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UNSOLVED: The Gruesome Murder of Shaun Ritterson

Was this horrendous cold case committed by someone close to home?

the murder of shaun ritterson
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  • Photo Credit: Bucks County District Attorney's Office

June 12, 1977 was an average day for one father and son in Buckingham Township, Pennsylvania—until they discovered a mutilated body tucked away in the brush of an area called Church Hill. The body belonged to Shaun Eileen Ritterson, a 20-year-old resident of Croyden. Shaun's corpse was naked, and most of her internal organs had been removed from a gaping wound in her abdomen. Despite her murder being one of the most brutal Bucks County has ever seen, her case remains unsolved to this day.

Though the investigation previously went cold, the case was revived some years ago after the DA's office returned one of Shaun's rings to her family. As the return of this precious item sparked interest in the news, a review of old case notes also turned up a long-held theory on a main suspect: Shaun's uncle, Harry Ritterson.

Shaun was the daughter of Nancy and Francis Ritterson, Harry's older brother. During her teen years, Shaun frequently got into trouble. She was known to leave home a lot before she finally moved out for good, just three weeks before her murder. On those occasions she strayed from home, family members reported that Shaun typically turned to her uncle. Harry would get her out of a bad situation and provide her when rides whenever she asked.

One of Shaun's former roommates, Richard Wheeler, had more unsettling things to say about the relationship between Shaun and her uncle. He said that Harry paid frequent visits to their apartment, which would annoy Shaun. Shaun allegedly told Wheeler that her uncle was trying to have sex with her.

Before her murder, Shaun was last seen at a bar called the Capri Club in Bristol Township. Witnesses reported seeing her consume both drugs and alcohol that evening. Shaun's cousin, Jack Lister, told the authorities that he saw her leaving the bar with a stranger. Lister described the man as standing at approximately 5'8" and weighing around 140 lbs with a budding mustache and dark, shoulder-length hair. 

police sketch
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  • Photo Credit: Bucks County District Attorney's Office

To try and find a viable suspect, the police investigated the alibis of several parolees nearby. James Thomas McCann was in prison for the murder of a woman 17 years prior, in which he disemboweled her and cut off her head. He had been released five days before Shaun's body was found. When the authorities spoke to him, however, they found that he was signed into an overnight halfway house on the night of Shaun's murder, and his mental state wasn't that of someone set to commit another murder.

Parolee John Allen Campbell had raped and murdered a woman when he was 17 years old. After being released from a Massachusetts prison, he moved to Bucks County. His interview showed that he had adjusted well to his release, and his previous crime was not nearly as brutal as the one committed again Shaun.

Due to the state of Shaun's body, police entertained the theory that Shaun might have been pregnant when she was murdered, and her wounds were inflicted to remove the fetus. They sought out the men she was said to have intimate connections with. One of them was a married man—a very plausible motive for murder—but his alibi was solid.

A second lover liked to call Shaun his "Tuesday, Wednesday" girl, since they only saw each other on weekdays. He had a different girlfriend on the weekends. However, he was also crossed off the suspect list.

Shaun's friends informed the authorities that Shaun used to speak of a man she had plans to marry. Unfortunately, Shaun would never supply her friends with a name.

As tips flooded in, investigators were told to look into anyone from suspicious local teens to renters who disappeared without paying their landlords. However, several accounts kept leading back to Harry Ritterson.

Multiple sources claimed that Shaun and Harry had a closeness that was strange for someone so young and an uncle that was, at the time, 40 years old. It's also been reported that Harry frequented Church Hill, the area Shaun's body was disposed of. He was even seen in the area within the 36 hours between the time she was last seen alive and the discovery of her body. The running theory is that Shaun's death was a result of an "intimate" argument between the two of them that had gotten out of hand.

During the initial investigation, the police questioned Harry several times. Harry even took a lie detector test, and while the results were never made public, detectives felt they had reason to believe they caught the man on several mistruths. Harry consistently denied any connection to Shaun's death but refused to cooperate any further with the police.

Unfortunately, Harry has since passed away, and the authorities don't seem to have another solid lead. Several members of the Ritterson family refuse to believe Harry would have committed such a terrible act, and his sister, Madeline Larson, is among them. Larson defended her brother, saying that whenever he stayed at her house he would share a room with her children, and they never had any problems.

In a bid to clear her brother's name, Larson has set out to refute police theories and claims made by some members of her family. While some family members claimed that Harry was the most skilled sportsman in their family when it came to gutting deer, Larson said that her memory pointed to Shaun's father, Francis, and their youngest brother, Charlie Ritterson. She also made claims of one of Shaun's roommates showing up to the funeral with a bruised and scratched face. And what of the stranger Shaun was seen leaving with?

The police looked into the suspicious appearance of Shaun's roommate, but the individual had an alibi for the injuries, which was confirmed by witnesses. As for the mystery man last seen with Shaun, that is one question that has never been answered.

Investigators remained skeptical of Harry's innocence, however, and were ready to serve a warrant for a DNA test in 2013—before finding out that he had already passed away from a long struggle with cancer. The authorities were able to obtain Harry's DNA before the funeral and compared it to brown head hairs found on Shaun's body, as well as blood left behind on a nightgown and sheets. Unfortunately, the subsequent test results were inconclusive.

Sometime after Shaun's murder, a monument was built in her honor. It is a stack of five large rocks on Church Hill, about 10 feet away from the road. The police don't know who erected this monument—or when—but whoever it was knew exactly where Shaun's body was found amidst the leaves.

If anyone has any pertinent information to help solve this decades-old case, please contact the District Attorney's Office online at www.bucksda.org or over the phone at 215-348-6354.