When kids become adults and finally make it to college, they and their parents are brimming with excitement and aspirations for the future. Whether they major in art or business, no parent is prouder than the day their child enters into higher education.
That fact makes this story all the more tragic, as 21-year-old Tammy from New Jersey was an extra special students as well as a way above average person. Although, what happened to her during her college years was more terrible than she or her parents ever imagined…
Featured photo credit: www.iowacoldcases.org
When Tammy set out from her childhood home in New Jersey, driving to Iowa’s Grinnel College for her senior year, she was enjoying the stunning rural scenery as she cranked up the music on her car stereo, full of excitement for the year ahead. Sure there was some trepidation, but that’s natural, and Tammy tended to rise to challenges anyway, no matter what they were.
Tammy was loved by everyone she met instantly, she was that kind of girl. She was smart as a button, majoring in art and history, with a special place in her heart for animals, and especially abused ones, and a secret obsession with James Dean. Her friends fondly nicknamed her ‘Zee’ as she had a serious thing for random power naps at any given time of the day or night…
It was extremely hot on that day in August back in 1992. Tammy had set out early to get to college so that she could arrive in time to take preseason photos of her college sports teams, as she was also an avid photographer. Tammy dropped her brother Darren off at Northwestern University on her way to college, as her car repeatedly overheated and the gauge on the dash hit the hot zone a few times. But Tammy wasn’t concerned with that, she just wanted to get to college already.
Darren was right, there was a serious issue with Tammy’s car, and she was forced to pull over on the side of Interstate 80 near to LeSelle, Illinois. She was frustrated as she didn’t want to miss the preseason pictures at college. Help soon arrived however, when she flagged down a truck who offered to help her with her car…
People at the time said they saw a strange man offering Tammy assistance, but noted that something just didn’t seem right. The man was around 40 years old, and was a daunting figure, standing at more than 6 feet tall. His white truck with strange stripes on the side aroused suspicion, but as usual, people just went on with their lives.
When Tammy’s mom found out that her daughter hadn’t made it to college, she was concerned but not overly. She knew what a conscientious and responsible girl Tammy was, and instead of assuming the worst, Tammy’s folks assumed there was a perfectly reasonable explanation as to why she hadn’t made contact in so many hours. At least they hoped that was the case…
As the hours went by and nightfall set in, Tammy’s mom had no choice but to report her daughter as missing to the police. The police treated the call as a standard missing persons call, and everyone just assumed that Tammy would show up somewhere soon safe and sound. Sadly, that couldn’t have been any further from the truth.
Now alarm bells started ringing in multiple locations, and for good reason. The day after Tammy was reported missing, her white Pontiac 1000 was found abandoned on the Interstate 80 near to Utica. Tammy’s car was locked and had all of her packed bags in the trunk as well as her other belongings. However, Tammy, her car keys and her purse, were all missing…
A couple of painstaking weeks passed by, as local authorities frantically tried to find Tammy. Then, on another scorching hot day, a man was walking along the Interstate 44, about 500 miles form Tammy’s car. He came across a dead body which was badly decomposed, and immediately called the police.
It didn’t make sense that the dead body was Tammy as it was so far away from where she went missing initially. However, after the dental records of the body were cross referenced, everyone’s worst fears were finally confirmed. But why would anyone want to kill Tammy?…
Didn’t Want to Suffer
Possibly the most difficult thing to deal with for Tammy’s folks was something that she had previously written in her journal. In that section, Tammy had written that she feared death and that she sincerely hoped that when her time came, her passing would be peaceful and painless. That hope was sadly not the way Tammy died.
When Tammy’s autopsy report came through police were shocked, and her parents were understandably devastated. Not only had Tammy been brutally sexually assaulted, she had also been horrifically stabbed seven times around her heart and once in her arm. She had duct tape over her mouth and had been killed elsewhere and then dumped, far from the kill site…
Authorities and just about everyone else were left scratching their heads, trying to figure out why this had happened to Tammy. In the end, many just put it down to a sick person who got a lucky opportunity with a girl who was having car troubles. Her expensive Canon camera had been stolen, as well as her watch, and strangely, a St. Giles Soccer Club patch was missing from her shorts.
The horrific discovery of Tammy’s body was bad enough, but it made it even worse that police only had one lone suspect. The fact that he may have been the man spotted by eyewitnesses on the side of the Interstate with Tammy and her steaming car hood, didn’t instil much hope in anyone that the perpetrator would be found and brought to justice…
Laid to Rest
While authorities scrambled to find Tammy’s killer, it was time for her to be laid to rest by her family and friends. He college friends also held a memorial for her at the Herrick Chapel, where Tammy’s family said, “We hope some good will come out of this, including the capture of the person responsible. We don’t want him to be able to kill again.” At the funeral, held at the St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church in Mount Laurel, a friend called Rebecca said about Tammy, “She was the nicest person in the world,” adding, “She was fun-loving and spirited.”
Despite numerous suspects filing through police interview rooms, no one was ever arrested or charged with the murder of Tammy Zywicki. In 1992, a possible suspect by the name of James Mackay entered the frame. He had already been arrested in Indiana on charges of attempted rape but there was nothing at all to tie him to Tammy’s death…
Another suspect, Bruce Mendenhall, was a trucker who had been convicted in 2007 for the murder of 25-year-old Sara Hulbert. While he was in custody he admitted to six other murders but again, police were unable in any way to tie him to the tragic murder of Tammy.
Mother Still Distraught
It’s understandable; No parent should ever have to bury their child, but this case was made all the more harrowing for Tammy’s parents due to the fact the killer was never even nearly found. As Tammy’s mom Joanne said to reporters, “As the years go by, it’s very irritating. There were so many blunders in our case. They lost the case in the first few days.” She also noted that it took cops a full 24 hours to even enter Tammy’s car licence into the police computer.
25 years after the tragic death of Tammy Zywicki, the state police, along with the FBI are reaching out once again to the public in the hopes of reopening the case and finding the killer. Master Sgt. Matt Boerwinkle, who worked the case previously, said, “There have been and continue to be several persons of interest. However, no suspects have been named, and no arrests have been made.” Police are examining 200 items of evidence relating to the case, and hope that with modern-day DNA technology, they may be able to come up with some solid leads.
While the death of Tammy is an awful event for all concerned, her parents can take some solace from the tremendous outpouring of care and concern from the local community as well as from agents working the case. As Special Agent Amanda Becker said, “No one has forgotten Tammy – not her family, her high school and college friends, and certainly not law enforcement. I am very motivated to find her killer.”