Mrs. Lynn Kauffman, 23, vivacious, smart, well educated, and a pretty brunette, was a passenger on the Dutch steamship Utrecht, prosecutors said she was murdered in the Port of Boston, Massachusetts. Willem Marie Louis van Rie, age 31, was arrested and charged with her murder.
Kauffman, from St. Louis, Missouri, a divorcee who worked as a professor's secretary was traveling with her employer's wife and their three children, returning from a voyage to Singapore. While traveling, she kept a diary, which was submitted at the trial. In the diary, she wrote of her love affair with Van Rie. Lynn was good company at sea. She cheerfully pressed the uniforms for some of the ship's officers, and Van Rie's coat was later found in her cabin.
Kauffman's employer, Dr. Stanley Spector, a professor of Far Eastern Affairs at St. Louis' Washington University said that he was convinced his young secretary and research assistant had been murdered and her body hurled from the passenger freighter Utrecht into Boston harbor.
Kauffman had lived with Spector and his wife Juanita and their three children since 1956, accompanied the Spector family to Singapore only the year before. Nita Spector knocked on the door of Cabin 7 at 6:55pm, called Lynn for dinner. The secretary replied that she was not feeling well according to Mrs. Spector. A steward knocked again at 7:05pm; he heard only quiet sobbing and left according to his testimony. At 9:00pm Mrs. Spector returned to Lynn's cabin with the Utrecht purser. The cabin was empty, and Lynn Kauffman was not again seen alive.
Investigators termed the death a probable murder, saying "The conclusion is death by violence." They say that Kauffman was beaten severely in her cabin, rendered unconscious, then thrown from the ship, her body half nude, into the harbor, a distance of forty feet, where she then drowned. Her body floated ashore on a nearby island in the shipping channel. VanRie was a crew member radio operator aboard the vessel. He was a newcomer to the 62-man crew, son of the headmaster of a Roman Catholic school in Holland, married only 18 months prior to the incident, to the daughter of a leather manufacturer and was a prospective father. These are details he had been hiding from Kauffman, perhaps until right before she died. Van Rie had told his lover that he was a single bachelor, in order to lure her into a romantic love affair while she was on the ship, with no intentions of leaving his wife.
A grand jury of 20 men and three women reported Van Rie "by assault and beating did kill and murder Lynn Kauffman." He was taken into custody for trial. At his trial, three witnesses testified against him, and Van Rie claimed that all three were lying in their testimony. One passenger testified that twelve minutes before the ship sailed from Boston, a call for help was heard from the cabin of Mrs. Lynn Kauffman. Van Rie took the stand for three days straight, and never wavered in his story. He claimed the last time he saw Kauffman was the morning of her death. But that was not his original story. His wife had flown in from Holland to be at his trial.
For 20 hours, New York and Boston police interrogated Van Rie. He admitted, then later recanted his admission, that he had gone to Lynn's cabin at 7 p.m. She was crying. Van Rie is reported to have said jokingly: "What's the matter? Are you pregnant?" Then, "She got excited and came at me."
Police said Van Rie admitted, then denied, that "I beat her unmercifully. I beat her with my left. I beat her with my right. She fell to the floor. I picked her up and shook her. I threw her into the bunk. I heard a knock on the door and asked her to reply. She said she was too sick and wasn't going to dinner." Then, said Van Rie, he left her, still alive. But, from the beginning, he denied picking her up and heaving her over the rail into the harbor.
A state's medical witness testified Lynn Kauffman had apparently been beaten, stomped, kicked, pummeled and buffeted about her shipboard cabin before she drown in the harbor.
An all male, 15 member jury, acquitted Van Rie of the murder. Once acquitted, he quit his job with the ship and flew out of New York International Airport for Amsterdam, according to his employer.