This March marks the 30th anniversary of the murder of 21 year-old Penn State student, Dana Bailey. As if her murder itself wasn’t mysterious enough, the case would see twists, turns, and dead ends along with mysteries within the mystery.
On March 5th,1987 Shirley Bailey went to visit her daughter Dana at the apartment she lived in off campus at Penn State University. There was nothing that could have prepared Mrs. Bailey for the horrors awaiting her upon entering Dana’s apartment. Sprawled on the floor on top of some bedding, was Dana’s nude and lifeless body. Dana had been repeatedly stabbed and rope bindings remained on her. The scene must have been unimaginably horrible for her poor mother.
Police investigators arrived at the scene and immediately found clues. The weapon used to kill Dana was a butcher knife that belonged to her. She was blindfolded. The stab wounds had been to her chest and breasts. Investigators determined that Dana had been likely killed in her bed, and then her body staged on the floor on top of bedding. It was posed in a sexually suggestive way, almost as if it was on display. Although there was a sexual aspect of the murder, neither rape nor robbery seemed to be a motive. Dana’s engagement ring remained on her finger. The detectives turned their attention to the likely point of entry, the window. The believe that her murderer stood on something enabling him to reach up to Dana’s elevated window and simply opened it and climbed in surprising Dana as she slept. Next, the Detectives took notice of the way her body was displayed and noticed that her body was in perfect view of a rooftop location across the alleyway. It seemed possible that the killer displayed Dana’s body and then admired his handy-work from across the way. Additionally, there was an abandoned apartment undergoing renovations across the alleyway in which the killer may have stalked Dana from before or after the crime.
There were no strong persons of interest and the seeming lack of a motive set off a wave of fear around the Penn State grounds. Police went back to the day before her body was found, March 4th, to look for answers. Dana, who worked part time as a waitress, had visited her fiancé in another town that day and was too tired to work so she wound up calling out from the restaurant where she was due in at 5:30 pm. She instead decided to go to a local fitness center for an hour or so, and then returned home to her apartment where she was last seen by her roommate. Her roommate left to go visit Family. At about 8:30pm, Dana spoke with her fiancé by phone for about 30 minutes and then presumably went to bed. Sometime that night or early the next morning, her killer entered her apartment. The coroner established the time of death as being between late the night of March 4th and early morning March 5th.
Detectives looked at Dana’s friends, family and fiancé early on and ruled them all out as being involved in the murder. With no solid suspects and no clear MO, the case threatened to go cold and that’s exactly what happened.
In March of 1989 at around the 2-year anniversary of Dana’s death, Dana’s father received an anonymous letter signed, ‘Concerned Officers’. The letter accused a police officer (who I will not name) of being responsible for Dana’s murder. The Officer cooperated with Detectives and an investigation by the attorney general’s office revealed that the officer was not involved in the crime.
Then, in late 2003, police received an anonymous letter offering information about the case. There were two persons named in the letter but there was not enough information contained to bring the case to any kind of end.
Along the way, there have been various suspects and persons of interest, but none strong enough to be arrested. One promising person of interest who was turned in by a tipster, was a HVAC Mechanic who had access to rooftops like the one across from Dana’s apartment that the killer may have stalked her from. Like the other leads, this also went nowhere.
Over the past decade, I had the pleasure of corresponding about Dana’s case with Detective Ralph Ralston of the State College Police Dept. Though not the original Detective investigating her case, he was the first cold case Detective to work on her case years later. Ralston never seemed to shy away from checking out any lead that came in regarding the case. Now retired from the State College PD, Ralston has his own theories and suspects in the case but can’t share them due to the investigation being ongoing.
One final note regarding Dana’s case; the District Attorney handling her case was Ray Gricar. Gricar himself would become part of a truly baffling mystery when he vanished in Pennsylvania in 2005. His car has been found, but no sign of Gricar himself has ever been found.
In a couple days, 30 years will have passed since the senseless murder of Dana Bailey. The murder is still mentioned by students and faculty at Penn State. Her family wants and deserves closure. If you have information that can help, please contact the State College, PA Police at (814)-234-7150