For Pa. trooper pursuing cold case, relief mixes with frustration
The trooper tries to answer who the young woman was found more than four decades ago
By Holly Herman
READING, Pa. — It was a day of relief that brought yet more unanswered questions for state Trooper Nathan Trate.
Earlier this week, Trate learned that Betsy Langjahr is alive. The trooper had suspected that she could have been the unidentified young woman found dead in Lebanon County 42 years ago.
While Trate is grateful that Betsy is alive and well, he grapples with a familiar question. Who is the young woman who was found more than four decades ago?
"I know we will find out who she is," Trate said Wednesday. "We won't let our children go unnamed. There is someone out there who misses this girl."
The trooper said he will then search for a suspect.
"We have to find out who she is, and then we have to find out who did it," Trate said.
Trate has been leading the cold case investigation for two years. At a news conference Friday, he said investigators were focusing on the possibility that Langjahr was the young woman whose decomposed body was found Oct. 23, 1973, under a tarp in a wooded area in northern Lebanon County.
The remains of the 16- to 20-year-old were found not far from where Interstate 81 splits off from I-78 near Fort Indiantown Gap.
At about the same time, four young women had run away from Talbot Hall in nearby Jonestown, a home for troubled teens that has since closed. Langjahr was the only one of the four police had never been able to locate.
Having hit a dead end, Trate is back to calling the dead woman Jane Doe.
Following the news conference, the notion that the victim was Langjahr quickly proved unfounded.
Trate said he spoke to Langjahr on Tuesday after family members notified him that she was alive but going by a different name.
"The family was happy to rule Betsy out," Trate said.
"It's good to know that Betsy is alive and well," he added. "She is a private person who wants to remain private."
In pursuing his first cold case involving an unidentified victim, he is checking on leads of young women listed as missing by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children in Alexandria, Va., particularly those who were missing when the body was found.
"There are a lot of girls on the missing persons website," Trate said. "The agency is a great resource."
He also said that state police have received tips in response to widespread news reports of Friday's news conference, at which troopers unveiled a forensic bust of the dead woman.
Not Just A File
Carol L. Schweitzer, senior forensic case specialist for the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, is hopeful the case will be solved.
"Back in the 1970s, there was no national missing persons log, no mandatory reporting, especially in a case of a juvenile delinquent," she said.
In 1984, the federal government established an agency to provide law enforcement with assistance.
Schweitzer said the agency provides police and others with other avenues to search for missing persons.
"We see a lot of these old cases where classmates and relatives are looking for their friends," she said. "We are in a fortunate situation, where we provide assistance in these cases all day long."
Schweitzer also suggested checking neighboring counties for old missing persons reports.
Schweitzer said Trate has the tenacity to move this case forward.
"He is very positive," she said. "I love working with detectives like Trate. He believes this is not just a case file. He sees a young woman who he is trying to put a face to."
Trate remains confident he will do just that.
"This case is challenging and fun and frustrating and sad at the same time," he said. "I am very optimistic that we will figure this out."
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