Donald Mars charged with first degree murder for the 1966 West Springfield homicide of Betty Lou Zukowski

November 3, 2022 -Springfield-  Donald Mars, 73, of Bedford, Ma, was arraigned today on a charge of first degree murder after being indicted by a Hampden County Grand Jury in connection for his alleged involvement in the 1966 homicide of Betty Lou Zukowski. He is being held without the right to bail with his next scheduled court date is on May 1, 2023.

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni stated, “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. 

Just over 56 years ago on Thursday, May 26, 1966. Betty Lou Zukowski left her family’s home on Front Street in Chicopee around 6:00 p.m. after receiving a phone call that she told her mother was from one of her girlfriends. That was the last time that her family saw her.  

Later that evening, Stanley and Mildred Zukowski reported their than 10 year old daughter, Betty Lou Zukowski, missing to the Chicopee Police Department after she failed to return home. This resulted in the Chicopee Police Department issuing an “All-States Alarm” in their attempt to locate her. 

Tragically, Four days later on Memorial Day, May 30, 1966, Betty Lou’s beaten and mud covered, 4’ 7”, 75 pound body was found just off shore by a young boys fishing in the Westfield River in West Springfield. This section of the Westfield River where she was found is near the intersection of Westfield and Dewey Streets and runs next to Robinson State Park. 

The cause of death was determined by the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner to be multiple blunt force injuries to her head, a skull fracture, and terminal drowning.  Upon the discovery of Betty Lou’s remains, a joint homicide investigation led by the West Springfield Police Department and assisted by the Chicopee Police Department commenced. Both departments initially assigned their entire detective bureaus to the case. In addition, both the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office and the Massachusetts State Police were involved.  

Media reports at the time describe an intensive search along the shore where Betty Lou’s body was found, as well as divers searching the river for any clues.  Detectives interviewed family, friends, and classmates to determine who Betty Lou may have met up with at the time of her disappearance.  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. They theorized she met up with this person and ended up in West Springfield after riding in a vehicle operated by someone she knew. However, no significant leads were discovered in the days following the discovery of Betty Lou’s body. 

On June 2, 1966, Betty Lou Zukowski was laid to rest, on the same day she would have turned 11 years old. Her funeral, conducted with high mass honors, was held at Holy Name Church in Chicopee where several classmates from her fifth grade class at the Valentine School in Chicopee were honorary pall bearers. Attendees included her entire class and her teacher.   

Approximately a week after her remains were found, police developed a composite sketch from two witnesses, one of whom was thought to be the last person to have seen Betty Lou alive in the mid-evening hours of May 26, 1966.

The sketch was released and was highly publicized in local newspapers at the time.  The release of the sketch lead to investigative tips, but none lead to the identity of her assailant. From there the case went cold. 

Soon after the formation of the Hampden District Attorney’s Office’s Unresolved Cases Unit, investigators attention was brought to Betty Lou’s unresolved homicide. It was learned that in November 1997, investigators of the West Springfield Police Department received information from multiple sources that linked Donald Mars to Betty Lou’s killing.  Although several witnesses were interviewed, their investigation did not lead to the arrest of a suspect.

Over the last year, Betty Lou’s murder became a more intense focus of the Unresolved Case Unit’s work.  The investigation intensified over the last several months, to include significant work by the team of investigators and culminated in the case being presented to a Hampden County Grand Jury.   

On Tuesday, November 1, 2022 a Hampden County Grand Jury returned an indictment, charging Donald Mars with First Degree Murder in the death of Betty Lou Zukowski.    

A warrant for his arrest was issued by the Hampden County Superior Court, and investigators took Donald Mars into custody on November 2, 2022.  He was booked at the West Springfield Police Department and was arraigned in Hampden County Superior Court earlier this morning.

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni stated, “I extend my thanks to all the investigators from the Chicopee and West Springfield Police Departments and the Massachusetts State Police Detective Unit assigned to the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office that have been involved in the case since 1966.  In addition, I would like to highlight the intensive investigative efforts in 1997 of the late Captain Daniel Murray; I also thank retired Sgt. Paul Finnie and Detective Thomas Caney of the West Springfield Police Department, who’s diligence developed strong evidence that helped us bring this case forward today.  I also thank Massachusetts State Police Superintendent, Colonel Christopher Mason, for his commitment to these cases. Having a dedicated state police detective from the Unresolved Case Unit assigned to my office is an invaluable resource that provided resources necessary to making an arrest in this case.” The district attorney went on to say, “I would also like to thank Assistant District Attorney Beth Farris, and Massachusetts State Police Detective Thomas Sullivan and West Springfield Detective,  Sergeant Thomas Svec for their deeply dedicated efforts leading to the arrest of Donald Mars.  

Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni’s administration has committed significant resources to seeking justice for murder victims and their loved ones, no matter how old the case, and no matter what the challenges had been. Some of this work has resulted in the closure of very old investigations, and answers for long-suffering families, and conclusions for rattled communities. In recent months efforts have been redoubled and reorganized, all with the mission of solving cases and bringing justice for victims, whose families have waited and never forgotten.

Hampden District Attorney Gulluni states, “I cannot promise that we can solve every case, but I can and do promise that we will make every possible effort, and never forget.”

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