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Murder at Lehigh University Shocked the Nation 25 Years ago

Today marks the anniversary of Jeanne Clery's brutal murder, which initiated new federal laws on how colleges report crime.

Connie Clery recalls a conversation she had with her daughter Jeanne with the clarity that comes from revisiting memories of someone you love when you can’t make new ones.

They were on their way to one of Jeanne’s many tennis tournaments and Mrs. Clery asked her teenage daughter what she wanted to be when she grew up.

“Happy,” Jeanne replied simply.

And for 19 years she was – up until the morning she was brutally raped and murdered in her dorm by a fellow student at Lehigh University.

Today is the 25th anniversary of her death, a tragedy that ultimately altered the culture of security on campuses and led to nationwide changes in the way campus crime is reported.

It spurred Connie Clery and her husband Howard to lobby state legislatures and Congress to pass more than 35 laws on campus safety, including the federal Jeanne Clery Act, which requires reporting of crimes and security policies. (A report of crimes reported on local college campuses is attached to this article.)

Before Jeanne’s death, there were no uniform laws mandating that colleges report crimes on campus to students, employees, potential students or their parents. The Clerys found that out afterwards when they learned there had been 38 violent crimes on Lehigh’s campus in the three years before Jeanne’s murder.

“While it happened at Lehigh, what the Clerys quickly discovered was it could have happened at pretty much any university in the country,” said S. Daniel Carter, director of public policy for the Clerys’ non-profit advocacy group, Security On Campus. “This is not something where Lehigh was out of the norm.”

Ironically, the Clerys had chosen to send Jeanne to Lehigh after deciding that Tulane University in New Orleans – where Jeanne’s brothers Benjamin and Howard III had gone – was too dangerous. They heard of the murder of a Tulane student off campus and began looking for a college in a safer setting. Jeanne chose Lehigh. 

“I loved it because it was a very beautiful campus, and it was one hour and 20 minutes from home,” said Mrs. Clery, who divides her time between her home in Bryn Mawr and Florida. “Jeanne loved Lehigh, you know. She grew in maturity.”

On April 5, 1986, a few days after returning from spring break her freshman year, Jeanne was asleep in her Stoughton Hall dorm about 6 a.m. when a student she didn’t know, Josoph M. Henry, entered the room intending to rob it. To get there, Henry had gone through three doors with automatic locks that had been propped open with boxes by students. Henry, who had been drinking all night, raped and strangled Jeanne after she woke up during his thieving. He was convicted of murder in April 1987 and sentenced to death.

After the initial shock of Jeanne’s murder, the Clerys began to speak out about the need for heightened security and reporting of campus crime. They sued Lehigh University for $25 million and settled out of court for an undisclosed amount and a pledge from the university to strengthen its security system.

The family used the settlement to launch their advocacy and education group, Security on Campus. When Mrs. Clery’s first efforts to lobby Congress for legislation went nowhere, she  enlisted the voices of other campus crime victims and their families to drive home the extent of the problem. “I pounded the halls of Congress,” she recalls.

In 1988, Pennsylvania enacted the first law requiring state colleges and universities to annually make public three years of crime statistics. Other laws followed, including the passage of the federal Campus Security Act that took effect on Aug. 1, 1991.

Later renamed the Jeanne Clery Act, the amended law requires all colleges and universities to publish an annual report detailing their security policies and three years of campus crime statistics for certain offenses. Institutions with police or security agencies must keep a public crime log and also give students and employees timely warnings of crimes that pose an ongoing threat. The U.S. Department of Education is required to collect and disseminate the crime statistics. The act affords sexual assault victims certain basic rights.

It’s tough to prove definitively that the Act has reduced crime on campuses because no accurate statistics are available to show what college crime was like before the law, Carter said.

But a U.S. Department of Justice study found that between 1994 and 2004, violent crime on campuses dropped by 9 percent and property crime decreased by 30 percent. Crime rates nationally also declined during that time.

