30-year cold case: Investigators still seeking info on Iowa college student's murder
LAWRENCE COUNTY, Mo. (KSNF) — It’s been 30 years since the body of Tammy J. Zywicki, an Iowa college student, was discovered on the side of a rural section of Interstate 44 in southwest Missouri. To this date, the kidnapping and murder of Zywicki remains unsolved. But on Feb. 10, 2023, the Sheriff of Lawrence County spoke about the cold case, saying that authorities haven’t given up on finding a suspect or information that would lead to an arrest — anything that would would give Zywicki’s family some closure.
On August 23, 1992, the 21-year-old vanished while driving to Grinnell College in Iowa for the start of her fall semester. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Zywicki’s brother, Daren, joined her on the road trip, which began from their home in New Jersey on August 22, the day before her disappearance.
Their first stop was in Evanston, Illinois, where Tammy dropped her brother off at Northwestern University where he attended college. That night, she stayed with a friend, planning to head out the next day.
While driving to her destination, Zywicki’s vehicle, a white 1985 Pontiac T1000, broke down in central Illinois. The FBI said more than 60 people reported seeing Tammy looking under the hood of her car that day, which was stopped at the exit for Utica, Illinois. Tips to law enforcement suggested that 26 different cars pulled over to help her, but Tammy never made it to the college campus in Iowa.
Zywicki’s 1985 Pontiac, left on the side of the road, was ticketed for abandonment by an Illinois State Trooper. Illinois State Police towed the car the following day. That same day, Tammy’s mother reported her daughter missing.
But Zywicki’s disappearance was not seriously investigated until several days after the initial report. Originally, police suspected she had run off with a boyfriend, though there was no indication Zywicki had a boyfriend at the time.
On September 1, 1991, eight days after she went missing, Zywicki’s body was found on the side of a rural stretch of Interstate 44 in Lawrence County, Missouri (between Springfield and Joplin). The body was discovered by a pick-up truck driver, who gave authorities differing stories about why he pulled over. One story was that he pulled over to urinate, and the other was that he pulled over to cover his truck bed with a tarp in preparation for rain.
During the stop, the driver told authorities he began smelling an unusual odor, and then he spotted a large bundle on the side of the road. It was a blanket wrapped in duct tape. Inside the blanket was a female body, wrapped in a white sheet with silver duct tape covering both ends of the blanket. It was Tammy — wearing the same clothes she was last seen in. An autopsy revealed she was stabbed seven or eight times in the chest. She died from internal bleeding.
“Obviously most law enforcement officials deal with death, or homicides, or something along those lines, and they’re usually incidents that occur within their county, or a lot of times a neighboring jurisdiction. But for an agency, like the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office, to have a murder investigation that is literally hundreds of miles away from where a person was last seen, I believe is what’s very unusual in that particular case,” said Lawrence County Sheriff Brad Daley.
Over the last 30 years, there have been no official suspects or any arrests made in the case. However, the FBI says two leads have persisted. First, multiple people have reported seeing a tractor-trailer on the side of the road with Tammy. The truck had two brownish-orange stripes on both the tractor and the trailer. Second, the man with the truck was approximately 6 feet tall with dark, bushy hair and estimated to be between 30-45 years old. It was also discovered that Tammy’s Canon 35mm camera and a musical wristwatch with an umbrella on its face were missing from her car.
“We do get an occasional tip or information regarding Tammy’s murder. Somebody believes that they may have seen something or remembered something along those lines. When most of those tips come in, it’s usually what we call ‘a repeat tip.’ Most of those are old leads or old tips, so it really doesn’t transform into anything new or earth-shattering,” said Sheriff Daley. “Regardless, when we do get them, we always follow up on them, just because you never know which one might break this case wide open.”
The FBI is the lead investigating agency in the murder case of Tammy Zywicki, although other law enforcement officials continue to provide assistance, including the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.
“If we get any any inclination that there may be another piece of evidence, or a clue, or anything that we can use, we certainly follow that as far as we can. What helps to bring out information that could solve this case is keeping the story alive by talking about it, holding vigils for the victim during an important anniversary dates and keeping it in the news,” Sheriff Daley stated.
A series of recently published podcasts did just that. The newly released third season of “Paper Ghosts,” a true crime podcast on iHeart Radio, features three episodes titled, “In Plain Sight.” The episodes are hosted by investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling true crime author M. William Phelps, who digs deep into the murder of Tammy Jo Zywicki.
The FBI is offering a reward of up to $50,000 for information leading to the identification of the individual or individuals responsible for Zywicki’s death. Anyone with information is asked to contact your local FBI office.