Tammy Zywicki

Tammy Zywicki (courtesy FBI)

Tammy Jo Zywicki

Homicide

Tammy Jo Zywicki
21 YOA
Grinnell, Iowa college student
Poweshiek County
Departed Evanston, Ill., Aug. 23, 1992, to return to Iowa
Body found September 1, 1992, in Lawrence County, Missouri
DOD: August 23, 1992

 

The following case summary has been compiled by Jody Ewing using excerpts from a number of sources listed at the bottom of this page. Though Tammy’s case is officially handled by the FBI’s Chicago Division, it is listed here due to her status as a Grinnell College (IA) student at the time of her death and the number of people who wrote saying they felt it should be listed here.

On Sunday, Aug. 23, 1992, Tammy J. Zywicki, a 21-year-old Grinnell College student, departed Evanston, Illinois, to return to school in Grinnell, Iowa, where she was expected to arrive that evening. Later that day, Zywicki’s car — a 1985 Pontiac T1000 with New Jersey license plates — was found by an Illinois State Trooper and ticketed as being abandoned.

On Aug. 24, 1992, Illinois State Police towed the vehicle. That same evening, Zywicki’s mother contacted the Illinois State Police and advised them that her daughter had not arrived at college.

This map shows where Tammy left Evanston near Chicago, and where her body was found near Springfield one week later. (Courtesy Google)

On Sept. 1, 1992, Zywicki’s body was located along Interstate Highway 44 (I-44) in rural Lawrence County, Missouri, located between Springfield and Joplin.

The petite blonde female had been wrapped in a red blanket bound with duct tape, been sexually assaulted, and stabbed eight times — once in the arm and seven times in the chest.

She’d reportedly last been seen with her car at mile marker 83 in central Illinois sometime between 3:10 and 4 p.m. on Aug. 23, 1992. Witnesses reported seeing a tractor-trailer near Zywicki’s vehicle during this time period.

Multi-state Task Force Launched

Zywicki’s missing personal property included a Cannon 35mm camera and a musical wrist watch with an umbrella on its face.

Her murder attracted national attention, and Illinois State Police launched a multi-state 14-investigator task force that called in local forces and the FBI.

Poweshiek County in Iowa

Poweshiek County in Iowa, where Tammy was headed to return to Grinnell College.

In January 1993, an unnamed eyewitness placed a call to the task force, stating she’d seen Zywicki pulled to the side of the road and that a man was with [Zywicki], watching as the young girl struggled to fix her car.

The witness described the man — allegedly the tractor-trailer’s driver — as a white male between 35 and 40 years of age, over six feet tall, and having dark, bushy hair.

The official FBI report confirmed Zywicki had last been seen in the presence of a man whose appearance was similar to the eyewitness’ description.

The eyewitness reported yet another coincidence.

According to the eyewitness, the wife of a man who also fit the truck driver’s description arrived at the eyewitness’ workplace for a routine blood test. While there, the wife told the eyewitness about a musical watch her husband had just given her; the watch matched the description of the one Zywicki had with her at the time she disappeared, and investigators had never recovered the watch.

The eyewitness felt there was a strong connection, and three days later contacted Martin McCarthy, a member of the investigative team who’d joined the federal task force in November 1992.

Officials identified the trucker as Lonnie Bierbodt and brought him in for questioning. Bierbodt provided both blood and hair samples for testing before being released.

A few weeks later in February 1993, the task force disbanded — citing lack of progress — and Tammy Zywicki’s homicide case eventually went cold.

News Facts Released on 10-Year Anniversary

The FBI marked the case’s 10-year anniversary with a renewed public plea for any information, and announced a $50,000 reward — which joined a standing $100,000 reward from an anonymous private source in Zywicki’s New Jersey hometown — for any information leading to an arrest. FBI officials also confirmed for the first time that it had DNA evidence, collected from Zywicki’s body 10 years earlier, in relation to the murder.

Along with the FBI’s newly released information, former task force member McCarthy came forward with allegations that Lonnie Bierbodt should have been arrested but was never formally held as a suspect. McCarthy also presented several previously unreleased facts, which he believed pointed to Bierbodt as a suspect. Those facts included:

  • Bierbodt lived close to the Missouri area where Tammy’s body was discovered.
  • Bierbodt had been visiting family who lived only a few minutes from where Tammy first disappeared.
  • The blanket in which Zywicki’s body was found bore a Kenworth logo — the same type of truck Bierbodt drove.

Bierbodt also had a criminal record. He committed two armed robberies in the 1980s and was considered a “violent felon.” Before his parole release in 1990, he’d been serving three concurrent 20-year terms.

Lonnie Bierbodt died in June 2002 at the age of 41. Martin McCarthy retired as a master sergeant for the Illinois State Police the following month.

In July 2007, FBI agents contacted investigators in Tennessee about questioning 56-year-old trucker Bruce Mendenhall in Zywicki’s slaying. Mendenhall, of Albion in southern Illinois, was arrested Thursday, July 12, 2007 and charged with the killing of 25-year-old Sara Hulbert at an interstate truck stop in Nashville, Tenn.

