“They never found out who killed those girls.”
Christian Barth was a young boy, riding in the back seat of his family car, driving north on the Garden State Parkway near Egg Harbor Township, when he first heard his father and mother talk about the murdered “girls.”
“I haven’t been able to let it go since,” said Barth, now 53 and a lawyer and author. He believes the two 19-year-olds found stabbed to death one week after Memorial Day 1969 were slain by serial killer Ted Bundy.
Bundy, known as “The Lady Killer,” was executed in Florida in January 1989 after confessing to kidnapping, raping and murdering 30 women across the U.S., but he was never connected to what has been dubbed the “coed murders” — the double homicide of Elizabeth Perry and Susan Davis.
Those deaths remain unsolved, 50 years later. Barth, who wrote a novel about the murders and is now writing a true-crime book on the killings, has argued Bundy was in the area at the time of the murders and had ample opportunity to use South Jersey as his hunting ground.
“It’s so unimaginable what happened to these women,” Barth said, adding that as Memorial Day approaches each year, they come to mind. “Why haven’t these murders been solved? Who’s speaking for these girls at this point?”
Perry, of Excelsior, Minnesota, and Davis, of Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, both students at Monticello Junior College in Godfrey, Illinois, visited Ocean City for several days over the Memorial Day holiday in 1969. On Friday, May 30, after the holiday, they left to meet Davis’ family in Camp Hill for a road trip to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, for Davis’ brother’s graduation. They left the Syben House, a rooming house on Ninth Street, at 4:30 a.m., hoping to beat traffic.
They stopped at the Somers Point Diner for an early breakfast, and it was the last time they were seen alive.
About four hours after leaving the rooming house, Davis’ car, a 1966 Chevrolet convertible, was found abandoned along the parkway by a state trooper, who had it towed to a gas station in Northfield.
The next day, Davis and Perry’s fathers reported them missing when they didn’t make it to Camp Hill. The two men, described in Press accounts as wealthy executives, rented a helicopter to fly the route the women would have taken. A 13-state alert was issued.
The following Monday, June 2, the bodies of Perry and Davis were found 20 feet from each other in the “secluded underbrush” off the parkway just inside the border of Egg Harbor Township.
Davis was naked, while Perry was partially clothed. Both bodies were hidden under a blanket of leaves, one face down and the other face up. They’d been stabbed four times in the chest and abdomen.
A massive investigation was launched, but the killer or killers had a three-day head start, said Jon Katz, who at the time was a 22-year-old reporter for The Press of Atlantic City and wrote about the murders extensively.
State Police were diligent in their investigation, but Katz, now 72 and living in Cambridge, New York, said he could see they were frustrated with little to go on — no pictures or DNA evidence.
“There was no new evidence,” Katz said, adding police never found the pocketknife believed to be the murder weapon. “Eventually, there was just nothing to say.”
State Police did not respond to a request for comment on the status of the case. Atlantic County Prosecutor Damon G. Tyner declined to comment.
The culture in South Jersey was very different during the late 1960s than today, said Katz. College-aged women would visit alone or in small groups to have a good time, sometimes picking up hitchhikers or getting rides from strangers.
After Davis and Perry’s bodies were found, Katz said he went to bars and interviewed women like them. He said they were “fearless” and easy targets for predators, calling them “carefree and careless.”
“Most of them had a good time and left, but it seemed like every year, there was a girl who was picked up by the wrong person or just disappeared,” he said. “Everybody’s heart would kind of sink because the odds were always very long” for the case to be solved.
Former Egg Harbor Township Mayor James “Sonny” McCullough was working as a bartender and bouncer at Tony Mart’s, a popular bar in Somers Point at the time.
State Police went to the bar to show him pictures of the women, he said, but there were thousands of people in the bar and music venue each night over the holiday weekend.
“They questioned me about seeing them. Did I see them? Did I recognize them? Did I see them leave with anybody?” he said. “It was packed all weekend. I didn’t remember seeing those girls.”
Several days after the murders, an 18-year-old Norristown, Pennsylvania, man was taken into custody by Philadelphia police, but was later released. Dozens of young men were questioned, but all were cleared by passing polygraph tests, according to Press archives.
After dead-end leads for a year, police set up a trailer outside the Somers Point traffic circle with signs that read, “Were you here on Memorial Day 1969?” and “Information wanted on the Coed Murders — Call or Stop here.”
Other persons of interest over the years included Ronnie Walden, a drifter from Georgia, who later passed a lie detector test, and Gerald Eugene Stano, a mass murderer from Florida who confessed to killing the two women. However, State Police said Stano “wasn’t even close” to getting the details of the murder right when they interviewed him.
But Barth, of Milford, Connecticut, argues Bundy could be the women’s killer in his book, “The Garden State Parkway Murders: A Cold Case Odyssey.”
Bundy, a student at Temple University at the time, had “ample opportunity” to scope out the area, Barth said, adding he interviewed at least two people who claimed they saw a man that holiday weekend who matched Bundy’s description.
“I think the problem is because it was so long ago, police don’t have enough information,” Barth said. “We don’t know whether or not the police interviewed (Bundy) in 1969. We just don’t have enough answers.”
But some of those answers could have come from Bundy himself, one local writer reported.
After Bundy was executed, forensic psychologist Dr. Arthur Norman revealed to Bill Kelly, a writer for Ocean City’s SandPaper in 1989, that Bundy admitted to killing Perry and Davis during one of their sessions.
Bundy told the doctor “he was in Ocean City and looked at all the girls on the beach, and took two girls out and that’s the first time he did it,” said Kelly, who now lives in Browns Mills. “Jeffrey Blitz, the prosecutor at the time, said he looked into it, but said it was hearsay evidence he couldn’t use and didn’t investigate.”
Blitz could not be reached for comment.
After Norman’s claims spread, Polly J. Nelson, Bundy’s attorney, said he had denied killing anyone during his time in Philadelphia, The Associated Press reported.
Nelson did not respond to a request for comment.
“I don’t want to say that the police dismissed it,” Barth said of Bundy’s possible tie to the murders. “But they didn’t have any photographs, if you will, or just didn’t have enough to investigate.”
Bundy’s story has returned to the limelight this year, 30 years after his execution, after the release of a Netflix documentary and a movie, “Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes” and “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile.”
Neither film mentions a possible connection to South Jersey’s “coed murders.” The films’ producer did not return a request for comment.
Katz said the murder didn’t fit Bundy’s style, saying a source he had at the FBI at the time of the murders profiled the killer as a working-class man and it had been a rape or robbery gone south, not a serial killer.
“I think if it was Ted Bundy, they would have jumped all over it,” Katz said. “They were dying to solve that case. They would have liked to wrap it up that way.”