The fall of 1967 was an exciting time for 18- year -old Christine Rothschild. Christine or “Chris” as she was known to her friends, had recently graduated from Senn High School in Chicago, Illinois a few months prior and was starting her freshmen year at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Christine took up residence at Ann Emery Hall, room 119 on the university campus.On the cool damp morning of May 26, 1968 Christine Rothschild was up at 4 a.m. The night hostess, Mrs. Gertrude Armstrong said “She came out of her room, headed for the bathroom. I met her in the hall-we almost ran into each other. That was the last time I saw her.”
Seeing Christine out and about in the early morning hours was nothing out of the ordinary. She enjoyed taking morning walks around campus around 7 to 7:30 each morning.
On that last morning, Christine put on a mini-dress, black boots and an all-weather coat and set out for her walk. What happened after she left her dorm is something only Christine and her killer know.Around 7:30 p.m. that same day, 22 year old University Maintenance worker Phillip Van-Valkenberg tried to enter Sterling Hall. Finding the doors locked, he went to knock on a lower window behind some bushes in front of Sterling Hall. In those bushes Van-Valkenberg came upon the horrific sight that sent shock waves throughout the entire university.
Christine Rothschild’s lifeless body had been found. It was a sight UW-Madison Police Chief Ralph Hanson would never forget. “I don’t know what kind of person would have done this,” he said.According to Hanson Christine had been stabbed 14 times in the chest and neck. She also had four broken ribs and a broken jaw, along with being strangled with the lining of her own coat. Police said the coat lining was tied into a “slip knot” around her neck and Christine’s gloves were shoved down her throat. Chief Hanson would not say if Christine was killed where her body was found, but said there was “plenty of blood” at the scene.
There was no sign of sexual assault. Christine was still fully clothed in her mini-dress, black boots and a three-quarter length beige all-weather coat. However, her clothing was “ripped and askew” in some places, but otherwise intact.
The police also reported Christine was still wearing her rings that appeared “expensive” and a bloody “man’s handkerchief” was found under her head. There was also a broken umbrella sticking out of the ground found next to the body.While no murder weapon was found, the broken umbrella and handkerchief were sent to the FBI for forensic testing. However, the tests conducted could not link anyone to the murder. DNA evidence was not available at this time. The two key pieces of evidence were sent back to UW-Madison Police Department and from there sent to the county sheriff’s office for safe keeping. The evidence was ultimately lost so no modern day analysis can be done.
Since the murder of Christine Rothschild is still an open case, what remaining evidence there is, is not known. At the time of the murder, there was speculation by the local press that there could have been foot prints left at the scene since it rained recently. However, this is not confirmed by police.The attack on Christine seemed a bit of an overkill one could say. The intensity of the violence seemed personal in nature, leading some to believe Christine may have known her killer. She was described by those that knew her as a happy and easy going person. So just who exactly could have done this?
Chief Hanson had no leads to go on, but his department interviewed several people right away. Nothing would come of it and the State Crime Lab, who searched the crime scene, refused to disclose if any leads had been found.As the summer of 1968 continued, investigators looked into several “persons of interest” but none proved to be the killer. There was even a $5,000 reward offered to anyone with information, but that also lead nowhere. With no new leads, no new suspects and no murder weapon, Christine’s murder was placed into the “cold case” file.
Jumping ahead to 2009, the hunt for Christine Rothschild’s killer is still active. On Saturday, August 29, 2009 NBC News 15, a local news station in Madison, Wisconsin broke the news that police have a person of interest in the murder.
Forty-one years after she was murdered, could it be Christine’s killer was finally found? Many, including Christine’s close friend Linda Schulko says “no.” The news story claimed serial killer William Floyd Zamastil is a “person of interest” in the Rothschild killing. Zamastil is currently serving a life sentence for the 1978 murder and rape of a Madison woman. He has also been indicted for the 1973 murder and rape of a woman from Arizona. Zamastil was sixteen years old when Rothschild was killed and was said to be living in Madison at the time.
“I’m really skeptical that Zamastil murdered Chris,” said Linda Schulko to NBC News. It was Schulko that has been the driving force in keeping her dear friend’s murder a live. “If Zamastil had murdered her, this would possibly be his first crime of this nature.”One major problem police have not explained is how different Zamastil’s other victims died compared to Rothschild. Zamastil raped and shot his victims, then took their bodies far from the crime scene. Christine was strangled and stabbed, not shot. She also was not raped like the others. It is also safe to assume she was killed where she was found based on the amount of blood discovered in the bushes. According to Schulko she thinks, “This is a cop out for a serial killer to take the rap on something, that it won’t make a difference since he’s already serving a life sentence.”
As the years have passed, the trail continues growing colder. Police checked several leads early, but admitted they had no motive and no weapon to link to the crime.There was however, one suspect that stood out from the others. He was a resident surgeon at the University of Wisconsin Hospital at the time of Christine’s murder. The hospital was located across the street from Sterling Hall and it was common, according to Schulko, for Christine to stop for a break and have a cigarette with this surgeon.
Linda Schulko says this doctor wanted to date Christine, but Christine was not interested in him. Police, in September, 1968 went to New York where this doctor moved shortly after the murder. The detectives questioned him for hours only to leave without making an arrest. A mistake Schulko felt on the part of the police. In one statement Schulko wrote, “I have been in written and verbal correspondence” with the suspect and “have no doubt he is a psychopath.”In an August, 2011 article published by The Globe and Mail, a college professor sent out students to conduct their own investigation on cold cases. One group of students were assigned to the Rothschild murder. These students were able to get into contact with the doctor who was 84 at this time and living in New York. He denied he was the killer, but spoke at length with some students about the case. The murder was “like an act of rage” and the 14 stab wounds were “too many-one good thrust would do the job if you had the knowledge of anatomy to do it.”
After the interview and a 40-page case analysis, which the students concluded “was probably not the work of a serial killer,” was turned over to UW-Madison Police. The lead detective commented “he (the doctor) is still a person of interest. It’s a fairly short list and he’s on it.”No arrests have been made and more time passes by without any further investigaton.
After 47 years, no one has been captured or paid for the needless murder of an 18 year old college student who had her whole life a head of her. Christine’s family and best friend mourn her death as much today as they did in 1968. They all look forward to the day when her killer is brought to justice.