15 years later, still no justice for Tammy

From the Peoria [IL] Journal Star--

15 years later, still no justice for Tammy
Anniversary of Iowa student vanishing near LaSalle weighs heavily on
Sunday, August 19, 2007

of The Associated Press

Fifteen years since her drive back to college took a violent and
deadly turn in Illinois, Tammy Zywicki is seldom far from her mother's
thoughts. Subtle items throughout the family's Florida home make it

A clock featuring Tammy's beloved cartoon cat Garfield on a nightstand
in a spare bedroom. Seashells the beach lover collected - some tucked
in a grandfather clock, others in a jar on a bathroom sink. A
soccer-themed souvenir she got in Spain. Photos of the green-eyed
blonde here and there, always smiling.

As another milestone anniversary of her daughter's stabbing death
looms, the mother turns to the steely perseverance that has carried
her through the onslaught of birthdays, holidays and special occasions
that often torment families of the murdered.

Yet the 65-year-old woman wonders: Having weathered the highs and lows
of seeing promising leads in her daughter's death fizzle out, will she
ever see anyone pinned with the crime?

JoAnn Zywicki grapples with that anew as investigators work to unravel
the past of trucker Bruce Mendenhall, who police say has confessed to
six killings in several states, Tammy Zywicki's not among them.

Since Mendenhall's arrest last month at a truck stop in Nashville,
Tenn., police there have fielded dozens of inquiries from law
enforcement agencies and families across the country, hoping the
56-year-old man from tiny Albion in southern Illinois can provide
clues to unsolved slayings going back two decades.

JoAnn Zywicki is guarded about getting overconfident about whether
Mendenhall holds the key to what happened to her daughter. This mother
knows better, having been frustrated too many times before.

"There's always hope," she says, ardent in pushing aside notions that
perhaps her daughter's killer is dead and, therefore, forever unknown.
"Yes, I do recognize we may never solve it. But I know Tammy would
say, 'Don't dwell on it. Hope for something to happen, but don't let
it take over your life and go on.'"


Tammy Zywicki would have turned 36 last spring, but tragedy forever
keeps her 21 in her mother's mind: Long blond hair and glasses, always
looking tan. Nice, pretty teeth in a family where good choppers aren't
the norm. Never a fan of makeup, "she had a good, clean scrubbed
look," JoAnn Zywicki recalls.

"She was just natural; that's a good word. For lack of a better term,
she was an all-American girl," the mother said recently in a telephone
interview from her home in central Florida. "She was not a really
girly girl. She was more comfortable in T-shirts and shorts than
anything. She just had a well-rounded attitude."

The kind of young woman, one of her coaches once remarked, who would
be comfortable eating cheeseburgers for breakfast. The 5-foot-2,
120-pound woman loved naps, cats, photography and soccer.

She played halfback at Iowa's Grinnell College, the small school where
she was to be a senior in the fall of 1992. Tammy, then from Marlton,
N.J., was mulling graduate school, aspiring to perhaps teach Spanish

It wasn't meant to be.

Tammy had just dropped off her younger brother at Northwestern
University in suburban Chicago and had turned her 1985 Pontiac T1000
toward Grinnell on Aug. 23, 1992, when the car broke down along
Interstate 80 near LaSalle.

A passer-by caught the last glimpses of her alive there at mile marker
83, hunched over her car's raised hood with a trucker who had stopped,
ostensibly to help. A tractor-trailer was seen parked behind her car.

Tammy's body turned up nine days later hundreds of miles away along an
interstate highway in southwest Missouri, shrouded in a red blanket
sealed with duct tape. The young woman, who once wrote in a high
school journal she didn't want to suffer when she died, had been
stabbed repeatedly in the chest. She bled to death.

The horror of the story grabbed headlines: A college co-ed, in
distress after her car fails her along a freeway, is snatched up,
possibly by a predator trucker prowling the nation's highways posing
as a Good Samaritan.

JoAnn Zywicki doesn't allow herself to think about what her daughter
went through.

"I kind of put it in the past," the mother says, content clinging to
one thing survivors of the slain can't always cling to as solace: "At
least we have a body."

Finding the killer is another matter.


After Tammy's body was found, Illinois State Police joined forces with
the FBI and other agencies in a task force, but it disbanded the next
year. The investigation since, the FBI's Ross Rice laments, has been
nothing short of "very frustrating."

"There haven't been any fruitful leads," punctuated by the lack of
arrests or charges, Rice says from the FBI's Chicago office. "Nothing
has panned out."

Truckers suspected in killings and sexual attacks elsewhere, from
North Carolina to California, eventually were eliminated from
suspicion in Tammy's death.

"After so many years, you always have hope, but you don't let it take
over," JoAnn Zywicki says. "Whenever something has come up, you learn
to handle it in a better way. As you get older, you try to take as
much stress out of it as you can."

"You just never know what the one little thing is that holds the key
to everything," she says. "There's somebody who knows something."

Investigators wonder if it's Mendenhall, whose trucking routes will be
scrutinized to pinpoint whether he may have been anywhere near Tammy
Zywicki's car the day she vanished. At the same time, the FBI's Rice
says, investigators will check whether any military or prison time
excludes him from consideration.

That vetting could take weeks, perhaps months.

All the while, JoAnn Zywicki moves on in the Florida home she shares
with husband Hank - a retired civil engineer - and those carefully
selected mementos of Tammy.

Never a believer in shrines, the mother years ago packed up her
daughter's bedroom and gave most of the stuff to charity, saving
soccer plaques, yearbooks and photographs to keep a bit of Tammy
close. At certain times, the Zywickis might light a candle for their
slain daughter.

"Birthdays come. Holidays come. Special occasions come. You can't stop
them; you just have to deal with them," she says. "We have kids and
grandkids, and we enjoy them. We've had births and deaths, happy and
sad occasions. A lot of life in the past 15 years."

Then she pauses to crystalize how she finds strength.

"Sometimes, you don't feel like doing anything, but sometimes you just
push yourself to do it," she says with a shrug. "You know you can't
change it. You go on with your life, but you never forget."


Anne, indigoace at goodsol period com
Jewelry: http://www.prettygoodjewelry.com
Cats: http://www.goodsol.com/cats/

Relevant Pages

  • Re: 15 years later, still no justice for Tammy
    ... Tammy Zywicki is seldom far from her mother's ... As another milestone anniversary of her daughter's stabbing death ... the mother turns to the steely perseverance that has carried ... JoAnn Zywicki grapples with that anew as investigators work to unravel ...
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