In the New Haven Evening Register of January 18, 1960, on a back page near the weather report, ran two nearly identical articles on the exact same topic, the kind of mistake made by an editor on very tight deadline, or by an editor shaken by a disturbing story. The story in the left-hand column has the bureaucratic headline officials hold conference on probe at yale. The second story, five columns to the right, is titled conference due for discussion of yale probe. In each case, there is that word “probe”—probe of what?
The left-hand article contains this lead: “City Attorney Vincent Villano and Assistant City Attorney Gilbert Winnick will confer this afternoon in order to reach a decision as to whether warrants will be issued for a dozen Yale students involved in a morals case with a 14-year-old Hamden girl.” A Yale spokesman had confirmed that ten sophomores and two juniors had “resigned from school.” Yale’s campus police chief had resigned. In the one paragraph given over to the fourteen-year-old girl from Hamden (a middle-class suburb north of New Haven) we learn that she “was arrested Friday and turned over to juvenile authorities for prosecution. She has since been placed in custody of her parents, pending disposition of her case.”
On the same day, the Associated Press moved a wire story that was picked up by the New York Times: “Three Yale undergraduates were arrested by New Haven police today in their investigation of a dormitory morals case involving a 14-year-old girl.” The AP story names the three men arrested, who, unlike the girl, were over the age of eighteen and thus fair game for the press. “Their bond was set at $500,” the article reads, and a court appearance “was set for Jan. 27.” The charge was “lascivious carriage,” which the Times called “a charge used by the police in Connecticut to cover a variety of minor wrongdoings of a sexual nature.”
On January 19, the Evening Register reported a plane crash in Virginia, a burglary on Church Street, and the latest information on the Yale case: new arrests expected in yale probe. The girl had identified three more students, according to the article.
“The alleged intimacies with the girl,” the article read, “are said to have occurred in Calhoun College, which she visited on two occasions, according to the police.” Yale is divided into twelve residential “colleges,” Gothic and Georgian dormitories built around courtyards. The first Register article had said that most of the students who had withdrawn had lived in Calhoun—a college, like most of the others, where students live in suites of three or four students, in bedrooms organized around living rooms. To anyone who knew Yale, the dots were cohering into a picture of sex parties, in which friends or roommates passed around a young girl.
Within days, multiple wire services were covering the case. A January 19 story from the UPI, published in newspapers around the country on January 20, brought the total number of arrests to six, the total number of suspects to eighteen, including the students who had already “resigned” from Yale … The front page of the Evening Register of January 21 had nothing on Yale. But two days later, Yale returned to the news, in the Evening Register, the New York Times, and other newspapers, as an eighth student was arrested in what the Register, with an Eisenhower-era deafness to double-entendres, once again referred to as the “morals probe.” The UPI story, which ran in the Chicago Daily Tribune and elsewhere, said that a “14 year old girl has identified at least 19 Yale University undergraduates as having been involved in immoral relations with her.”
The case disappeared from the news for several days, yielding space to topics like Ted Williams’s contract for the 1960 season, and New York housewife Jane Baldasare, who had spent one hundred hours and three minutes underwater in a nine-foot-deep tank in Pensacola, Florida, suffering, according to the AP, “nothing worse than dishpan hands.”
Then, on January 26, eleven more students were arrested; these students were among the twelve who had left town. “The arrests total 19,” the story continued. Police captain William F. Holahan “said that all the students involved had been identified from their yearbook and then picked out of a line-up by the 14-year-old Hamden girl.” They were released on $500 bonds; trial was set for January 27 …
During ten days in January, the story was picked up by newspapers from Tucson to Abilene, from the Kane Republican in Kane, Pennsylvania, to the Las Vegas Daily Optic to the Denton Record-Chronicle in Denton, Texas. Time magazine, America’s news source of record, ran a brief item about the “14-year-old nymphet.” And then, on January 27, it ended. That day, twenty Yale students, or ex-students—it’s not entirely clear how, or when, a twentieth student was caught in the dragnet—appeared in a New Haven courthouse to plead no contest to charges of lascivious carriage.
According to the AP, some parents were present in the courtroom, which was “crowded to its 300-person capacity.” The judge, Frederick L. Greenberg, accepted their pleas “in an atmosphere heavy with embarrassment.” Four lawyers were present on various students’ behalf, and they “urged leniency, stating the youths had been subjected to ‘shame and humiliation,’ as well as the effect on the parents.” Seventeen of the men were sentenced to pay $25 fines, while three others were assessed $50.
The AP article did not mention the fate of the girl. The Times said only, “The girl was not present. Her case is pending in juvenile court.”
The girl was named Suzi; it’s a fact that was never in the newspapers, but many living people remembered. In that small, privileged world, in which Yalies had prep-school friends at the other Ivy League schools, and in which the men of these schools traveled to Smith, Mount Holyoke, and Wellesley to hunt for wives, or just dates, Suzi’s given name—Suzi was Jewish, so I stop myself before writing “Christian name”—was widely known, and it got passed down in Ivy lore. I lately found myself wondering about her. As I read about the alleged gang rape at the University of Virginia, reported in the article that Rolling Stone famously had to retract; as I read about Columbia senior (now graduated) Emma Sulkowicz, who carried a mattress around campus to protest what she said was the school’s mishandling of her sexual assault case; and as I heard, from a Yale undergraduate woman I know well, how she was singled out by a fraternity for ridicule of a sexual nature, as part of their initiation of new pledges—as I assimilated all these stories, with their complicated and tangled narratives, their resistance to full comprehension, their elusive truths, and their potential to live forever within all the involved parties, female and male, like unexploded mines that can be tripped years after graduation, I decided that I had to learn more about what happened to Suzi.
To read the entire strange, true story of Suzi, down to the present day, subscribe here.