Dawn Marie Birnbaum
(1976 - 1993)

Dawn Marie Birnbaum

Indiana, United States of America

PA, United States of America
March 23, 1993

This is a memorial website for Dawn Marie Birnbaum, a 17-year old runaway from the Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine, who was murdered by James Robert Cruz, Jr., on or about March 23, 1993. The webmaster is of no relation to Dawn or any member of her family, but she wanted Dawn to be remembered. The webmaster was a doctoral student in Education at Penn State when Dawn's body was found. She will never forget reading the headlines of the local paper about what was found on that cold March morning back in 1993. What happened to Dawn should serve as a cautionary tale to other teenagers.

Dawn Marie Birnbaum, according to research done by the webmaster, had originally been from Gary, Indiana, and had led a troubled life, running away many times from home and from foster homes. She had been a ward of the state of Indiana, and had been sent to the Elan School, a home for runaway and troubled teenagers, in Poland Spring, Maine.

On or about March 22, 1993, Dawn and other teens from the Elan School were taken to a nearby mall to watch a movie and left there. It appears no counselor or other chaperone was there to watch this group, though they knew Dawn was a flight risk. When the time came to pick up the group of teens, Dawn wasn't there. She had run away again, this time to a nearby truck stop, the Dysart trucking stop, where she had hitched a ride with a truck driver. She had wanted to hitchhike to California (apparently) to see a friend of hers, and she made some calls from a pay phone inside the truck stop. Lacking paper, she wrote the numbers she was calling on her hand. This would prove instrumental in tracing who she was and where she came from, as she had no identification when she was found.

Dawn hitched a ride with a long-distance trucker, James Robert Cruz, Jr., who worked for the New Century Trucking Company out of Waterford, Ohio. A married 36 year old truck driver with three children and an expectant pregnant wife at home, Cruz had sex with Dawn in the truck and transported her across state lines. He evidently feared being caught, because he strangled her to death with a length of nylon rope. She was found half-clothed, wearing a heavy sweater and socks, with her hands tied behind her and a length of rope still around her neck, in a snowbank off Route 550 and Route 26, Centre County, Pennsylvania, near the Milesburg, PA exit of Interstate 80, the major road that runs across Pennsylvania and across the country.

Dawn was identified through painstaking detective work on the part of PA state trooper William F. Madden, who unfortunately died in 2000 at age 49 from cancer. FBI Special Agent Randy Cohick also assisted in the investigation. The key factor in the investigation was matching fuel receipts from the Bestway Travel Plaza in Milesburg with fuel receipts from the Dysart plaza in Maine. There was one match: James Robert Cruz, Jr., who had bought fuel at both places.

Tire tracks found near Dawn's body indicated that she'd been dropped off there by someone in a tractor-trailer, and plaster casts were made of the tire tracks. The casts eventually matched those on a rig driven by Cruz, and a single hair found in the carpeting on the passenger side door matched that of the unidentified victim, who by then had been identified as Dawn Marie Birnbaum. Dawn's mother, Nancy Lindemann, was sent for, and visited the Mondock Funeral Home in Bellefonte, PA, where her daughter's body was being kept. When Steve Mondock, the funeral director, pulled the pink sheet back from Dawn's face, Mrs. Lindemann identified her and began to cry. When she learned that the people of Bellefonte, PA, who were outraged that a young woman had been brutally murdered and dumped on a snowbank in their midst, they "adopted" Dawn as one of their own, and arranged for a plot in their cemetery. Eerily enough, before they found out who she was, they decided to call her "Spring Dawn" because she was found in Spring Township at dawn.

Despite the prosecutor's call for the death penalty, James Robert Cruz, Jr. was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole. He is presently incarcerated at Graterford State Prison north of Philadelphia.

