TENACIOUS cops have used DNA to hunt the sick killer who raped, strangled and bludgeoned a teenager to death 35 years ago, thanks to a genealogy website.

The naked, battered body of babysitter Traci Hammerberg, 18, was found dumped near a driveway in Wisconsin, US, in December 1984.

Traci’s body was found naked from the waist down in December, 1984
Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office
Her killer was Phillip Cross – he died of a drug overdose years later
Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office

Speaking about the major breakthrough, an at-times emotional Ozaukee County Sheriff James Johnson told reporters “we never gave up on Traci”.

He explained that the teen – described by family and friends as “quiet, friendly and sweet” – had a wide circle of friends.

After babysitting on December 14, 1984, she attended a party with pals, where she drank beer and smoked marijuana.

Early the next morning, she started walking back home, about four miles away.

But she never arrived.

Before 6am on December 15, she was discovered lying near death on the side of a driveway of a Grafton home.

The homeowner – who found her while leaving for work – called police after hearing her “moan” in pain.

Sheriff Johnson said that Traci’s body was found naked from the waist down, with her sweater pulled up.

The rape and murder of an 18-year-old girl in Wisconsin 35 years ago has finally been solved after police compared DNA evidence to a genealogy database.
Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office

Her underwear and shoes were near her head, and there was blood covering the snow near her body.

An autopsy found she had been sexually assaulted and strangled. Traci had been repeatedly struck on the right side of her head, causing multiple skull fractures and massive brain damage, the sheriff added.

He added: “She was brutally beaten.”

Her post-mortem confirmed that Traci was murdered a short time after her rape.

She tried to fight her attacker off, scratching him with her nails.

The sheriff said that the case had baffled investigators since 1984.

Hundreds of witnesses were interviewed, and more than 400 men were eliminated through analysis, but no match could be found.

DNA PROFILE

Then, in March this year, efforts focused on forensic genetic genealogy, to help find the suspect.

Evidence from the scene was sent to a private lab, to obtain a DNA profile.

Sheriff Johnson said: “This DNA profile was uploaded to a public genealogy database; investigators used software to build a genetic genealogy of the suspect.

“The databases were used to identify family members of the suspect. The closest relative identified through the databases was a second cousin.

“The next step of the process was to start building family trees, back four generations. We then filled in the genealogy to the current generation, to encompass any male who would have been in between the ages of 16 and 60 in 1984.”

MURDERER FOUND

This led them to Phillip Cross, who was 21 at the time. Cross died of a meth overdose in 2012.

The killer had left work at a factory that night when their paths crossed.

The identification of her murderer has left her sister, Lorri Sell, with mixed feelings.

She told WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee: “My sister didn’t get to live her life and he got to live his.

“I was mad that I did not get to say my piece and he didn’t get punished at all for it. I’m very upset with him.”

Traci’s friends have praised the successful efforts of the team behind the breakthrough.

On Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Facebook page, Marla Wimbish, posted: “I remember this like [it was] yesterday. So tragic… I’m so happy for her family, they’ll finally have the answers they’ve been looking for.”

Tom Koreen added: “Thank you for not letting go of this case, as being a friend of Traci it means a lot to me and many more of her friends.”

Cindy Potje said her disappearance at the time left “teenage girls terrified to go out for quite a while after the murder”.


Another woman commented: “I can remember how reckless my friends and I were at that time… drinking, partying with strangers, and trusting everyone we met.

“That could have been any one of us who fell prey to such an animal as Philip Cross.

“I thank you for all your hard work, for never forgetting Traci, and for never giving up on finding her murderer. You are heroes!”

Traci Hammerberg was found raped, beaten and strangled to death on a snow-covered driveway north of Milwaukee, on December 15, 1984
Ozaukee County Sheriff's Office

 

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