Nittany Nightmare

The Sex Murders of 1938–1940 and the Panic at Penn State


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About the Book

As the Great Depression hit, Penn State College was cash-strapped and dilapidated. Cuts to athletic scholarships left the football program a shambles and the school a last resort for many students. In 1937, underfunded state police, fighting a losing battle against striking miners and steel workers in Johnstown, called in the National Guard.
There were not enough police to cover the state, and it showed. Then someone started killing young women in the area. Between November 1938 and May 1940, Rachel Taylor, Margaret Martin and Faye Gates were abducted and sexually assaulted, their bodies dumped within 50 miles of the college.
As the school grew into Pennsylvania State University and the Nittany Lions became a world-class team, two demoralized police agencies were merged, forming the precursor of the Pennsylvania State Police. Gates’s murderer was captured and convicted. The killer(s) of Taylor and Martin, however, have gone unidentified to this day.

About the Author(s)

Derek J. Sherwood, author of two previous books on the alleged crimes of Dr. Richard Charles Haefner, lives in Emmitsburg, Maryland.

Bibliographic Details

Derek J. Sherwood
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 311
Bibliographic Info: 29 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2019
pISBN: 978-1-4766-7799-6
eISBN: 978-1-4766-3716-7
Imprint: Exposit

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1
Introduction 7
1. Pinchot Progressivism and a Little New Deal 13
2. What a Wonderful World… 24
3. “Prexy” Hetzel, the NCAA and the Purist Policy 35
4. Mamie 50
5. A Match Made in the Coal Fields 60
6. “The Last Losers” 79
7. Meet Me at Kingston Corners 85
8. The Hig Turns the Tide 103
9. Red-Eye Greyhound from Jersey 110
10. The Public Information Office Stumbles, the Motor Police Scramble 131
11. A Likely Suspect 139
12. Rumblings from Old Main 145
13. The ­Bogey-Bo 156
14. Hetzel Meets Adams 164
15. The Secret of Spook Hollow Road 173
16. Seniors Depart and a New Lion Is Born 179
17. Another Sex Attacker? 187
18. …And a Long Shot 192
19. Another Sex Maniac Unmasked 195
20. The Best Is Yet to Come 203
21. “Not Dave Alston!” 210
22. The War Years 218
23. We Are Penn State 227
24. The (Almost) Perfect Season 233
25. The Road to Nowhere 243
Epilogue 251
Chapter Notes 275
Bibliography 287
Index 297

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “Sherwood delves into the deadly past of Penn State in a true crime book exploring the murder of three young women in the Central Pennsylvania area during a tumultuous time for the economy and a football program on the verge of collapse.”—The Daily Collegian, (Penn State University)
  • “There is a lot of information in this book that I didn’t know, particularly about the alleged sexual serial killer in the early 1940s. Tying in his family’s Penn State history with the growth of the university and its football reputation to tell the darker part of his story is a perfect concept. … well-written, well-researched and well-documented … I doubt if there are many Penn State alumni and central Pennsylvania residents alive today who know what [Sherwood] tells us in his book. They will be as surprised and as shocked as I was when they read it.”—Louis F. Prato, former director of the Penn State All-Sports Museum, Penn State football historian, author of The Penn State Football Encyclopedia