Traci Evenson

Traci Evenson (courtesy the Cedar Rapids Gazette)

Traci Ann Evenson

Homicide

Traci Ann Evenson
22 YOA
438-1/2 Ninth Ave. SW
Cedar Rapids, IA
Linn County
June 21, 1997

Case summary compiled by Jody Ewing

Traci Ann Evenson, 22, was beaten and suffocated in her Cedar Rapids, Iowa, apartment on Saturday night, June 21, 1997. Evenson’s sister, Jodi Lynn Jackson, discovered the body in Evenson’s 438-1/2 Ninth Ave. SW second-floor apartment the following morning about 9 a.m.

In a Cedar Rapids Gazette article dated June 23, 1997, Cedar Rapids police Lt. Ken Washburn of the Investigative Unit said Evenson died in the 36 hours before the discovery of her body, placing her death sometime after 9:30 Saturday night.

House where Traci Evenson was murderedCourtesy photo Google maps
Traci Ann Evenson was beaten and suffocated in her second-floor apartment at 438-1/2 Ninth Ave. SW in Cedar Rapids. Her sister found the body the following morning.

Neighbor Emma Turner told The Gazette Evenson had lived in the apartment over the small two-story house for about a month.

“She seemed to be a nice person,” said Turner, who had lived at 441 Ninth Ave. SW for more than 50 years.

Evenson, a 1994 Washington High School graduate, held down two jobs while also taking computer courses at Kirkwood Community College. She worked part-time at the Hy-Vee store at 279 Collins Rd. NE and also worked as a telemarketer for APAC Teleservices.

Evenson had lived with her sister Jodi and her family before moving to the Ninth Avenue apartment.

On Monday, Cedar Rapids police detectives called Evenson’s death a homicide. Dr. David Kresnicka, assistant county medical examiner, said they would continue to investigate the death.

“She worked and she didn’t bother anybody,” said Evenson’s mother, Norma Zillyette, in a Gazette article dated June 24, 1997.

Linn County
Linn County in Iowa
Cedar Rapids in Linn County Cedar Rapids in Linn County

Jim Lingo, the store director at the Collins Road NE Hy-Vee store, told The Gazette Evenson had bused tables in the store’s eatery and cleaned dishes in the kitchen since September 1995. She worked 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., four days a week, and, he thought, 30 hours more a week for APAC.

“She was working hard to make it on her own,” Lingo said.

Police detectives believed from the beginning Evenson was killed by someone she knew — someone she’d trust well enough to let into her apartment. And, the crime was personal in nature. Evenson had been beaten quite badly in the face, and longtime homicide detective Sam McClurg called the strangulation an “act of viciousness.”

Just weeks after Evenson’s murder, her sister Jodi and Jodi’s husband, Anthony Jackson, left Cedar Rapids and moved with their two young children to West St. Paul, Minnesota.

Reward Offered, Grows

Three months after Evenson’s slaying, Cedar Rapids police announced a $7,000 reward fund for information leading to the apprehension of her killer.

“We’re hoping this will generate some more leads,” Lt. Washburn said in a Gazette article dated Wednesday, September 24, 1997.

norma-zillyette-traci-evenson-momCourtesy Jeremy Powers, The Gazette
Traci Evenson’s mother, Norma Zillyette, holds two of Traci’s favorite teddy bears.

The reward fund included $2,000 raised by Evenson’s family and friends, and $5,000 from APAC TeleServices, where Evenson had worked.

APAC spokesman Kevin Petschow said the company’s board approved the contribution as “an appropriate way to help support the Cedar Rapids police and community.”

Zillyette was skeptical about the reward producing any results. Her daughter had no enemies, she said.

The family, however, increased its contribution, and by October 8, the reward fund reached $16,500. According to Police Sgt. Mark Andries, the family increased their contribution to $11,000, and one of Evenson’s friends contributed another $500.

Ten days later, Cedar Rapids Police Capt. Glen Fox said the reward hadn’t yet brought in any credible tips in the hunt for Traci Evenson’s killer.

