Police in Middlebury, Vermont, stopped short of calling millionaire murder defendant Robert Durst a suspect in the disappearance of a Vermont college student in 1971, but said he was certainly in the right place at the right time to have harmed Lynne Schulze, 18.
Schulze, who came from Connecticut to attend Middlebury College, vanished toward the end of her freshman semester. Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said she is presumed dead, and presumed to have been the victim of foul play, but said her remains have never been found.
"We don't let open cases like this, where someone's died, go away," Hanley said Tuesday.
Hanley said in 2012, his department received a tip that Robert Durst, who appeared Monday in a New Orleans courtroom to face charges he killed a female friend in 2000, owned a business in Vermont during the time the student disappeared.
Durst, who is from a prominent Manhattan family of real estate owners, denied murdering his friend, Susan Berman, in 2000.
Durst's Vermont business was a health food store called All Good Things. Long since closed, evidence shows Lynne Schulze shopped there for dried prunes shortly before she vanished, Hanley said. The business was located near a bus station where Schulze is believed to have gone, likely to purchase a ticket to travel out of town for the college's holiday break.
Schulze left behind personal belongings in her dorm room, according to lead investigator Kris Bowdish. The student missed some final exams, Bowdish noted, adding she was not reported missing for a few days, perhaps due to the fact others on campus might have assumed she had left for the holiday break.
"I've got an 18-year-old woman who disappeared, who didn't deserve to disappear," Hanley said. "We'd first like to find her and bring some peace to her family. And secondly, figure out who caused her to disappear."
Hanley reiterated Durst is not a formal suspect in Schulze's death. But he said it "raised [his] hackles" knowing someone connected to "nefarious crimes" elsewhere, including the 2000 killing of Susan Berman, was in Middlebury at the time Schulze vanished.
As to why Durst was in the Middlebury area, Hanley said the community was a popular destination in the early 1970s for people leaving major cities in search of a "commune-style" life change, and indicated Durst was likely part of that back-to-the-land movement.
While the announcement of the link between Durst and Schulze has drawn international media interest, it is difficult to find people in Middlebury who have vivid memories of the 1971 disappearance. The town is home today to approximately 8,500 people.
"I think I remember a story but I couldn't tell you any details," said Rep. Betty Nuovo, a Democrat who represents Middlebury in the Vermont House of Representatives in Montpelier.
John Bourne, an antique dealer in Middlebury, told New England Cable News he was a young patrol officer for the nearby Rutland Police Department in the early 1970s when Lynne Schulze vanished. Bourne said missing persons posters hung on his department's walls displaying Schulze's photo, and he recalled senior officers directing staff to keep an eye out for the student if they happened to stop a car that might have had her as a passenger.
"It would be tough on the relatives," Bourne said of a missing persons case going unsolved for more than 43 years. "I hope there is a breakthrough, so they can put closure to this."
A 1972 article in the Middlebury Campus newspaper said the petite student might have been hitchhiking out of town around the time of final exams. Hanley said Tuesday that the original hitchhiking theory has been discredited.
"We're progressing on the case," Hanley told reporters, adding his department is working with other agencies across the country to track Durst's possible involvement to the missing woman.
Hanley said regrettably, he is not anywhere close to wrapping this case up. He said he hopes someone will come forward with information that'll help investigators.
Anyone with recollection of Lynne Schulze or of suspicious circumstances in Middlebury in December of 1971 is asked to contact lead investigator Kristine Bowdish at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bowdish said Schulze's parents are both deceased, but said she has other relatives who care deeply about finding some peace over what happened to their loved one. "I want to give them that," Bowdish said of her quest to find answers for Schulze's family.