SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A suspect has been arraigned in Springfield court in connection with a 56 year old unresolved homicide on Thursday.

Seventy-three year old Donald Mars of Bedford, Mass. was arraigned in Hampden Superior Court for first degree murder in connection with his alleged involvement in the 1966 homicide of Betty Lou Zukowski, according to a news release sent to 22News from the Hampden District Attorney’s Office. He is being held without the right to bail and his next court date is scheduled for May 1, 2023.

COLD CASE: Betty Lou Zukowski

On May 26, 1966, Betty Lou left her 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. Her parents, Stanley and Mildred Zukowski reported their daughter missing to the Chicopee Police Department after she failed to return home later that evening.

Four days later, on Memorial Day, May 30, 1966, boys fishing the Westfield River in West Springfield near Robinson State Park located the body of Betty Lou.

The Chief Medical Examiner determined the cause of death was multiple blunt force injuries to her head, a skull fracture, and terminal drowning. Her funeral was held on what would have been her 11th birthday, June 2, 1966 at Holy Name Church in Chicopee.

PHOTO: Composite sketch of suspect

Two witnesses described whom they thought to be the last person to have seen Betty Lou alive. The composite sketch was developed and released approximately a week after her body was found. Tips did not lead to the identity of a suspect and the case went cold.

1966 suspect composite sketch vs. Donald Mars high school year book photo
(Courtesy: Hampden District Attorney’s Office)

In May 1995, 46-year-old Donald Mars was convicted of rape of a child with force and indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 years of age. He is listed as level 3 on the Massachusetts Sex Offender Registry.

In November 1997, it was learned that the West Springfield Police received information 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.

VIDEO: Arraignment of Donald Mars

Donald Mars charged with murder of Betty Lou Zukowski

Over the last year, the investigation by the Hampden District Attorney’s Office’s Unresolved Cases Unit focused on Betty Lou’s murder. They were able to present the case to a Hampden County Grand Jury on Tuesday, November 1st. The 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 and Donald Mars was taken into custody on November 2nd.

VIDEO: Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni held a news conference following Mars’ arraignment.

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.”

“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.

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