ST. LOUIS (AP) – The horror of the killing grabbed headlines: After her car breaks down along an Illinois freeway, a college student described by her mom as an all-American “girly girl” is snatched up, sexually attacked and repeatedly stabbed, perhaps by a trucker posing as a good Samaritan.
Tammy Zywicki’s body eventually turned up in a blanket wrapped with duct tape in southwestern Missouri, hundreds of miles from where she was last seen alive.
Now two decades later, the killer remains elusive, and federal and Illinois investigators hope a $50,000 reward changes that. On Wednesday, the eve of the 20th anniversary of Zywicki’s disappearance, the head of Illinois State Police insisted investigators haven’t forgotten the vexing case.
“This investigation remains a top priority, both for me personally as well as the men and women” of the agency, State Police Director Hiram Grau said, noting that authorities “are committed to bringing justice and peace to the Zywicki family.”
Robert Grant, the head of the FBI’s Chicago office, touted the reward from a source authorities have not disclosed. He said he hopes a tipster supplies details “needed to bring this investigation to a close.”
“We remain confident that someone knows who committed this heinous act and will have the courage to help us identify this individual,” Grant said.
On Aug. 23, 1992, Zywicki had just dropped off her younger brother at Northwestern University in suburban Chicago and turned her 1985 Pontiac T1000 toward Iowa’s Grinnell College, where she played soccer and would have been a senior. The 21-year-old from Marlton, N.J., was mulling graduate school, aspiring to perhaps teach Spanish someday.
It wasn’t meant to be.
After her car broke down along Interstate 80 near LaSalle, Ill., a passer-by caught the last glimpses of her alive there at mile marker 83. Some witnesses said a tractor-trailer was seen parked behind her car. Others say they saw a pickup truck.
Zywicki’s body turned up nine days later just east of Joplin, Mo. The 5-foot-2-inch, 120-pound woman, who once wrote in a high school journal she didn’t want to suffer when she died, had been stabbed repeatedly in the chest.
A task force headed by the FBI and Illinois State Police spent months chasing hundreds of leads “without success” before disbanding, Wednesday’s statement from those two agencies said. Investigators looked at truckers suspected in killings and sexual attacks elsewhere, from North Carolina to California, but eventually eliminated them from suspicion in Zywicki’s death.
Going years without knowing who killed her daughter has tormented JoAnn Zywicki. Last month, she told The Associated Press that she and her now-retired husband have endured the many birthdays, holidays and other special occasions they no longer get to share with Tammy, and “you just go into a pattern of maybe acceptance that that’s the way it is.”
On Wednesday, she welcomed at least the public word that investigators still are pursuing the case.
“Something’s better than nothing, and nothing’s gained unless you try,” said the 70-year-old mother, who now lives in Ocala in central Florida. “I’m confident that something could come out of this.
“Twenty years has been a lot harder than I thought it would be,” she said. “We just have too many memories with her not around. It would just be nice to get some kind of closure.”
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