Unsolved tragedy from almost 40 years ago continues to provoke community, search for answers
by Noah Mizer, ’21
Every school day at 3 p.m., 8-year-old Asenath “Seannie” Dukat began her daily walk home from Barrington Elementary School. Her walk took her down Barrington Road where she turned the corner at Waltham Road and continued down to Malvern Road, the street on which she lived. In all, the commute from school to home was slightly less than one mile, a walk that most likely would have taken Asenath about 20 minutes to complete.
But on June 3, 1980, Asenath never completed this short trek home. At 4:34 p.m., her parents contacted the UAPD and a widespread search began. At approximately 7:30 p.m. that same night, a police officer found Asenath’s body on the grounds of First Community Village, a retirement home by Riverside Drive. A 20-pound rock to the head had killed her. An autopsy conducted later also found she had been raped.
Less than a month before Asenath’s death, another girl had been attacked while walking home from Tremont Elementary School. Her assailant had strangled her and left her unconscious before fleeing for an unknown reason. Initially, police believed the same person had committed both crimes, as witnesses reported seeing a man on a red bicycle before each incident. But, no one was indicted for the crimes, and both the assault and Asenath’s murder remain unsolved.
Next year will mark four decades since Asenath’s murder. To commemorate this, an anonymous group of UA alumni have created “The Long Walk Home: The Asenath Dukat Project” in October. Through the project’s website users can share memories of Asenath and how the murder affected them. Additionally, the website details the events of Asenath’s murder. Donations given through the site will go to the Joyful Heart Foundation, a national organization dedicated to supporting and healing sexual assault survivors. An active member of this organization shares insight below. The member has chosen to remain anonymous to focus on Asenath’s memory and not to receive credit for any for any work being done.
Q: What inspired you to create this project?
A: My colleagues and I were young kids at the time and it was something that stuck with us forever. I was in third grade and the guys that are on this with me were around the same age. It removed the innocence from all of us. It was this moment that we realized the world is not all good and that bad things can happen to you. At the crux of it was that our parents and teachers were trying to protect us from the crime itself and what happened to not scare us, but in the end, I think it never gave us closure. As we grew older and became adults, we acquired the resources and skills to help answer some of those questions that other people from our generation have too.
Q: What gives you and the others working on this project the authority to cover this case?
A: I think the only authority that we have is that we care deeply about it. We have put the time in and we have done the research. We lived through it and although we might not be as close to it as some, everything we are doing is with the utmost respect for Asenath, her family and anyone touched by this murder. Part of the challenge is that there is so much misinformation on the internet and message boards with rumours and gossip. With our knowledge we could potentially clear up all of that and provide facts. That is why everything we do is done diligently with referencing and we have attorneys that review the work that we put forward.
Q: You mention in the website that content is reviewed by a legal team. How large is this team and how many are actively working on this project?
A: Currently there are seven active members of the group. It is not an exclusive group. People that have reached out to us and want to help have been included. We have people from all different disciplines and professional expertise that make a really great team. Three of them happen to be attorneys. They are our three person legal team.
Q: When this project was first realized, was it your goal to solve the case? If so, has progress been made to find justice?
A: I think the ultimate goal was to solve the case, but we were a bit naïve in that. The biggest thing we want to do is pay respect to Asenath, clear up a lot of the rumours and provide closure to people even if that is simply understanding what happened. We don’t pretend to be able to do that better than the police who have been working on this case for close to 40 years. We just want to see if we can see it from a different point of view.
Q: You mentioned you had lived in Upper Arlington at the time of Asenath’s murder. How did this affect your life and the lives of residents, the community? Was there a significant change in the way residents were living?
A: I think the biggest consequence for the people who weren’t directly involved in the case was that we played outside all day long. Our parents would send us out in the morning and tell us to come home when it got dark. We all walked or rode our bikes to school, we played at friends’ houses and we ran around. After this, everything changed. We realized something bad could happen to kids and there are bad people out there who wanted to hurt kids, and that wasn’t in our mindset before. It scared parents too. Everything changed. It wasn’t so carefree and it wasn’t so innocent.
Q: What was the general response to the project? Have people reached out to the program?
A: The response has been really positive. We have treated this with the utmost sensitivity. We want to provide accurate information and when the project began, we intentionally took it slow and put pieces of information out in order to see the reaction. It’s a sensitive subject and the last thing we want to do is upset anybody or hurt anybody. We just want to help to provide closure. Within the first two months, we’ve had over 6,000 visits to our website. We have over 200 followers among our social media pages, so the interest is still there. We continue to solicit messages from people who lived through this just to get their point of view and what it was like to live in Upper Arlington during the time. But also, we receive messages from those who remember Asenath and the person she was. We don’t want that to get lost in all of this.
Q: Do you plan to release any new information on the anniversary of Asenath’s death? Is that still the plan?
A: The plan is to release information as we can, as the case is technically still open. We’re not exactly sure where this will lead, but we aren’t going to stop until we think the story has been told.
Q: What will happen if the case isn’t able to be solved?
A: The truth is we may never be able to solve this and we might not have an answer, but at least we’ve answered a lot of the questions that have remained over the last 40 years. We want to be on the same page of what happened, why it happened and why is hasn’t been solved.
Q: Could this potentially lead to an arrest if any new information or evidence was revealed?
A: Absolutely. We’re not suggesting we’re the people to provide that information. The whole community of Upper Arlington may have seen something that they thought wasn’t impactful to the case but really is and they may come forward. The technology keeps advancing and it’s really hard to run away from the DNA evidence that can now be used to prosecute people. As far as we are concerned, there’s always an opportunity to solve this.
Q: With technology today, other cold cases are being solved, such as the murder of Christy Mirak, a cold case from 1992. Why hasn’t this been used in this specific case? Is there something preventing it?
A: We don’t know the answer to that question. We have been working with the UA police which has been fantastic. Until the case is closed, they can’t release information to the public. We don’t know the state of the DNA evidence, what is left, or what remains from the crime, as it is nearly 40 years old. There were several opportunities to use DNA testing in the first years of this technology and we don’t know what’s left over that can be used. The only people that can answer that question are the Upper Arlington police.