A MURDER MYSTERY CLOSE TO HOME

by Nancy Means Wright

I was shocked and horrified back in 1971 when an 18-year-old freshman at Middlebury College (in my home town) went missing just before her 1 o’clock December exam. According to a friend, she had run back to her dorm “for a favorite pen.” But she never got to the exam.  Her roommate left for home on semester break without realizing that Lynne Schulze would not be back to claim her things.

At about 12:30 p.m. someone spotted Lynne standing near a gas station in town eating dried prunes purchased across the street at a health food store called All Good Things, owned and operated by young millionaire real estate heir, Robert Durst and his wife Kathy. A second spotting came that same day at 2:30 p.m. outside the store across from the bus stop. But was it Lynne?

No one had seen Lynne since.

At the time, I had a 17-year-old daughter Lesley, 5 foot 3 and brown-haired like Lynne, who had already applied for the liberal arts college.  After she began her freshman year at Middlebury, my Lesley became Lynne in my nightmares of abducted girls. Yet Vermont is safe, my reason told me–who would harm a vibrant young girl in the small, congenial town of Middlebury? If Lynne had been abducted, well, it would have been someone “on the outside.”

In her last photograph, Lynne sits in the lotus position (as my daughter often does), a pretty girl with long shiny hair, smiling confidently into the camera.

Police inquiries turned up nothing for almost 43 years. The case was handed down to a number of town investigators, each one taking a fresh look, but finding no evidence of foul play. If the girl had run off, her parents heard nothing from her. Odd, we all thought. And such a close-knit family.

Durst sold the store the following year, left the state, and unbeknown to many of us, became a suspect for killings in Texas and California (for the death of a 16-year-old girl)–including a recent arrest in New Orleans for the possible murder of his wife. A documentary, “The Jinx: the Life and Deaths of Robert Durst,” shows him muttering to himself: “There it is. you’re caught. What the hell did I do? Killed them all of course.”

In 2012, almost thirty years after the disappearance, local police had an unsolicited phone tip about Durst’s connection to our town and to the young girl who shopped at his store; and our police chief, recalling the unsolved case of Lynne Schulze, termed Durst “a man of interest.”

My daughters and I had shopped on occasion at All Good Things with no suspicion of the man, who seemed pleasant enough. A retired county sheriff recalls buying peanut butter there and chatting with Durst. Another local store owner called him “kind of quirky…but with a wry sense of humor.” A dozen questions now bubble up in my head. Had the then young, attractive store owner charmed Lynne with prunes, presents, and peanut butter? Then tried to seduce her? Had she taken the next bus out, met him somewhere and then been “dumped,’ so that his wife, living in their nearby Ripton home, wouldn’t suspect?

All as yet unanswered questions. One can only make up scenarios of what might have happened. Calling the case “a possible homicide,” our local police have not, at the time of this writing, found any tangible evidence. Lynne’s parents are dead, and her bereft siblings want justice, but also privacy. Our dedicated police, however, are determined to “investigate all leads until Lynne can be found and resolution can be given to her family.”

A resolution I, too, would like, as a grandmother living near the college with a granddaughter at that school, about to take her final exams.

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12 Responses

  1. Heart-breaking story, Nancy. Thank you for sharing.

  2. Ohhhhh, Nancy, your post gave me chills. There is no telling how many victims Durst has left in his disturbed path. Thanks for posting.

    • If you ever chance to meet him, Betty, move quickly in the opposite direction! I guess time will tell how many victims. He was obviously a serial killer. And charming to meet, alas.

  3. Mary,

    A grim story. Reality is often darker than any fiction we might create.

    • Indeed it is, Jacquie. Although we frequently based our stories on reality. Maybe writing is an attempt to somehow distance ourselves from a grim reality.

  4. Interesting post. We write stories about murderers and con men who walk among the citizenry unnoticed. I wonder how often we encounter real life versions of the same. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

    • We probably meet them more often than we realize, Wendy. I’ve heard nothing for a month from our local police chief, but I’m sure he’s trying to get an interview with Durst. But what evidence will he ever find? Often when I walk through the campus or drive past what was All Good Things, my head fills with another diabolical scenario. And I worry about that poor girl who was obviously seduced.

  5. I’m curious–were you already writing at the time, or did the incident spur you into it? Any desire to write crime fic?

    • I was already writing, Nikki–had my first (non mystery) novel published by Ace Books in 1973, along with poems in the lit mags. But yes, I think now that the disappearance might well have pushed me into writing mysteries–although at the time I didn’t really know why. It has only been a few months that I’ve become aware of the killer Durst. And now thinking back…I can see the connection–and the impulse.

  6. Actually read about Durst in our VA paper! We had similar abductions/killings of UVA students. Gives me the shivers! Thanks for a great post!

    • Good heavens, Susan–do you think Durst was involved in any of those crimes? Or, I suppose, sick killers like him. I don’t think I’d even want to write him into a book he’s so horrible.

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