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PSU Students Hope to Spur Interest in Murder Cold Case

by and on June 02, 2019 5:00 AM

Do you know the story of Dana Bailey? Three Penn State film students think people should and they made a documentary to share her tragic story.

Bailey was a Penn State student and Philipsburg native who was brutally murdered in State College in 1987. Her killer was never found.

The case is still open, but considered cold.

And, for these three students, what started off as a class project turned into a story that touched them deep in their hearts. Now they are hoping their documentary can help shed some light on the 32-year-old case. But if nothing else, they just want people to know more about Dana Bailey and what happened to her all those years ago.

Screenwriter Aaron Salada is a true crime buff and was looking into the well-known, yet unsolved 1969 murder of Betsy Aardsma in the “stacks” of the Pattee Library. While researching, he learned of Bailey’s story and it captured his attention.

“It was the fact that she was brutally murdered and it was much more personal of an attack than some of the other unsolved cases in State College. And they never truly had a good lead,” said Salada. “And I was like, ‘Why isn’t this being discussed? Why isn’t this the one that everyone is talking about at Penn State?’ It has been 32 years.”

He pitched the story to his film class and classmates Kyra-Nicole Barkley and Todd Mueller jumped on board as producer and editor. All of them were immediately drawn to it.

“I didn’t know much about the case until he pitched it in class. But once he pitched it, I dove right in. I was researching 24-7 about the case,” said Barkley.

After all, Bailey was someone they could relate to — a Penn State student. She was just about to graduate when her life was cut short, and nobody knows why. For the three students, it was sad to think that this happened in Happy Valley so long ago and there are still no answers.

“I think ‘what if something like this happens to me?’ Thirty-two years go by and nobody knows what happened. I would want someone screaming from the roof tops that I am still here and the case is unsolved. Someone is still out there,” said Salada. “It is knowing that someone is out there who did this and never had to pay. Someone robbed this woman of a future and it’s a damn shame.”

Their 8-minute documentary explores the Bailey case.

Bailey was 21 years old at the time of her death. She grew up in Philipsburg and worked part time at the Corner Room. On March 4, 1987, she told her parents that she had returned to State College after a trip to visit her fiance in Washington, D.C.

The heartbreaking story continued the next day, when Bailey’s mom went to her apartment on South Allen Street to visit her daughter, only to find her dead.

According to State College Police sometime between March 4 and 5, 1987, Bailey was murdered in her second floor apartment. She died from multiple stab wounds. Bailey is described by police as being a friendly, well-liked young woman engaged to be married.

The investigation revealed that a suspect was watching Bailey’s apartment from a building that was being remodeled. The building was located to the north of hers. The suspect gained entry to Bailey’s apartment through a window, which faced the surveillance point.

Police report that hundreds of leads were investigated at that time, however, the case remains unsolved.

In December 2003, an anonymous letter was received by the police. It was the first new lead in many years. The letter mentions two names but makes no further reference to the murder. No connection has been established between Bailey and the names at this time. The police department is asking the author of the letter to come forward and identify themselves. It is imperative for the author to understand the importance to Dana’s family and the community in solving this tragic incident, police said.

Salada, Barkley and Mueller dug through old newspapers and reached out to the Bailey family and the police for information. Citing the Bailey family’s request, police declined to share more information. The Bailey family also declined to speak to the students for the film.

The students hope that with some public interest something new can be discovered about the case. They hope their documentary is a step in the direction of getting the discussion going again. Without much cooperation from friends and family it was hard for the team to get information.

“It was actually a somewhat frustrating process trying to find information,” said Barkley. She said conducting research on a case from 1987, pre-smart phones and wide use of the internet, was difficult. Newspaper clipping were hard to find. There was no video and Google searches went four pages deep before any information about the case showed up. Nonetheless they dug and dug, and got a story.

The documentary, Murder in Happy Valley, was published May 11 on YouTube. They received a rare 100 percent grade in their film class for the movie and the film was part of the Rough Cut Film Festival in Philadelphia; however, the said if they can spark that conversation, they might continue looking at the Bailey case.

“As much as we like to talk about our film and are proud of it, the heart of it is that we wanted to bring attention to Dana,” said Salada. “It is real easy to get caught up in the whole ‘our film is doing pretty well, we are submitting it to festivals.’ But the heart of it is about Dana and her memory.”

Toward the end of the film the three students went to Philipsburg and paid their respects at Bailey’s gravestone. It was a difficult experience for them, but made them realize that looking for answers was the right thing to do.

“I didn’t know what it would feel like when we finally got there,” said Barkley. “It was very sad, but it helped make a special connection that we visited her.”

A $30,000 reward is being offered for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of Bailey’s killer. Tipsters can call State College police at (814) 234-7150 or Centre County Crimestoppers at (800) 877-99-CRIME.


This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.

Vincent Corso is writer for Town&Gown and the Centre County Gazette.
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