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 (137 entries)
I first read Dawns story in Readers Digest a lot of years ago .. The story really caught my attention because as a former resident of western Pennsylvania now living in Connecticut I used to pass through there a couple times a year. I even spent a night in Bellefont during a brutal snowstorm in January . A sad story to say the least another beautiful life cut short by a brutal monster of a man
May you Rest In Peace Dawn
Terry Shriver (None)
November 14th, 2017
I too have seen Dawns story several times now, and it truly saddens me everytime even more than the first. I have been out in the world alone like you at times, and what happened to you could have at any time happened to me too. I'm so sorry it happened to you, and your young life was cut so short by such evil in a cowardly human. I'm so thankful he couldn't murder anymore after you though! He's locked up now hopefully forever! God bless you, your mom, and your family. You were so BEAUTIFUL and now a beautiful angel! Your with your mom,and soulmate and never forgotten here. Rest in peace BEAUTIFUL!
Brandi (Sasdened Woman...)
November 13th, 2017
I'm so sorry to watch this on escape.... All these run aways out to trust strangers.... Its so heartbreaking.... So much evil out here.... Cant trust anyone
Laura Ralston bryant (None)
October 16th, 2017
God bless her soul.
Tishawn Fortner
September 16th, 2017
💜Spring Dawn, I just watched the episode of "Evil Lives Here," & Cruz was truly an evil man! Your life was the unfortunate, ultimate price of meeting this monster, but maybe now someone else is making him feel the pain & torture you & possibly other women endured! You were just a young lady & had your whole life ahead of you, but he took that away from you...May you Rest In Peace & God bless your family!!! 💜
LaQuanda Askew (TV viewer )
July 6th, 2017
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"we will always love you.........."
akram hammad
July 9th, 2017
"May you rest in peace dear sweet child. You will always be remebered and loved."
Jennifer Ransier
March 30th, 2017
"May you rest in peace dear sweet child. You will always be remebered and loved."
Jennifer Ransier
March 30th, 2017
"Rest in Peace Dawn. So very sad and tragic."
February 24th, 2017
"Rest in Peace in a place of amazing clam. It seems that you live on here, in the hearts of the good people. So sad, so sorry.............."
Owen O' Donnell
January 14th, 2017
"Rest in peaces with your love angel. <3"
Gloria Elena Marquez
January 11th, 2017
"Just saw an episode about you on TV sorry this happened wish you never hitched a ride with that scumbag. RIP."
Allen Huerta
December 6th, 2016
"Always Loved, Never Forgotten..."
Lynn Ryan
October 28th, 2016
"Vi el programa de la muerte de Dawn en Investigation Discovery Channel. Me sentí triste por ella y elevo una oracion por su alma."
irma arosemena
August 27th, 2016
"Just saw the story on Investigation Discovery. So sad that a beautiful innocent soul was taken from the earth. She with the Lord now, Rest in Peace sweet girl."
Lindsey Walsh
June 26th, 2016


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