Police ‘solve’ 1984 sex murder of teenager…then discover ‘killer’ is already dead

Metro 2 weeks ago
Phillip Cross, Traci Hammerberg
Police identified Phillip Cross (left) as the man they believe raped and murdered Traci Hammerberg in December 1984. (Picture Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office)

A notorious sex killing which saw a teenage girl raped and murdered has finally been solved 35 years on – only for police to discover the suspected killer is now dead.

Ozaukee County Sheriffs Department said on Tuesday that DNA evidence and forensic genealogy lead them to determine Phillip Cross raped, strangled and beat 18-year-old Traci Hammerberg to death in December 1984 in Wisconsin.

But Cross will never face justice for the crimes he is now accused of because he died of drug overdose in 2012, the Journal Sentinel reported.

On the night of her murder, Hammerberg had been babysitting. Afterwards she met up with friends who went to a bar, then to a party where they drank alcohol and smoked marijuana, according to police.

Hammerberg is believed to have left the party on foot at approximately 12:30am. Her home was 3.7 miles away and she would have had to walk along State Highway 33, but Ozaukee County Sheriff James Johnson said it was not uncommon for Hammerberg to make that walk home.

Hammerberg’s body was found hours later by a man who discovered her battered, partially naked body. Blood was reportedly found spattered across the snow and trees around her.

Two witnesses who had been hunting in the area told police that they saw a car speed away from the home with its headlights off.

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Authorities used semen found at the scene, as well as blood under Hammerberg’s finger nails to create a DNA profile of the killer.

For more than three decades, police interviewed hundreds of people, ruling out more than 400 men whose DNA did not match the evidence found at the crime scene, Johnson said.

In March 2019, Police decided to focus more heavily on forensic genealogy and reached out to the Los Angeles FBI Forensic Genetic Genealogy Team. It famously helped identify suspected Golden State Killer, Joseph DeAngelo.

Traci Hammerberg, Paul Cross
Hammerberg’s body was found in front of a home on Maple Road in Saukville, Wisconsin on December 15, 1984. (Picture: ABC News)

After Cross died in 2012, authorities obtained a sample of his DNA, which was used to identify Cross as a potential suspect on August 28.

Sheriff Johnson said that Cross was quick-tempered, abusive, and had a past with police. He spent a year in prison for forgery in 1983. He was accused of strangling a woman who gave him a ride home from a bar in 1991.

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Authorities were also at his home numerous times for incidents of domestic abuse, as well as drugs and alcohol abuse.

Johnson said the case would never have been solved without the help of forensic investigators.

He added: ‘While many of us may not have known Traci, we wanted justice for her and her family. We became her voice when she could no longer speak.’

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