A 50 Year-Old Mystery
University of Maryland Registrar Alma Preinkert's Murderer
Was Never Found
The Washington, DC police put their best men on the case.
More than 500 people were interviewed in the neighborhood hours after the
incident. The investigation went on for months. But there were few clues to go
on. In the early morning hours of Sunday, February 28, 1954 an intruder broke
into the home of Maryland's beloved Registrar Alma Preinkert and when she woke
up to find him ransacking her second story bedroom, he stabbed her to death
before escaping. The only clue - a gold tie clasp found in Preinkert's bedroom.
Preinkert's murder shook the entire University of Maryland
community. She had been the registrar since 1936 and the associate registrar
for many years before that. But her association with Maryland went further. She
was awarded her masters degree from Maryland in 1923 and took her first
full-time position - as a clerk - the same year.
To students she was simply "Miss Preink," an inspiration and
"perfect employer." As a former female student put it, she was an "enormous
influence for good" and "had a real social conscience," who "made a distinct
contribution to worthwhile organizations she was a member of, even serving as
president of the Maryland Federation of Women's Clubs." An editorial in the Diamondback
student newspaper said on March 3, 1954 she "had time for everyone who came to
her seeking advice or information, she found time always for those who needed
Archivist, Anne Turkos, concurs, saying, "Alma was a much beloved figure on
campus." She points to Gordon Prange, of Prange Collection fame, who "often
closed his letters to (University President) Curley Byrd from Japan with a
request to give his best to Miss Preinkert and Miss Stamp."
As registrar, Preinkert wore many hats. The 1942 Terrapin
yearbook described her duties by saying she "sees to the registration of all
students, keeps their records, and finally makes the commencement arrangements
for them. She also publishes the directory, the final examination schedule, and
transcripts of records. Just to keep life interesting, Miss Preinkert also
serves on a number of committees."
By 1954, she was handling the records of some 42,000
Maryland students around the world annually.
MANY INTERVIEWED, NONE ARRESTED
Newspaper stories at the time quoted Preinkert's sister
Margaret Heine (who lived next door) as saying that the 58-year-old Preinkert
had a premonition something was wrong when they returned home from a Saturday
night bridge game with friends. It was late - 1 a.m. An hour or so later, The
Evening Star reported that:
"The killer stole a stepladder from the rear of a rooming
house... near the Preinkert home. He placed the ladder against the west side of
the yellow clapboard house and climbed to a window about 10 feet from the
ground. He broke the glass and reached inside to unfasten the lock."
Not only was "Miss Alma" viciously murdered, but sister
Alvina (who lived with her) was also attacked when she tried to rescue Alma
from the intruder. Alvina was taken to Garfield Hospital to recover from her
wounds. Reports indicated that more than 30 detectives worked the case,
canvassing the neighborhood. Hundreds of residents were interviewed. Neighbors
who heard sounds of the sister's screams and struggle "thought it was just an alley
fight" according to the Evening Star.
Despite the lengthy investigation and a $1500 reward, no one
was ever charged with the murder. David Preinkert, a distant cousin, was
attending Roosevelt High School in the District at the time of the murder. Still
a DC resident, he says that even after 50 years, he can't understand why she
was murdered: "It must have been horrible," he says. "Shame on the person who
The tragedy was so painful for sister Alvina that she
decided to move. "I will never go back to that house again," she told the Washington
Post on March 2, 1954.
Preinkert home in NW, DC then (above) and now (below)
Glenwood Cemetery is located two miles from Alma Preinkert's home in NW DC.
"GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN"
The University paid its final respects to Alma Preinkert on
Wednesday, March 3. Classes were dismissed so that faculty and students could
attend her funeral service in the Memorial Chapel. 500 attended the service,
including Governor Theodore McKeldin, President Emeritus Harry Byrd, the Board
of Regents and Acting President Thomas Symons. It was the first funeral ever held in Memorial Chapel - just two years old at the time.
Students unable to get into the chapel waited outside in a
driving rainstorm. Deans of the various colleges served as honorary
pallbearers. Outside, flags flew at half-staff. During the service, Ms.
Preinkert was called "a leader in civic affairs who spent her life in service
to mankind." She was laid to rest at Glenwood Cemetery - just 2 miles from her
The mystery surrounding Alma Preinkert's murder remains, but
the memories continue as well. The board of regents named the women's field
house after her on March 12, 1954. Preinkert Drive takes students to The Robert
H. Smith Business School and South Campus Dining Hall. And a painting of Miss
Preinkert is in the archives of Maryland's Hornbake Library.
An Alma Preinkert Timeline
Oct. 22, 1895 - Born in Washington, DC.
1909-1913 - Attended Central High School (Became Cardozo High
School in 1950).
1916 - graduates with a B.A. from George Washington
1923 - Received her M.A. from Maryland.
1923 - Became a clerk (stenographer) at Maryland.
1927 (first yearbook listing) -1935 - Assistant Registrar
1929-1935 - Graduate
student at the American University, presumably in a PhD program. Never
1934 - Secretary of the "Association of Collegiate Registrars
of the Middle States and Maryland" (now the Middle States Association of
Collegiate Registrars and Officers of Admission).
1936 - Officially becomes Maryland's Registrar.
1946 - President of the "Association of Collegiate Registrars
of the Middle States and Maryland."
1949-1951 President of the Maryland Federation of Women's
1950 - Toured Europe as a representative of the national
Federation of Women's Clubs with 40 clubwomen from 23 states.
1950-1954 - National Defense Chairman of the General Federation
of Women's Clubs.
February 28, 1954 - Murdered in her Washington, DC home.