Suspect arrested in connection with 1966 West Springfield homicide

Suspect arrested in connection with 1966 West Springfield homicide
Published: Nov. 3, 2022 at 10:42 AM EDT|Updated: Nov. 3, 2022 at 1:39 PM EDT
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - A suspect has appeared in court in connection with a 56-year-old unresolved homicide case in West Springfield.

Jim Leydon, spokesperson for the Hampden District Attorney’s Office, said that 73-year-old Donald Mars of Bedford was arraigned Thursday on a charge of first-degree murder.

On May 26, 1966, Betty Lou Zukowski, age 10, was last seen when she left her family’s Chicopee home after getting a phone call that she told her mother was from a girlfriend. Her parents reported her missing later that night.

Four days later - on May 30, 1966 – Zukowski’s body was found by boys fishing in the Westfield River in West Springfield. The medical examiner’s office determined that she died of multiple blunt force injuries to her head, a skull fracture, and terminal drowning.

Betty Lou Zukowski
Betty Lou Zukowski(Hampden D.A.'s Office)

An investigation began, which included interviews with family, friends, and classmates, in an effort to try and determine who Zukowski may have met up with when she disappeared.

“Investigators believed Betty Lou knew the person who killed her, otherwise she would not have left her home after receiving the phone call on Thursday night,” Leydon explained, adding that it was also believed that she met someone and ended up in West Springfield after riding in a car with someone she knew. However, no significant leads were uncovered.

Approximately one week after the discovery of Zukowski’s body, a composite sketch was created, which led to some more leads, but none were able to garner the identify of the suspect and her case went cold.

The case was brought to the attention of the D.A.’s Unresolved Case Unit shortly after the unit was created and investigators learned that West Springfield Police received information in November 1997 that reportedly linked Mars to Zukowski’s death. However, the investigation didn’t lead to an arrest.

[L-R] Composite sketch from 1966, Donald Mars in his high school yearbook, and Donald Mars...
[L-R] Composite sketch from 1966, Donald Mars in his high school yearbook, and Donald Mars following his arrest on November 2, 2022(Hampden D.A.'s Office)

Over the last few months, the investigation reportedly intensified and resulted in a Hampden County Grand Jury indictment against Mars. An arrest warrant was issued and he was arrested on Wednesday.

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said in a statement:

“Sadly, Betty Lou’s parents are deceased and will not see Donald Mars answer for what we allege he did to their daughter. 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.”

Gulluni told us he couldn’t release specific details about how they believe Mars committed the crime or how they were finally able to gain enough evidence to arrest him because this is still a case they need to prosecute. However, Western Mass News did learn more about Mars’ past. He is registered as a Level 3 sex offender, charged three counts of rape and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under the age of 14. Those crimes involved two children, according to prosecutors, and records said two of the crimes took place back in 1995.

Mars is being held without the right to bail and is due back in court on May 1, 2023. Gulluni said that the trial is expected to take place in November 2023.