Black Hollow Hideaway was inspired by a true story. Although the inspiration for the novel is a true crime, the characters and story in Black Hollow Hideaway are very different than the true crime that inspired it. You can read that story below.
If you prefer audio, I’ve covered this case in more depth on my podcast: Bitter Endings. You can listen to the episode on Evelyn Hartley here.
Saturday, October 24th, 1953, was an otherwise ordinary day for fifteen-year-old Evelyn Hartley. There was perhaps a buoyancy in the air on that crisp fall evening in La Crosse, Wisconsin, as the local university, The La Crosse State Teachers College, had their homecoming football game. They were playing their rival team, River Falls. The college was a big part of the community, including Evelyn’s own family, as her father was a professor of biology at the school.
Unlike many of her peers, Evelyn was not attending the game. She’d agreed to babysit the twenty-month-old daughter of one of her dad’s colleagues, a man named Viggo Rasmusen. Evelyn was a studious young woman who did well in school, was involved in church and had a close relationship with her family.
Around 6:30 in the evening on that Saturday October 24th, Evelyn packed some text books so she could do schoolwork while babysitting. Viggo picked up Evelyn up at 6:30 and returned her to his home, which was less than two miles from Evelyn’s own home. The Rasmussen’s lived at 2415 Hoeschler Drive. Evelyn settled into the living room with her schoolbooks and Viggo’s wife, Madeline, told her that the baby, Janice should be put in bed at 7 o’clock and then checked on and covered with a blanket at 7:15pm. At 6:45 pm, the Rasmusen family left for the homecoming football game.
A half hour after Evelyn left to babysit, her mother, Ethel suddenly felt a powerful urge to call her daughter and check on her. She told her husband Richard of the strange and unnerving sense, but he was not worried, reminding her that Evelyn would call at 8:30. However, 8:30 passed with no word from Evelyn.
Richard called the house where Evelyn was babysitting, but no one answered. He called repeatedly to no avail. Still, he tried not to panic and began phoning neighbors around the Rasmusen house on the chance that Evelyn had gone to one of their houses. No one had seen her.
At 9:15, concern growing, Richard drove to the Rasmusen home. There were lights on in the house and he could hear the faint sounds of music playing from a radio.
Richard knocked and when no one answered, he pounded and yelled, but Evelyn didn’t come to the door. As he circled the house, he discovered an open basement window which he climbed through. To his horror, he discovered the furniture was in disarray. Evelyn’s shoes and broken glasses were in the house, but no sign of Evelyn. The Rasmussen’s baby was asleep in her crib.
Police descended on the scene. They brought bloodhounds and tracked Evelyn’s scent through the Rasmusen’s backyard into a neighboring yard and two blocks away, where the scent was abruptly lost at the street. Police found large pools of blood behind the Rasmussen house and behind a neighboring house. They found additional smeared blood on the neighbor’s house as well as a bloody hand print. It was clear there’d been a violent struggle and Evelyn had been abducted.
In the following days, a massive search that included two thousand people was performed. Searchers combed woods and neighborhoods, planes flew overhead, and boats drove the Mississippi River.
More items were discovered, including blood-stained girls’ underwear and a bra that appeared to have been thrown off an overpass on Highway 14 south of where Evelyn had vanished. Evelyn’s mother said they looked like the type that Evelyn wore. In another area of highway, police found discarded shoes that matched shoeprints from the Rasmusen backyard. They also found a bloodstained jean jacket.
Evelyn’s family was devastated by her disappearance and though they tried to remain hopeful, the blood at the scene made it almost impossible to believe that Evelyn had survived the night.
Tips poured into police and hundreds of people were questioned, including area sex offenders in La Crosse, Wisconsin. People voluntarily submitted to searches of their cars as well as lie detector tests.
Despite an extensive investigation, police could not find a suspect, though in the years since Evelyn vanished there have been multiple false confessions and potential persons of interest. Unfortunately, no definitive evidence has ever been found about what happened to Evelyn Hartley that long ago October night.
The La Crosse Tribune ( October 26, 1953). Residents Awaken Slowly to Violent Kidnap Case
The La Crosse Tribune (Wednesday, October 28, 1953). FBI Poised to Enter probe
The La Crosse Tribune (Sunday, October 22, 1978). Evelyn Hartley Case Caused Turmoil
Chippewa Herald Telegram (October 24, 2020). After 67 years, Evelyn Hartley’s Case Unsolved
The Charley Project: https://charleyproject.org/case/evelyn-grace-hartley
Wisconsin State Journal (11.25.1974). Evelyn Hartley Case