Tammy ZywickiTammy Zywicki (Courtesy Iowa City Press-Citizen)

Tammy Jo Zywicki


Tammy Jo Zywicki
21 YOA
DOB: March 13, 1971
Grinnell, Iowa college student
Poweshiek County
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 and FBI
Date of Death: August 23, 1992

IOWA COLD CASES founder Jody Ewing compiled the following case summary using excerpts from sources listed at the bottom of this page. Though Tammy’s case is officially under Illinois State Police jurisdiction and the FBI’s Chicago Division, she has a page here due to her status as a Grinnell College (Iowa) student at the time of her death and because many wrote to say they felt she should be included here. We agree, and urge anyone with any knowledge about her unsolved murder to contact Special Agent Jorge Fonseca, Illinois State Police, at (815) 726-6377 Ext 286, or your nearest FBI office.
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the identification of the individual or individuals responsible for this crime.

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

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 planned to arrive that evening. Later that day, an Illinois State Trooper found Zywicki’s car — a 1985 Pontiac T1000 with New Jersey license plates — and ticketed it as an abandoned vehicle.

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

On Tuesday, Sept. 1, 1992, her body was found 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.

Tammy Zywicki's Pontiac T1000Tammy’s Pontiac T1000, New Jersey license plates (Courtesy FBI)

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.

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.

Tammy Zywicki's Pontiac T1000

Tammy Zywicki’s Pontiac T1000, New Jersey plates (Courtesy FBI)

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

The eyewitness reported yet another coincidence; she worked at a medical facility, and said the wife of the man who fit the truck driver’s description had come in for a routine blood test, and while there, told the eyewitness about a musical watch her husband had just given her. The timepiece matched the description of the one Zywicki had in her possession when she went missing, and investigators had never recovered the watch.

The eyewitness believed a strong connection existed between the events, and three days after the woman left the facility, the eyewitness 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
FBI Reward Poster

View FBI Reward Poster

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 in the case. FBI officials also confirmed for the first time that they’d collected DNA from Zywicki’s body 10 years earlier and had the evidence on file.

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’d committed two armed robberies in the ’80s and officials considered him a “violent felon.” At one time he’d been serving three concurrent 20-year sentences before being released and paroled in 1990.

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

Tammy Zywicki soccer patch

A soccer club patch Zywicki may have had in her possession (Courtesy FBI)

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 killing 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, investigators never charged Mendenhall in the Grinnell student’s death.

Tammy ZywickiCourtesy 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 — were born.

FBI officials in Chicago said they hoped the $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 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.

martin-mccarthy-tammy-zywicki-caseCourtesy photo NBC Channel 5 News, Chicago
Martin McCarthy, a retired Illinois State Police master sergeant, wants Gov. Bruce Rauner to assign a special prosecutor to investigate Tammy Zywicki’s 1992 death.
Full Story

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.

McCarthy also wants Gov. Bruce Rauner to assign a special prosecutor to investigate the student’s death, NBC Channel 5 News reported Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015.

The NBC News story said McCarthy and Zywicki’s parents believe error after error was made in the days following the coed’s disappearance that cost them answers and likely precious physical evidence. The retired officer said he’s pressing Rauner to assign a special prosecutor to look into the case.

“I feel so sorry for [JoAnn and Hank Zywicki]. I don’t think they’ve been well-served,” McCarthy told the Chicago NBC network. “We’ve come to the point where we have a lot of evidence. We have a suspect. We need a grand jury. We need the power of the grand jury,” he explained.

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.

Henry “Hank” Zywicki, 75, died Tuesday, May 26, 2015, in Ocala, Florida, without ever seeing justice served in his daughter’s unsolved murder.

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

Tammy Jo 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 about Tammy Zywicki’s unsolved murder please contact your local FBI office, the nearest American Embassy or Consulate, or Special Agent Jorge Fonseca, Illinois State Police at (815) 726-6377 ext 286.

Sources, References, and Additional Information:


Copyright © 2018 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


41 Responses to Tammy Zywicki

  1. Minnow says:

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

    • anniefauxkley says:

      I agree my immediate first thought after reading the description was Jesperson.

      • anniefauxkley says:

        But I do think it was Bierbrodt. The watch given to his wife and his locations during the crime aren’t just coincidences…

  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:


    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. Zoila MasHermosa says:

    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.

  10. Allen says:

    The fact that DNA was taken from Lonnie Bierbrodt was no help at all, as the detectives had no DNA to match it to. The whole crime scene was botched from the beginning. They didn’t even search for evidence for 3 days after her body was found. Her car was dusted for prints but, so many people had been inside and touched just about everything, no prints could be matched. She was found wearing clothing, she would not have picked out for herself. She was stabbed with something like a pen knife. No weapon was ever found. Poor Tammy suffered a slow death of internal bleeding. Interesting fact that, when Bierbrodt’s wife came with him fro questioning, she pointed out a watch he gave her that, played “Raindrops keep falling on my head”. That was the exact watch that was missing from Tammy, that she owned. There’s no doubt that L. Bierbrodt was the killer. A nurse that saw him clearly helping Tammy with her car, identified him. I believe that the Illinois investigators are not disclosing vital information. Their reason, I believe, is that Brierbrodt died from AIDS and they just don’t care anymore. Pressure needs to be put on them so, the Zywicki family can have closure, even if the guy is dead.

