30-year-old cold case: Investigators continue to seek information in Iowa college student’s slaying

The Complicated Case of Tammy Zywicki: New Jersey Woman Driving to College in Iowa Found Murdered in Missouri

LAWRENCE COUNTY, Mo. (KSNF) — It’s been 30 years since the body of Iowa college student Tammy J. Zywicki was discovered on the side of a rural stretch of Interstate 44 in southwest Missouri. To this day, the kidnapping and murder of Zywicki remains unsolved. But on February 10, 2023, the Lawrence County Sheriff spoke out about the cold case, saying authorities had not given up on finding a suspect or information that would lead to an arrest — anything that would give the Zywicki family closure.

On August 23, 1992, the 21-year-old disappeared while driving to Grinnell College in Iowa for the start of the fall semester. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Zywicki’s brother Darren joined her on the trip, which started from their home in New Jersey on August 22, the day before she disappeared.

Their first stop was in Evanston, Illinois, where Tammy dropped her brother off at Northwestern University where he was attending college. She stayed with a friend that night, planning to go 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 that day looking under the hood of her car, which was stopped at the Utica, Illinois, exit. Law enforcement tips suggested 26 different cars stopped to help her, but Tammy never made it to the University of Iowa campus.

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 next 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. Initially, police suspected that she had run off with a boyfriend, although there was no indication that Zywicki had a boyfriend at the time.

Tammy Jo Zywicki (Photo courtesy: FBI)

On September 1, 1991, eight days after she disappeared, 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 the pickup truck driver, who gave authorities different stories about why he stopped. One story was that he stopped to urinate, another that he stopped to cover his truck bed with a tarp in preparation for the rain.

During the stop, the driver told authorities he smelled a strange smell and then noticed a large bundle on the side of the road. It was a blanket wrapped in duct tape. Inside the blanket was a woman’s body, wrapped in a white sheet with silver duct tape covering both ends of the blanket. It was Tammy—in the same clothes she was last seen wearing. An autopsy showed she had been stabbed seven or eight times in the chest. She died of internal bleeding.

“Obviously, most law enforcement officers deal with death, homicide or something similar, and those are usually incidents that happen within their county, or many times in a neighboring jurisdiction. But for an agency like the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office to have a homicide investigation that is literally hundreds of miles away from where the person was last seen, I believe what is very unusual in that particular case,” said Lawrence County Sheriff Brad Daley.

(Image courtesy: FBI)

In the last 30 years, there have been no official suspects or arrests in this case. However, the FBI says two clues persist. First, multiple people reported seeing a tractor trailer on the side of the road with Tammy in it. The truck had two brown-orange stripes on both the tractor and the trailer. Second, the man with the truck was approximately 6 feet tall with dark, shaggy hair and was estimated to be between 30-45 years old. Also missing from her car were Tammy’s Canon 35mm camera and a musical wristwatch with an umbrella on the front.

“From time to time we receive a tip or information regarding Tammy’s murder. Someone believes that they may have seen something or remembered something to that effect. When most of those tips come in, it’s usually what we call a ‘repeat tip’. Most of it is old leads or old tips, so it really doesn’t turn into anything new or earth-shattering,” said Sheriff Daley. “Regardless, when we get them, we always follow them up, just because you never know which one might blow this case wide open.”

The FBI is the lead investigating agency in Tammy Zywicki’s murder, although other law enforcement officials are still assisting, including the Lawrence County Sheriff’s Office.

“If we get any inclination that there’s another piece of evidence, or a lead, or anything that we can use, we certainly pursue it as much as we can. “Keeping the story alive by talking about it, holding vigils for the victim on important anniversary dates and keeping it in the news is what helps bring forward information that could solve this case,” said Sheriff Daley.

A series of recently released podcasts did just that. The recently released third season of “Paper Ghosts,” a true crime podcast on iHeart Radio, features three episodes titled, “In a prominent place.” The episodes are hosted by investigative journalist and New York Times bestselling 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.

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