Tammy Zywicki (courtesy FBI)
Tammy Jo Zywicki
Tammy Jo Zywicki
Grinnell, IA college student
Departed Evanston, IL, Aug. 23, 1992, to return to Iowa
Body found September 1, 1992, in Lawrence County, MO
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, August 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 August 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 September 1, 1992, Zywicki’s body was located along Interstate Highway 44 (I-44) in rural Lawrence County, Missouri, which is located between Springfield and Joplin, Missouri. She was wrapped in a red blanket bound with duct tape, had been sexually assaulted and stabbed eight times — once in the arm and seven times in the chest.
The petite blonde female was reportedly last seen with her car at mile marker 83 in central Illinois between 3:10 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on August 23, 1992. It was also reported that a tractor-trailer was seen near Zywicki’s vehicle during this time period. Some of the victim’s personal property was missing, including a Cannon 35mm camera and a musical wrist watch with an umbrella on the face.
Multi-state Task Force Launched
The 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 called the task force assigned to Zywicki’s murder, stating she’d seen Zywicki pulled to the side of the road and that a man was with her, watching as she struggled to fix her car. The official FBI report confirmed Zywicki was last seen in the presence of a man fitting a description similar to the eyewitness’ claim. The man, reportedly the driver of the tractor-trailer, was described as a white male between 35 and 40 years of age, over six feet tall, with dark, bushy hair.
The eyewitness said the wife of a man who fit this description arrived at the witness’s workplace for a routine blood test and told the witness 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 of her disappearance but was never recovered by investigators.
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.
The trucker — identified as Lonnie Bierbodt — was questioned and had blood and hair samples taken, but no arrest was made.
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.
- 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 August 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.”
Courtesy photo Kathi Swan, 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, Pennsylvania.
Mass was held at the Catholic church in West Newton, Pa., on Tuesday, September 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 this case, please contact the Chicago FBI Division at 312-421-6700.
Sources, References, and Additional Information:
- “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,” 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,” 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,” Courier Post, August 22, 2012
- “Tammy Zywicki: 20-year hunt for a killer,” Daily Herald, July 30, 2012
- “Bill Kurtis’ Cold Case Minute: Tammy Zywicki,” September 22, 2009
- FBI Page on Tammy Zywicki
- “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
- “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,” Grinnell College, October 18, 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,” Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1992
- Find a Grave Memorial
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