Detectives began casting a wider net, posting inquires with the state Division of Criminal Investigation and the Midstates Organized Crime Information Center seeking information on similar cases in and around Iowa. One person already had emerged as a principal suspect — Evenson’s 28-year-old brother-in-law, Anthony D. Jackson, who was married to the sister who found Evenson’s body.

Second Tragedy Strikes Family

The day before Thanksgiving, November 27, 1997, Zillyette would lose yet another daughter, as well as two grandchildren and a son-in-law. Jodi Jackson, 27, along with her husband Anthony and the couple’s children, Anthony Jr., 5, and Jazmine, 3, were killed in a two-vehicle accident in Howard County while driving to Waterloo to spend Thanksgiving with Anthony Jackson’s relatives.

Their deaths came just five months and six days after Evenson’s homicide.

“It’s unimaginable,” Evenson’s brother, Stephen Evenson, told the Gazette in a story published Friday, Nov. 28, 1997.

The Jacksons were killed in an 11:20 a.m. accident on Highway 63, three miles south of Lime Springs, after Jodi Jackson, who was driving, lost control of the family’s Ford Bronco when she attempted to pass a semi-trailer truck. According to The Gazette, the vehicle slid to the shoulder, veered back onto the road and was struck broadside by a semi driven by Gerald Lathrop of Boscobel, Wisconsin. Lathrop was not injured in the accident, but all the Jacksons died instantly.

evenson-bloomfield-davis-answers-elusive-crg-p1Courtesy The Gazette
The Cedar Rapids Gazette featured a Page 1 story on Sunday, Dec. 28, 1997, that included Evenson’s unsolved murder. Download the PDF file

In a Gazette article published Sunday, Dec. 28, 1997, police Capt. Fox said he didn’t expect Jodi’s death would affect the investigation into her sister’s murder.

“We had already talked to her several times, and I don’t know if there was much more there to learn,” Fox said. “It’s obviously a tremendous tragedy for the family.”

Nor was Fox surprised the reward fund had turned up nothing.

“I don’t think this is the type of crime that someone is going to talk too much about,” he said.

No Judge, No Jury

The headline asked a question frequently posed by many: “Can a detective count a murder solved when the suspect is dead?”

Gazette staff writer Rick Smith, in an article published July 9, 2000, addressed the issue and other questions people continue to ask even today. What happens in cases in which there can be no judge or jury? What if the principal suspect dies before detectives have a chance to make their case? Can police detectives ever close the case file? Can or will the victim’s family ever know the truth?

Or, as R. Dean Wright, professor of sociology at Drake University, put it to Smith: How does a detective walk the precipice between his own career need to have an investigative victory and a community’s need to have some kind of credible verdict?

Cedar Rapids Det. McClurg, who’d long wrestled with those concerns, opened up to Smith and laid out factors in Evenson’s murder that put the case — as well as another previously unsolved crime — into perspective.

2000-7-9-crg-traci-evenson-featureCourtesy Cedar Rapids Gazette
What of the case in which there can be no judge or jury? Gazette staff writer posed this question to readers in his Sunday, July 9, 2000 report in the Cedar Rapids Gazette. The principal suspect in Evenson’s case was her 28-year-old brother in law, Anthony D. Jackson, who was killed in a car crash with his wife and two children five months after Evenson’s murder.

Traci Evenson’s brother-in-law had known her well, McClurg said, but had not appeared upset at the murder scene. He’d lawyered up as soon as McClurg asked to question him, and for good reason; detectives had discovered hairs from a black male at the crime scene, and Anthony Jackson was black. The scene had been staged to look like a rape and assault, but Evenson had not been raped. No semen was ever recovered from the crime scene or her body.

Jackson had in the past been convicted of assaulting a woman, and police also had a troubling unsolved case of intruder rape at knifepoint from just a year earlier; Jackson not only knew the rape victim, but she was the girlfriend of one of Jackson’s relatives.

sam-mcclurg-crgCourtesy Miranda Meyer, The Gazette
Longtime homicide detective Sam McClurg continued to work the Evenson case for many years.