Mendenhall eventually confessed to killing six women at truck stops in Tennessee, Indiana, Alabama, and Georgia. He didn’t confess to Zywicki’s death, but Ross Rice, an FBI spokesman in Chicago, said it was the agency’s duty to question Mendenhall.

“We have an over-the-road trucker who is accused of murdering at least one woman who was abducted in a roadside situation, which is exactly what happened in the Zywicki case,” Rice told the press after Mendenhall’s arrest. “I think it would be a dereliction of our duties if we didn’t look into it.”

Although hopes were temporarily raised for closure in Zywicki’s homicide, he was never charged in her death.

Courtesy photo Chicago Tribune
Tammy Zywicki disappeared Aug. 23, 1992. Her body was found nine days later.
20 Years Unsolved

The 20th anniversary of Tammy Zywicki’s unsolved murder did not go unnoticed.

In “Remembering what Tammy Zywicki would have liked,” Chicago Tribune writer Mary Schmich wrote an especially poignant piece about the journey JoAnn and Hank Zywicki made from their Florida retirement home to the small Pennsylvania town where they — and Tammy — had been born.

FBI officials in Chicago said they hoped a $50,000 reward would help resolve Zywicki’s case.

On the eve of the 20th anniversary date, the head of Illinois State Police insisted investigators hadn’t forgotten the case. As the Des Moines Register reported on Aug. 22, 2012:

“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.”

tammy-zywicki-gravestoneCourtesy photo Kathi Lynn King, findagrave.com
Tammy was buried in the West Newton Memorial Cemetery in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania.
About Tammy Zywicki

Tammy J. Zywicki was born March 13, 1971, in Pleasant Hill, Pa.

Mass was held at the Catholic church in West Newton, Pa., on Tuesday, Sept. 8, 1992, with burial in the West Newton Memorial Cemetery in Westmoreland County.

Tammy was survived by many loving friends and relatives, including her parents, Jo Ann and Hank Zywicki, and three brothers, Todd, Dean, and Daren.

 


Will new reward crack Iowa cold case? Video by KCCI Des Moines, August 23, 2012

Information Needed

If you have any information concerning Tammy Zywicki’s unsolved murder, please contact the Chicago FBI Division at (312) 421-6700.

Sources, References, and Additional Information:

 

Copyright © 2014 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

Add a Comment

11 Responses to Tammy Zywicki

  1. Minnow says:

    What about Keith Jeeperson? I saw him on Kids of Killers and thought of Tammy.

  2. HollyD says:

    I too thought of Keith Jesperson – have you seen his mug shot? 6’6″ with dark bushy hair. Have they checked him out? He has victims (according to him) that have not been identified.

  3. Chris says:

    It’s amazing this is still considered cold. Was blanket DNA ever compared to what DNA was gotten from the trucker, Bierbodt?

  4. Kevin says:

    What about Clyde Wilkerson from Benton, Arkansas He’s in prison on other murders. Was a trucker.

  5. catharine phillips says:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/18/john-boyer-trucker-killed-prostitutes_n_968462.html?icid=maing-grid7|main5|dl2|sec3_lnk1|96614

    Please read the attached link which I read via aol. Perhaps Boyer is worth looking into. Was Bierbolt ever connected to the Zywicki case with DNA??

  6. Mary George says:

    Has DNA been taken from belongings of Lonnie Bierbodt even though he died in 2002.My husband and I think the authorities should pursue the DNA angle.

  7. Abraham says:

    Did the DNA match this Lonnie Bierbodt? Why did FBI agent Martin McCarthy say he should have been arrested unless it matched? I know they came out with DNA around 1986 so surely they had it in 1993 when Bierbodt was questioned. I’m not sure when they developed CODIS but I wonder if they ever ran the DNA through that program after they started it. I live near intersate 80 were this happened and I remember it on the news. I remember fealling so sorry for that poor little girl and her family. I just dont understand why GOD allows such unjust things like this to happen. If I remember right the news said it was the first time her parents let her drive back to collage on her own. Normally they drove her back and then something like this happens. I remember reading articals about a trucker that use to go to a certain restuarant in Missouri and sit in the same booth time after time and just sit and stare at the spot accross the street where they found Tammys body. Yes I remember feeling so bad about Tammy that at the time I was hopeing they would catch whoever did it. It still bothers me to this day 20 years latter. I guess thats why I did a search today on Tammy just to see if they ever caught anyone. I just wonder if that trucker that use to sit at the reasturant was Lonnie Bierbodt? I wish they would run the DNA through CODIS just to see what happens.

    • Martin M cCarthy says:

      Abraham, FBI either lost or misplaced DNA, it was a very small sample anyway. There is a way to prove Bierbrodt gave Tammy’s watch to his wife. Both witness and wife alive. Grand Jury could solve this problem. Why hasn’t it?

  8. gerry says:

    From what I can recall reading elsewhere, Bierbodt’s family refused to provide authorities with a DNA sample when Bierbodt died. He was and remains the best suspect in this young woman’s murder.

  9. Timothy Jay Vafeades HE MIGHT BE THE ONE ….sounds right…fits his profile…and he was a trucker …i be dammned if he had nothing to do with it.

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