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

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Guest Book (83 entries)
I am not related to Dawn, but I also just watched the episode from the FBI Files "A Stranger In Town". I was also very touched by this story. I live in Lock Haven PA, 15 minutes from Bellefonte. I would like to find out where Dawn is buried and bring her flowers. She was taken way too young. May she rest in peace. I'm glad they caught the man who committed this horrific crime.
Jessica Roden (Guest)
January 18th, 2016
Rip beautiful angel
Sandra Vera
December 16th, 2015
Rip dawn took way to young
Bryce Wilson
November 29th, 2015
I am not in relation to dawn but i just watched the episode of FBI Files :A stranger in town and it really touched me,how can such a horrific person commit a crime so brutal with such disrespect? Its amazing how the town came together on this case,

RIP Dawn
Tracy from Dallas,Texas
Tracy Lee (Guest)
November 27th, 2015
Dawn I always wonder where you was now I know your in heaven.RIP
A Shannon
November 11th, 2015
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"RIP Dawn"
Jessica Roden
January 18th, 2016
"I keep on saying about this case that I am at a lost for words why a movie and more Documentaries have not been made about this case. It is true that James Cruz jr. is in Prison for life but he never admitted his guilt and he killed many other girls"
Songre Osmenep
December 6th, 2015
"What a tragic story/life. This could have been me in back in 1993 as there are many parallels--also how physically close, 2 hours east of where I grew up in Pittsburgh area. I will never forget you, Dawn Marie. Your story touched me."
Kimberly Contillo
November 30th, 2015
"I too have a troubled daughter and was touched by your story....I pray my daughter will listen before it is too late."
Brenda Campbell
November 23rd, 2015
"Saw yur story on FBI Files on Netflix, wondered where buried. How wonderful you & mom are buried together in the town that gave u the name Spring Dawn. What a awesome town! You aren't forgotten sweetie, you live on in spirit. Rest in peace with God."
Christopher LaRose
November 23rd, 2015
"Dawn, it has been 22 years. I don't know you from Adam. But, when I seen your story on the FBI Files. My heart broke in to a million pieces. May you find peace in our Lord Jesus Christ.Your story touched me in so many ways.See you in Heavenmy friend"
Dennis Burton
October 16th, 2015
"So sorry for your loss"
william Contreras
June 10th, 2015
"I am so sorry. I was in elan with you . Your story haunts me."
Tracy Hutchinson
August 23rd, 2014
"I am so glad to see how many people have lit candles and messages for Dawn since I first put this site up. I was in grad school at PSU when she was killed and remember it well. She reminded me of my cousin, who also was troubled and ran away."
Janice Harrison
July 22nd, 2014
"Dawn, your story broke my heart like no other. You were only trying to push your boundaries and spread your wings like all normal teenagers. I wish I could have known you, because I know I could have loved you."
Jim Bowman
June 26th, 2013


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