Tammy Zywicki (courtesy FBI)
Tammy Jo Zywicki
Tammy Jo Zywicki
Grinnell, Iowa college student
Departed Evanston, Ill., Aug. 23, 1992, to return to Iowa
Car broke down on I-80 near LaSalle, Illinois
Body found September 1, 1992, in Lawrence County, Missouri
Case Jurisdiction: Illinois State Police
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 Illinois State Police and 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 a circle around her heart.
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, 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.”
New Leads Considered
A Greenville News article published Jan. 22, 2015 said Illinois State Police have turned to the nationally known organization, the Vidocq Society, for help in solving Zywicki’s murder.
The Greenville News described the Vidocq Society as follows:
The Vidocq Society began with a 1990 luncheon involving three men from various specialties in criminal investigation — a former special agent for the U.S. Customs Service, a forensic sculptor and a prison psychologist. Their intent was simply to eat well and discuss crimes and mysteries.
Before long, they had formed a more formal group and narrowed its interest to cold cases. Now, the society has a membership of about 150 people from all areas of criminal investigation.
The society’s name comes from Eugene Francois Vidocq, who is considered the founder of modern criminal investigation. A thief who spent some years in prison, Vidocq became an informant to the police and ultimately founded a private detective agency in the early 1800s. He is credited with developing modern record keeping, the science of ballistics and making plaster of Paris casts of shoes.
Retired Illinois State Police investigator McCarthy still believes trucker Lonnie Bierbrodt is responsible for Zywicki’s murder, and would like to see a grand jury empaneled to hear the evidence.
According to Master Sgt. Padilla, State Police investigators presented evidence in Zywicki’s death to Vidocq Society members in Philadelphia in November 2014 and have been following up on their suggestions.
Padilla declined to discuss the new avenues of investigation, and said investigators have not shared with the family all that they have done for fear of compromising the investigation, the Greenville News reported.
Padilla said there has never been a main suspect in the case, and that several people — some still living — were being investigated.
Courtesy 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
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:
- FBI Page on Tammy Zywicki
- Illinois State Police
- “Illinois State Police following new leads in Zywicki cold case,” by Brandi Backman, KCRG-TV, January 23, 2013
- “New leads considered in murder of Eastside High grad Tammy Zywicki,” by Lyn Riddle, The Greenville News, January 22, 2015
- “Group seeks to refocus attention on 1992 murder of Grinnell College student,” RadioIowa.com, Thursday, December 18, 2014
- “Evidence testing in Berit Beck murder prompts interest in other Midwest cases,” WISN.com, May 9, 2014
- “Case Unsolved For 20 Years,” KWQC Channel 6, Quad-Cities, August 30, 2012
- “Remembering what Tammy Zywicki would have liked,” by Mary Schmich, Chicago Tribune, August 29, 2012
- FBI Most Wanted Twitter page, post re Tammy Zywicki, August 23, 2012
- “20 years later, hunt continues for Zywicki’s killer,” Chicago Tribune, August 23, 2012
- “Will new reward crack Iowa cold case?” KCCI Channel 8 Des Moines, August 23, 2012
- “FBI Hopes Reward Cracks 20 Year Old Case of Co-ed’s Slaying,” KTRS, August 23, 2012
- “FBI hopes reward cracks Evesham student’s unsolved slaying,” Phillyburbs.com, August 23, 2012
- “Reward offered in 1992 murder of Tammy Zywicki: Tammy Zywicki had been heading to Grinnell College,” The Des Moines Register, August 22, 2012
- “FBI Hopes Reward Cracks Illinois Student’s Unsolved 1992 Slaying,” CBS, St. Louis, August 22, 2012
- “20 years later, college student’s murder remains unsolved,” 89 WLS, August 22, 2012
- “Reward offered in woman’s death,” The Courier Post, August 22, 2012
- “Tammy Zywicki: 20-year hunt for a killer,” The Daily Herald, July 30, 2012
- “Bill Kurtis’ Cold Case Minute: Tammy Zywicki,” September 22, 2009
- “Big Rig Serial Killers,” FOX News, Chicago, June 22, 2009
- “Family hopes case of woman missing 15 years might be solved,” ABC Channel 7, Chicago, August 29, 2007
- “Mother braces for 15th anniversary of daughter’s unsolved slaying,” nwi.com, August 5, 2007
- “15th Anniversary of Zywicki Slaying Looms,” WHO-TV Channel 13, Des Moines, August 4, 2007
- “Zywicki Family Talks About Unsolved Murder,” KWQC Channel 6, July 24, 2007
- “Possible Break in 1992 Murder Case,” KWQC Channel 6, July 20, 2007
- “Killer may be questioned in unsolved Grinnell death,” AP/Quad-Cities Online Dispatch-Argus, July 17, 2007
- “Confessed Killer May Be Linked To Zywicki Murder,” CBS Channel 2, Chicago, July 13, 2007
- “FBI pursues tips in Zywicki slaying,” philly.com, August 23, 2005
- “Zywicki case revisited: Ten years down the road, the FBI looks again for the murderer of an abducted Grinnellian,” by Lola Garcia, Scarlet & Black, The Grinnell College Newspaper, October 18, 2002
- “FBI seeks public help in solving 10-year-old kidnap-murder,” AP/Quad-Cities Online Dispatch-Argus, August 16, 2002
- “The Long Road Back,” People magazine, August 23, 1993
- “An in-depth, thought-provoking essay,” Interstate Radiographs, by Karrie Higgins
- “Carjackings Heighten Auto Crime Fears – Violence,” The Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1992
- Tammy J “Zee” Zywicki (1971 – 1992) — Find a Grave Memorial
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