Before Cruz was incarcerated, young women were constantly being found dead along area highways that Cruz traveled across Ohio and other states, in the same manner as Dawn Birnbaum. After his arrest, these deaths stopped. In the TV series "THE FBI FILES", the episode "A STRANGER IN TOWN" profiles the Dawn Marie Birnbaum case, and investigators still strongly feel that Cruz may be responsible for the deaths of at least 40 other women, though this has never been proven. However, it is definitely notable that after Dawn's disappearance and murder were solved, these other young women, of about Dawn's age, were no longer being killed.

On Dec. 4, 2008, Dawn's mother, Nancy Lindemann, died at age 55 at the Altoona Hospital. She is buried in Union Cemetery, Bellefonte, PA, beside her beloved daughter Dawn Marie, whom she loved so much and tried to help.

Rest in peace, Dawn!


If these newspaper links do not open up on their own, copy and paste the link into your browser):

"Jury Weighs Local Man's Case", THE VINDICATOR(June 14, 19994), at: http://news.google.com/newspapers?id=-MxJAAAAIBAJ&sjid=AIUMAAAAIBAJ&pg=6131,8458998&dq=james+robert+cruz+jr&hl=en

Guest Book Wall (What is this?)

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Guest Book (157 entries)
What happened to Dawn is so sad. I watched the case on the TV show FBI files. What amazed me the most was the reaction of the people who found her and how they cared about her even though they didn’t even know who she was at the beginning. Rest in peace beautiful Lady.
Laura Davis (T.V Viewer)
June 7th, 2019
I read your story on the internet and I am sorry beyond words for what happened to you. Rest in Peace.
Deborah DeRouen (N/A)
June 3rd, 2019
Although I never met Dawn, I just wanted to express my deep sadness and anger on how she left us. From her picture, it’s apparent that she was a beautiful and intelligent young woman who brightened the lives of who ever she met. From the other messages that I read of her friends, she would have been a pleasure to know. So sorry that this happened to you Dawn Marie. RIP. Special thanks to Randy Cohick FBI and PA Trooper Bill Madden for catching this scumbag Trucker 🦁🦁❤️❤️☘️☘️✌️✌️👮‍♂️👮‍♂️💜💜🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️

Chris Shafi (FBI files viewer )
April 21st, 2019
I did not know this girl, but reading her story was heartbreaking. Im happy they found that horrible person that ended your young life...RIP sweet girl🙏❤🙏❤🙏❤🙏❤🙏❤🙏❤🙏
Luann Duffy (None)
February 7th, 2019
I only have a few memories of Dawn from Calumet High. However, she was a troubled spirit who recognized my internal desperation towards life and she cared when most didn't. There is no other person that I'd like go back in time to see. I wish I had known her past and could have cared back the same way.
Aaron (Friends)
December 10th, 2018
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"I did not know this girl, but reading her story was heartbreaking. RIP sweet girl🙏❤🙏"
Luann Duffy
February 7th, 2019
"I did not know this girl, but reading her story was heartbreaking. RIP sweet girl🙏❤🙏"
Luann Duffy
February 7th, 2019
December 26th, 2018
"God bless you and keep you."
Marcus Stewart
October 3rd, 2018
"Flying with the angels 💕"
Karen Craig
September 26th, 2018
"No child deserves this kind of end. Dawn might have been considered troubled, but at least she lived her too short life vivaciously and on her term. Rest in peace."
May 6th, 2018
"I will never forgetyou Dawn you are one of the sweetest kindest gentlest friends I've ever had. Rest well my friend that's hot."
Michelle Trevino
April 16th, 2018
"GOD BLESSED U DAWN! HE DEFINITELY MADE SURE he was held accountable 4 causing an end to YOUR short life! But God sought forth 4 U to be up there w/HIM ... U are safe now!! One of God's cherubs! (HE DEFINITELY watches over HIS BABIES)"
Eden Smith
November 19th, 2017
"I always think about you and your very short life.i think you deserve more,yes.always...."
Mdou Bh
November 19th, 2017
"we will always love you.........."
akram hammad
July 9th, 2017


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