Following Anthony Jackson’s death, McClurg traveled to Howard County to obtain tissue and fluid samples from the body. The DNA sample confirmed Jackson was responsible for the rape of his relative’s girlfriend, but was inconclusive in Evenson’s murder.

Stephen Evenson, who’d once given his brother-in-law the benefit of the doubt, told The Gazette the DNA evidence in the earlier rape case helped convince him Anthony Jackson was responsible for his sister Traci’s death. And, there was more.

Stephen suspected Traci caught Jackson — whom he said was possessive of  Jodi — cheating on his wife and that Traci was about to tell her.

“He didn’t want to lose Jodi,” Stephen, of West St. Paul, Minn., told The Gazette. “That might have been the motive (for killing Traci).”

McClurg suggested the murder happened when Evenson rebuffed a sexual advance by Jackson.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) did not have available to them the same testing techniques used by the FBI, and in May 2000 the FBI agreed to perform a more sophisticated DNA test on the hair samples found at the Evenson murder scene. Still, McClurg said the Evenson murder probe had other complications, including:

  • Anthony Jackson’s wife Jodi gave him an alibi; she said he was home with her at the time her sister Traci was killed.
  • Anthony Jackson may have refused to speak to detectives for fear of being railroaded because of his criminal record for previously assaulting a woman.
  • Jackson had moved his family to West St. Paul, Minn., soon after Traci Evenson’s murder, which was where his wife’s mother and other relatives lived.

Drake University’s Wright said there is always a danger in letting police departments set the standard for deciding when a crime is solved, because it lets them become enforcer, judge and jury. At the same time, he told The Gazette, police departments have a duty in this day of victim’s rights to make public the details of investigations into their community’s most heinous crimes.

“The police have a moral obligation to ensure the public that they are safe and that (investigators) have solved the crime ‘beyond a reasonable doubt,'” Prof. Wright said.

The concept of reasonable doubt, Wright told The Gazette, can be the standard for investigators even when, because of a suspect’s death, the case never can make it into a courtroom.

In Evenson’s case, with no access to arrest or trial, McClurg said he is left with one standard to meet: That he knows so certainly of a suspect’s guilt that he one day can walk into the Evenson living room and tell the family this is who killed young Traci Evenson in 1997 and why.

About Traci Evenson

Traci Ann Evenson was born Jan. 20, 1975, in St. Paul, Minn. She graduated from Washington High School in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1994.

On Saturday night, June 21, 1997, Traci was beaten and suffocated in her Cedar Rapids apartment located at 438-1/2 Ninth Ave. SW. Her sister, Jodi Lynn Jackson, discovered Traci’s body the following day.

Traci had been attending computer classes at Kirkwood Community College. She was employed as a telemarketer at APAC and worked part-time at the Collins Road Hy-Vee.

Traci Evenson headstoneCourtesy photo Rose Moszer at findagrave.com
Traci Evenson is buried at the General Lutheran Cemetery in South St. Paul, Minn., near the homes of her parents.

Public prayer services were held at the Brosh Chapel at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24, 1997, with friends calling after 5 p.m. The Rev. Wendell Beets, senior pastor of Word of Faith Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, officiated. Funeral services were scheduled for a later date at Southern Funeral Home, South St. Paul, Minn.

Traci was buried at the General Lutheran Cemetery in South St. Paul near the homes of her parents.

Survivors included her mother, Norma Bierbrauer Zillyette of West St. Paul, Minn.; her father, Philip O. Evenson and his wife Carol of Brooklyn Park, Minn.; a sister, Jodi L. Jackson and her husband Anthony of Cedar Rapids; two brothers, Robert Evenson of West St. Paul, Minn., and Stephen Evenson of Waterloo; her grandmother, Gladys Bierbrauer of Siren, Wis.; a niece and nephew, Anthony Jackson Jr. and Jazmine Jackson; her aunt, Betty Nyberg of Parkers Prairie, Minn.; and four uncles, James, Donald, David and Leroy Bierbrauer.

