse, along with his history of attacking women, made him a person of interest. However, experts believed that Gein primarily targeted women similar to his mother and focused on grave-robbing rather than abducting living victims. Ultimately, no concrete evidence was found linking Gein to Evelyn’s disappearance, leaving the case shrouded in uncertainty.

The aftermath

As time passed, the case of Evelyn Hartley gradually faded from the public eye, but it never left the hearts and minds of those who knew her. Her family never gave up hope, holding onto the belief that one day they would find answers. Decades later, the mystery surrounding Evelyn’s disappearance still haunts La Crosse, leaving a lasting impact on the community.

Final words

The disappearance of Evelyn Hartley remains an unsolved mystery, a cold case that continues to baffle investigators and experts. What happened to Evelyn on that fateful night in 1953? Where did she go? These questions linger, echoing through the years, as the search for answers persists.

While the truth may remain elusive, the memory of Evelyn Hartley lives on, a reminder of the fragility of life and the enduring power of hope. The people of La Crosse, Wisconsin, will never forget the bright young girl who vanished without a trace, and they will continue to seek justice for Evelyn, holding onto the belief that one day, her story will be brought to light.