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Campus Crime Crusade : Howard and Connie Clery Lost Their Daughter to a Crazed Thief; Now They're Angry and Fighting Back

August 10, 1989|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

Howard and Connie Clery were delighted when their only daughter, Jeanne, told them of her decision to enroll at Lehigh, a small private co-educational university in Bethlehem, Pa., little more than an hour from home.

Had she chosen to follow in the footsteps of her two brothers, Jeanne might have gone off to New Orleans, to Tulane, which was so far away. Yes, the Clerys agreed, Lehigh was perfect.

"The minute she saw Lehigh she fell in love with it," Connie Clery remembers. Spread over 1,600 wooded hilltop acres, the school seemed, she says, "very serene." And very safe.

But on April 5, 1986, in the spring of her freshman year, Jeanne Clery, 19, a ranked amateur tennis player who hoped for a career in communications, was murdered in her dorm room--beaten, tortured, sodomized, raped and strangled.

The killer, Josoph Henry, 20, a Lehigh sophomore from Newark, N.J., had gained entry to co-ed Stoughton Hall through three locking doors that had been propped open by other residents so their visitors could come and go freely.

A Random Encounter

Blonde, blue-eyed Jeanne Clery was Henry's random victim.

The Clerys, as they learned the facts of the case, grew convinced that their daughter had died because of "slipshod" security on campus. Further, they contend that the university had "a rapidly escalating crime rate, which they didn't tell anybody about."

Lehigh denies this. John Smeaton, vice president for student affairs, says security measures were "more than adequate, reasonable and appropriate for our setting and our situation. You can't prevent everything from happening."

The Clerys are angry, and, though they had never been activists, they have launched a crusade. Their nonprofit corporation, Security On Campus Inc., hopes to make college campuses safer and to alert parents and prospective students to violence.

"On some campuses," he says, "the felony rate's skyrocketing" while administrators turn the other cheek for fear that the institution's image, prestige and pocketbook will be hurt.

"We just never thought of asking" about crime at Lehigh, Connie Clery says. "We weren't aware." What she has learned, she says, is that a felon "could be your roommate. That's the way things are in colleges today."

Why, she asks, is it more important to know an applicant's SAT scores than whether that person is a convicted felon? "What is wrong with these college administrators that they care more about the money and the buildings than they do about lives?"

But, Smeaton says, "I think you'll find that it's illegal to provide that sort of information" for anyone under 18. Further, he says, "if we asked that question on an application, is the student going to say yes? What we do is get character references."

Although Henry pleaded not guilty by reason of temporary insanity, in April, 1987, he was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to die in the electric chair. He has exhausted his appeals in lower courts and is awaiting an argument date before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

His conviction was the culmination of a nightmare that began in mid-afternoon of the day Jeanne died, as the Clerys, rested and relaxed from a Bermuda vacation, returned to their Bryn Mawr home. As their cab pulled up, they saw the police car in their drive.

Perhaps the burglar alarm had gone off, they thought. Then they were told their daughter had been found dead in her dorm room. Assailant, unknown.

A week earlier, on Easter Sunday, the Clerys had attended Mass with Jeanne before driving her to campus. "She couldn't wait to get back to school," her mother recalls. "She loved Lehigh. It was the happiest year of her life."

In the days after her death, the awful story began to unfold.

The night before her murder, Jeanne Clery had attended a fraternity party on campus, returning to her dorm around 3 a.m. Her roommate had a date and, having misplaced her room key, asked Jeanne to leave the door unlocked.

Sometime between 4 and 6:30 in the morning, a Saturday, while Jeanne Clery slept, Josoph Henry walked through those propped exterior doors.

Finding the door from the stairwell to the second floor, a male students' floor, locked, he walked up to the third floor, where 22 women lived. The first door he came to was Jeanne Clery's and he found it ajar.

"He was a thief," says Northampton County, Pa., assistant district attorney Richard Pepper, who prosecuted the case. "He went up there to steal. He was taking things when Jeanne woke up. He realized he had to silence her."

Before strangling her, he taunted her by drawing a broken beer bottle back and forth across her throat. "He hated women," Pepper says. "He had a great deal of difficulty dealing with women."

Connie Clery says: "Jeanne didn't have a chance. She didn't have a chance."

About to sneak out of the building, Henry thought he had dropped his wallet in her room. So, stashing Jeanne's radio, camera and other items he had stolen in the basement laundry, he went back to look for it.

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