One of the big improvements has been that campus security has become more professional – a career track rather than just something municipal police did when they retired. “It’s really changed the culture of campus public safety,” Carter said. “Almost 90 percent of all large institutions have sworn police officers who carry firearms.”

Lehigh University Police Chief Edward Shupp agrees that the Clerys were instrumental in changing the focus on security and openness at universities. “There have been so many positive changes that have come out of the tragedy,” said Shupp, who was lead investigator on the Clery case along with two state troopers from the Bethlehem barracks. 

Advances in technology, such as video surveillance cameras and card access to buildings, have improved prevention, and Lehigh has doubled its police force to 24 since 1980, Shupp said. Out of 1,300 police departments in Pennsylvania, 60 are accredited and one of them is Lehigh’s, he said.

Parents of prospective students are able to research campus crime statistics online, and his department works with counseling centers and campus groups in educating students on how to avoid being victimized. Most of the crimes on campus are alcohol-related, Shupp said, and most are student-on-student rather than committed by outsiders. 

A look at crime statistics from eight area campuses shows a predominance of alcohol and drug arrests. (Attached as a PDF)

On some campuses, the most reported crime was burglary. Shupp said in his experience burglaries are often cases of students leaving their dorm rooms unlocked and another student walking off with a laptop or other property.

Part of the difficulty in reducing crime is making students realize that they aren’t invincible, that it CAN happen to them. “The students have got to do their part, and the kids have got to be aware, so they can take preventative measures,” Mrs. Clery said.

In September, Lehigh is joining with the Clerys’ group Security on Campus to hold a one-day conference on campus safety with a focus on preventing sexual assaults that involve alcohol. They hope to bring in experts from around the country.

Josoph Henry, Jeanne’s murderer, was on death row for about 14 years, filing numerous appeals before agreeing to drop all appeals in exchange for life imprisonment without parole. 

Three years ago, Howard Clery died, and this year Connie Clery decided to step back from the day-to-day operation of Security On Campus. A quarter century of activism to make campuses safer has saved lives, Mrs. Clery said, so her daughter didn’t die in vain.

“All the colleges that I know of have improved security on campus tremendously,” she said. And, inadvertently, all those years of working passionately for a cause might have saved one more life: hers. “I don’t know if I could have survived if I hadn’t done this,” she said.

Jeanne would be 44 this year. She packed a lot of happiness for herself and others in her short, sweet life, Mrs. Clery said. “She was joy. Jeanne loved life, absolutely loved life and lived it to the fullest. To me, she’s always 19.”

Staberdearth April 05, 2011 at 12:09 PM
I remember this tragedy as if it were today. My family and I were in the process of moving out of Fountain Hill as close as one could get to this heinous crime and not be in Bethlehem, due to what I will call "rental creep" which is the rampant conversion of once proudly owned homes into slime ball schitty rental properties close and closer to our owned home and then infested by renters who do not give a..... We were outta there! It is still sad to see that south side crime on students really has not disappeared, now it is more of a gang issue than the product of a lone dispicable wolf. Josoph Henry.
Jonathan Gerard April 05, 2011 at 03:05 PM
The continuing relevance of this issue is punctuated by an article in yesterday's (Apr 4) NYT about Vice President Biden's visit to and speech at the Univ. of New Hampshire urging greater security against sex crimes on U.S. campuses. Ms Peterson's article here is far more informative and poignant than the Times'.
Lisa B April 05, 2011 at 06:59 PM
I was a student at Lehigh at the time. I remember this as if it was yesterday. We always propped locked doors open, it was the norm. For a while after this we stopped doing it, but like everything else it went back to the old.
John G. Lewis September 03, 2011 at 11:27 PM
I read somewhere that this "could have happened anywhere"... as if it was an accident waiting to happen. And unfortunately, this is, to a fair extent, true, I believe. I was a student at Lehigh at the time... and though our University made mistakes, so were other schools... (One of the reasons we left doors propped... was simply for late night food delivery.) This is not to say this excuses Lehigh, it doesn't; but that University loves it students... God bless the Clery family; may God forgive J. Henry. - John G. Lewis '90

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