"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Monday, June 10, 2024

"The Day I Died": The Puzzling Murder of Helen Tobolski

"Muncie Star-Press," March 24, 1975, via Newspapers.com

Helen Tobolski led such a quiet, anonymous life, she likely never dreamed that one day far in the future, a blogger of my peculiar bent would see her as prime post material.  She wed one John Tobolski in 1933, and after his death nearly 30 years later, she never remarried, or entered into any romantic relationships.  The couple had two children, one of whom died in infancy.  After John’s death, Helen needed a source of income, so she took a job as a custodian at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana.  She was happy in her job, and was well-liked by all her coworkers and the University staff.

This humble, but pleasant routine went on smoothly for twelve years.  On the morning of March 22, 1975, 62-year-old Helen arrived for work at 7 a.m., and punched her time card.  (She always arrived an hour earlier than the rest of the cleaning crew, so she could qualify for overtime.)  Normally, no one else would be on campus at that time.  She collected her cleaning materials, and went to the University’s aerospace engineering building.

Two hours later, an engineering professor named Hugh Ackert went into the building.  As he headed for the machine shop, he was stopped in his tracks by the sight of Helen’s dead body sprawled across the hallway, surrounded by a pool of blood.  The autopsy later revealed that someone had shot her in the left ear at close range.  

Helen’s mop bucket was found at the north end of the hallway.  It was unused, suggesting that she had been shot very soon after entering the building.  The doors had been locked the previous night, but the door nearest to Helen’s body had been forced open, with a small window on the door broken.

The most obvious theory was that Helen’s unexpectedly early entrance into the building startled a prowler, who panicked and shot her.  The only things missing from the scene were several “personal items” removed from her purse, which could be seen as evidence for the “burglar” scenario.  However, there was nothing of value in the building other than large machinery and equipment, which would be impossible for anyone to carry away.  No one could see what might have possibly attracted a potential thief.

There was one very eerie touch to this murder.  In the classroom across from where Helen’s body was found, enigmatic words were found written on the blackboard: “2-21-75 the day I died.”  It remains unknown who wrote this message, or if it had anything to do with Helen’s death.

This murder is one of those particularly depressing cases where the investigation died practically at birth for a want of clues.  Police could find no one with the least animosity towards her, and if she was shot by a prowler, that person managed to disappear, leaving no trace behind of their identity.  After a handful of brief “Cleaning Lady Shot at Notre Dame” headlines, the mystery vanished permanently from public view, and the frustrated police were forced to move on to more explicable crimes.


  1. It is one of those murders that make no sense, why her and I expect they just threw it in the too hard basket and moved on

  2. One assumes that the police tried to find out who may have died on February 21st, but what a strange scrawl to leave behind...


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