  11. Tammy Zywicki cold case

  12. S. says:

    Lonnie Bierbrodt also allegedly had his truck – quite similar to the truck seen by the witness when they went past Tammy’s car – steam cleaned and sold several days after the murder. The small DNA sample of her clothing was too poor and small when it was retested in 2004.

  13. Erin Woolsey says:

    I remember that, how sad for her family.

  14. Kris Starks says:

    This is THE ONE that haunts me to this day!!

  15. Someone somewhere knows something. How can they live with themselves?

  16. I remember this case and think about this young girl. It was this tragic event that prompted me to get a cell phone. I hope this is solved

  17. I remember hearing about this like it was yesterday! Can’t believe it’s been this long!

  18. I remember this. Very sad

  19. Judith Paez says:

    Shame on you law-enforcement not doing at work !!

  20. Cindy Bates says:

    Why dont they get a writ or whatever is needed and exhume Lonnie Bierbrodt for DNA.

  21. Tina Carroll says:

    poor baby girl… investigators are still working on the loss of your life. you have not been forgotten.

  22. Joan Thier says:

    I remember this story when I was kid

  23. I hope I live to see who this worthless poor excuse of a human being. . I hope he gets caned once a month up to his execution. .

  24. so sad because there is no closure for her friends or family.

  25. I dont know why I still remeber this happening. I was 9 years old living in Sauk Village Illinois when this happend. I remember the semitruck reported on tv. I used to look for that truck. RIP, I hope the family finds closure.

  26. Mary Ruge says:

    Matt, you should have gone into law enforcement or a similar profession!

  27. I pray for justice for the family and friends. My heart and thoughts are with the family. God be with them.

  28. Diana Wilson says:

    Someone got away with murder. Wonder if that person has committed more? God be with the family.

  29. Remember when this happened. So sad no one has come forth with information about it.

  30. Stephen Devine says:

    I am a retired Illinois State Trooper and worked in District 21 Ashkum at the time.I was not involved in the investigation, however,I do feel it was a case that should have been solved.Sunday, new week, possible tollway video and toll booth on I-80 and location of her recovered vehicle. These factors alone would lead me to believe the route taken by the offender was I-80 to Rt. 59 south to I-55 in Bloomington to I-44 St. Louis and southwest to location where victim found. A large number of truck stop on the route. I don’t know anything about the specific of the case at the time, however a major aggressive in investigation by FBI, Illinois,and Missouri State Police manpower I think would have solved the case.

  31. john says:

    i was around the same age as tammy and remember seeing the news stories when she first went missing and it scared me to death as a young man i have since gotten into law enforcement and left it mainly because of what happened in tammy’s case a lack of seriousness about cases cops seem to feel they don’t need to be very thorough in missing investigations because a lot turn up alive and cops feel this is a waist of time she with a boyfriend or had a fight with the family and so special care is not taken and extra steps are no taken in the initial investigation but once the scene is cleared and other people are allowed back in the scene is contaminated and any evidence that wasn’t collected is lost for life i have followed this case and is saddened that this young bright girl who was trying to go to school to get a college education was so salvagerly murdured with overkill and her dad has now passed away not never finding out who murdered his daughter i can’t believe dna has solved this case which tells me that A either none was collected or B the real killer has high up connections and evidence was lost on purpose there should have been a ton of evidence to link some one the guy more than likely touched her car to pretend to want to help, fiber sand hair from his clothing should have transfered to the blanket as he was carrying her to the dump area all log sheets for truckers traveling through that area should have been looked into for missing time unaccounted for or being late on deliveries so being a former cop this reaks of a family member or friend of a high ranking law enforcement official in that area who was able to infirtrate the investigation and lose or alter evidence you would to almost have a PHD in forensics to be able to avoid leaving tons of evidence behind and WERE TALKING 1992 none of the forensics shows were really on tv to educate the public on how evidence left behind in a crime scene can connect someone why wasn’t there pubic hair transfers even if a condom is used, why wasn’t there hair transfer,to the blanket she was carried in SOMETHINGS NOT RIGHT HERE,if it was a ordinary trucker your telling me he is that edept in forensics that he didn’t leave no evidence behind i don;t buy it the only other possible thing that could have happen is that when a case becomes real big some cops or forensics take evidence home and keep it as a souvernier to show friends a family later of a big case they were involved in which is bad

  32. Could this be another victim of Jesperson? I believe the timing is right and he bound other victims with duct tape. I believe his full name is Keith Hunter Jesperson and he is currently in the Utah prison system serving multiple life sentences.

  33. Patrick Kerrigan says:

    We have many cases over the years that have never been handld properly considering all the available forensic tools. But, we have missing person’s cases, where the agency tossed the reports or never took a report. So, law enforcement has a black eye in many of these cases.

    However, the FBI should have been involved from the beginning. She was last seen in Illinois, and was found murdered in Missouri. They hopefully would have processed the vehicle and the crime scene.

  34. Carolyn Betts says:

    Never forget. Awakened with Tammy on my mind. Read her story. All these years, She is on my mind and on my ❤. Praying for you and your family.

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