The Long Walk Home: The Asenath Dukat Project
Episodes 1 and 2: In the 1980s, something strange was going on in Ohio. Almost a dozen young girls were kidnapped and murdered, many of the killers still unknown to this day. It all started in June of 1980 with the case of Asenath Dukat.
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By Sheridan Hendrix
June 3, 1980, should have been like any other Tuesday.
The warm summer day had students at Upper Arlington’s Barrington Elementary School teeming with excitement for the end of the school year. Students of Mrs. Seubert’s third-grade class were extra rowdy that day, so she kept the kids 10 minutes later than the usual 3 p.m. dismissal bell as a punishment.
That day, 8-year-old Asenath “Seannie” Dukat walked her normal route home from school, about a mile away down winding tree-shaded suburban streets to her house on Malvern Road. Some of her classmates saw her walking along Waltham Road a few blocks from the school. It would be the last time they saw her alive.
The walk normally took about 30 minutes, so when Asenath’s mother, Martha, saw the time was almost 4 p.m., she started to worry. She called her husband, Asenath’s teacher, her classmates’ parents and, finally, the police just after 4:30 p.m. Officers and volunteers searched the area around the Dukats’ home for hours. Older kids ran between yards and biked around looking for their friend. Just before 7:30 p.m., everything stopped. A call came through the police scanner: A body was found at the mouth of a culvert in a shallow stream near First Community Village just off U.S Route 33. Seannie had been found. Asenath Dukat lay face up in the stream, just a block away from her home. A 20-pound limestone rock was used to crush her head. An autopsy would later confirm she had been choked and raped. The Upper Arlington Police Department received hundreds of calls with tips about the murder. More than a dozen suspects were investigated at the time. Police had 13 people hypnotized to help identify the killer.
No one, however, has ever been convicted in Asenath’s murder.
Forty years later, June 3 still haunts many former Upper Arlington students. “This changed our lives forever,” said Leslie Lyon, a friend of Asenath’s. Lyon was 9 years old when Asenath was murdered. The two often played jump rope at recess and were in the same Sunday school class at Our Lady of Victory Church in Grandview. Sometimes the girls walked home together, but Lyon was already on her way by the time Asenath’s class got out of detention that day. “It’s kind of scary to know it could’ve been me,” said Lyon, 49, who now lives in Westerville. Tracy Plummer still remembers the sick feeling she felt in her stomach when he parents asked her if she had seen Asenath after school. Plummer, 49, of Upper Arlington, was one of her classmates.
Most of Lyon’s memories of that day have been blurred out, she said. Her most vivid memory is singing in the church choir at Asenath’s funeral. Lyon stood there in tears, unable to get the lyrics out. “I don’t know if I blocked it out or what,” she said. “To think one of your very good friends was murdered ... it was just so traumatic.”
What was clear, though, was that her world had dramatically changed. Kids didn’t walk home alone from school anymore. Parents signed up to carpool. Safety Spots orange signs with a big black dot started popping up in windows throughout the city. People volunteered to hang the sign in their window and offered their homes as havens for children if they felt unsafe.
Lyon memorized every Safety Spot on her route to school. Even now, four decades later, she still feels uneasy walking home alone at night.
Although emotions were high, Plummer said, she and her classmates were left without answers. Rumors spread and rooted over the years with no one to dispel them. No conviction ever came.
“The police didn’t come talk to our class. We had no one to talk about it with,” Plummer said. “Everything I knew came way later.”
That later began in October 2018 when three Upper Arlington High School alumni met at Meister’s Bar on the Northwest Side for a drink. As they drank, they talked about Asenath’s murder: the sadness, disbelief and anger. But they mostly talked about the questions no one could answer for them decades ago.
The three eventually turned to seven, and together the group created “The Long Walk Home: The Asenath Dukat Project.” The Long Walk Home is a website created to commemorate Asenath’s death, debunk rumors and answer long-held questions. Its content is a collection of information drawn from police reports, newspaper clippings and eyewitness accounts.
The group of alumni, who chose to remain anonymous, is made up of lawyers, communications specialists and researchers by trade. But their common thread was found in their shared childhood trauma and a desire for answers.
Today, the project has more than 700 followers on social media and more than 35,000 visits to its website.
For Plummer, the Long Walk Home demystified “this horrific, monstrous story” from her youth.
“People are starved for the information,” Plummer said. “As a kid growing up in UA in the 80s, you’ve been waiting 40 years for answers.”
When Lyon first heard about the project, it took her months to finally read the website. She was shocked by what she found.
“They know so much, but none of it was ever shared with us,” Lyon said. “We were never given that closure until now.”
Closure, Plummer said, can be tricky to find with cold-case murders. The ultimate closure will come when justice is served, she said.
Until then, she and Lyon both said they’ve been able to find something close to that in learning more about her friend’s murder all these years later.
“I feel a relief,” Lyon said, “and I can get some closure with that.”
Forty years after Upper Arlington third-grader Asenath “Seannie” Dukat was murdered, her death haunts her former classmates and other students in the district. But a new project created to commemorate Dukat’s death, debunk rumors and answers long-held questions has helped some find peace.
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