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Massachusetts Man Charged In 1966 Murder Of 10-Year-Old Girl Found Beaten And Drowned

Police have made an arrest in the cold case murder of 10-year-old girl Betty Lou Zukowski, who was found beaten to death in a Massachusetts river in 1966.

By Cydney Contreras
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A Massachusetts man has been charged in the 1966 murder of a 10-year-old girl, who was found beaten and drowned, prosecutors said.

Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni announced in a press release Thursday that Donald Mars, 73, was charged with the first-degree murder of Betty Lou Zukowski, who was found beaten to death in 1966. Mars was arraigned in a Hampden County Superior Court on Thursday and is being held without bail.

Zukowski went missing on the evening of May 26, 1966, having received a phone call from someone she said was a female friend. She left around 6 p.m., but failed to return home that evening, after which her parents, Stanley and Mildred Zukowski, reported her missing to the Chicopee Police Department. 

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Following a four-day search, a group of boys fishing in the Westfield River in Springfield — just five miles southwest from Chicopee — found Zukowski’s remains on Memorial Day. She was covered in mud, having suffered multiple blunt force injuries to her head, a skull fracture and terminal drowning, according to the press release.

A police handout of Donald Mars

Investigators believed that Zukowski knew her murderer and had arranged to meet them on the phone call she received prior to leaving her home on May 26. While two witnesses were able to give a description of the suspect and a sketch was circulated to the community, interviews with her friends, family and classmates yielded no further leads and the case went cold.

Zukowski was laid to rest on June 1, 1966, the same day she would’ve turned 11. Multiple students from her fifth-grade class at Valentine School served as honorary pallbearers.

Then, in 1997, the Chicopee Police Department interview two witnesses, who suggested that Donald Mars was allegedly involved in Zukowski’s homicide, according to the release. There wasn’t enough evidence to arrest Mars.

This year, the cold case unit of the Chicopee Police Department made renewed efforts to solve Zukowski’s killing and prosecutors presented a Hampden County Grand Jury with their findings, resulting in an indictment against Mars.  

“Sadly, Betty Lou’s parents are deceased and will not see Donald Mars answer for what we allege he did to their daughter,” Gulluni said in a statement. “My office has been in contact with Betty Lou’s extended family members, one of whom was a pallbearer at her funeral in 1966. While this investigation will not bring Betty Lou back to her family, or grant her the opportunity to grow into a healthy adult that she and every child deserves, it is for them and for Betty Lou that we embark upon this journey of seeking justice.”

Mars — a level three sex offender who was previously convicted of two counts of rape of a child with force and three counts of indecent assault and battery on child under 14 years of age, according to the Massachusetts sex offender registry — entered a not guilty plea and is due to appear in court on May 1, 2023, according to the Associated Press.