Madison’s Most Haunted

Sterling Hall houses the Physics and Astronomy departments of the University of Wisconsin. While many UW students remember the late 60s and the Vietnam War protests fondly, there is also a sadder side to it. It was August 24th, 1970 when the “New Years Gang” of four student protestors decided to bomb the Army Mathematics Research Center located in Sterling Hall to show their hatred of the War. They donated the bomb in the middle of the night thinking that there wouldn’t be anyone in the building, but they were wrong and a young Physics Post Doc by the name of Robert Fassnacht was murdered in the explosion.

While the New Years Gang fled to Canada, Fassnacht’s three children were left without a father. Three of the four of the gang were eventually captured, while one of their number remains a fugitive from justice. In true weird history fashion, some say that the fourth member who was never found, a Leo Burt, was a CIA plant who infiltrated different peace movements around the United States in order to instigate violent acts and turn the tide of public opinion against the student protestors, but that’s never been more than mere speculation and perhaps wishful thinking. Because this senseless death shook the foundations of the peaceful protestors in their “War At Home” and even inspired a Quantum Leap episode almost twenty years later, but in true Hollywood fashion, the hero saved the day and nobody died in that one.

Sometimes people talk of a weird anxious and sad energy that they feel in Sterling Hall and of course there have been reports of footsteps and shadowy figures. Poor Robert Fassnactht was not the only one to have died a violent death there. Two years prior, Christine Rothschild was a freshman with a promising future. A popular student with her professors and peers, she was an attractive blonde who’d already found work modeling in department store catalogs in her native Chicago. That all ended in May of 1968 when she was stabbed fourteen times, strangled with the lining of her coat, and her gloves shoved down her throat, with her body then discovered stuffed in the bushes outside of Sterling Hall. Police had zero suspects.

There was a string of seven murders of young women that shook Madison called the “Capital City Killings” between 1968 and 1982 that remain unsolved. While infamous serial killer Henry Lee Lucas, the inspiration behind the movie Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, confessed to some of the murders, investigators remain doubtful that his confession holds much weight.

As late as 2009, the police declared a different serial killer as a “person of interest”, a William Floyd Zamastil who was convicted of a different killing in Madison in the 1970s. Rothschild’s friends remain unconvinced because he would have been sixteen years old and they never saw him hanging around and Rothschild wasn’t sexually assaulted like the rest of his victims. It’s another tragedy that remains unsolved, but people since have claimed that Christine still haunts the halls of Sterling, where her body was found.