Traci was preceded in death by her grandfather, Roy Bierbrauer; and an aunt, Rose Saver.

Information Needed

Anyone with information about Traci Evenson’s unsolved murder is asked to contact the Cedar Rapids Police Department at 319-286-5375 or the Linn County Crime Stoppers Anonymous Tip Line at 1-800-CR-CRIME.

Sources:

 

Copyright © 2017 Iowa Cold Cases, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

 

28 Responses to Traci Evenson

  1. Cody says:

    Seems pretty obvious to me that the late brother-in-law committed this crime. Motive makes sense, scene staged to “look” like sexual assault but no evidence of. No other suspects and motives (that we’re aware of).

    God rest her soul.

  2. Robin Ovalle says:

    This is very upsetting to know that these people have not received justice they are dead and gone but thanks to this being put out hopefully theyll get to rest i peace when the world knows who their killer’s are!!!!I pray for their families( terrible!)

  3. Dang! That poor woman!

  4. She was a sweet gal and same for the rest of her family who also lost Traci’s older sister Jodi after the death of Traci. This family has been through so much I hope they get new information on this case that will lead to arrest . Wonderful family I knew them personally and I hope for closer for them

  5. She was a very nice girl! I remember her always smiling at Cedar Rapids Washington Class of ’94 Locals

  6. Very messed up. I agree Tina Carroll

  7. Tina Carroll says:

    my god is all i can say.. what a mess.. tragedy… horrible.. blessings.

  8. tina says:

    May 2000 the FBI agreed to perform a more sophisticated DNA test on the hair samples == no results

  9. Amen ! Lindsey Linda McKinney. They work very hard.

  10. I agree with Linda, thank you.

  11. Thank you, Linda! That means a lot to me! :-)

  12. I would like to thank you for the work you do. The worst thing for all these victims and families would be that they would be forgotten.

  13. So very true, Linda! I can’t begin to imagine the grief these girls’ mother and family went through.

  14. This family has been through hell. It’s always a fine line between reporting info in the hopes of generating leads and the story becoming just that- a story. These are real people from every walk of life

  15. I agree with Diana Wilson.

  16. Don’t forget to mention the the DCI destroyed (by accident ) some evidence from several crimes that occurred in 1997. Look it up. Traci’s murder took place during the time frame of the evidence that was destroyed. That’s why the FBI never was able to do the test.

  17. You’re right about the math not making a lot of sense, Diana Wilson, but that’s what the newspapers all reported, and Traci’s gravestone also shows date of death as June 21, 1997. There’s an article here with a paragraph where Lt. Ken Washburn says Evenson died “in the 36 hours before the discovery of her body, placing her death sometime after 9:30 Saturday night.” The keyword might be “in” the 36 hours, meaning it had to occur “within” the past 36 hours but no later than that. https://iowacoldcases.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/1997-6-23-two-deaths-probed-crg-2pgs.pdf

  18. Diana Wilson says:

    If she died Saturday night and was found the next morning, how could that be 36 hours????

  19. I pray they find that person. My heart and thoughts with family and friends. So sorry.

  20. Pamela Wade says:

    very strange there are so many unsolved murders in Iowa. There is at least one serial killer lurking.

  21. I went to school with this girl and saw her the day before she was killed. They thin her brother in law did it but he was killed in a car accident

  22. Robyn Obadal says:

    I thought DNA solved this???

  23. andrea says:

    Very interesting that Reverend Beets, a convicted attempted rapist, who did some serious time (not only for the attempted rape but also for forgeries, bad checks, etc). preached the service. http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-8th-circuit/1436424.html

Comment Policy

We encourage thoughtful discussion here but ask that comments remain civilized and constructive … i.e. without personal attacks or name-calling. Be respectful of others and remember that victims' family members visit these pages, too. If you'd like to provide us with information regarding a suspect or have other sensitive details to relay, please email us directly. Thank you in advance.

Share Your Thoughts