’We believe we know who did it’
ROCKFORD — More than three decades after her death, the family of 19-year-old Tammy Tracey is reminding the community that her killer has not been brought to justice.
Billboards featuring a picture of Tracey, an Auburn High School graduate, have been posted along East Riverside Boulevard at East Drive in Loves Park and along North Second Street at Harlem Road in Machesney Park.
The message “never forget” is displayed prominently, along with the phone number for Rockford Area Crime Stoppers and the promise of a reward for information leading to an arrest.
Tammy’s brother and sister-in-law came up with the idea, said Linda Tracey, Tammy’s mother.
“They wanted to do it and I just went ahead and let them do it,” Linda said, noting that an additional billboard will be posted along North Second Street near Roosevelt Road in Machesney Park.
“Just because these years have gone by doesn’t alter the fact of what happened to her and what happened to our family,” Linda said. “Tammy was not a street person. She was just a normal teenager.“
Tammy Tracey went to Searls Park to wax her black Oldsmobile on Saturday, May 27,1987, and was never seen alive again.
Her car was found locked at the park with no visible signs of a struggle.
For nearly a year, Tracey’s picture and description were displayed on billboards and flyers throughout the region. The mystery surrounding her disappearance was covered extensively in newspaper articles and on television and radio news broadcasts.
On April 15, 1988, Tracey’s skeletal remains were discovered in the Sugar River Forest Preserve in Durand.
She had been stabbed and shot.
Longtime WROK radio reporter Fred Speer recalled breaking the news from the forest preserve that Tracey’s remains had been found.
“There have been a lot of cases that haven’t been solved, but that’s one that has been planted in my mind from the beginning until now,” Speer said Tuesday. “I always figured that maybe they’re going to solve this.”
Speer, who reported from the scene of hundreds of violent crimes during his 44-year radio career in Rockford, said the Tracey homicide remains one of the more disturbing stories he covered.
“Tammy had her whole life ahead of her,” Speer said. “And this horrible tragedy happened to her and nobody has been brought to justice to pay the penalty.”
The investigation into Tracey’s killing remains open, but there hasn’t been much new information in recent years, said Kurt Whisenand, an assistant deputy Rockford police chief.
Whisenand, a 27-year veteran of the Rockford Police Department, inherited the investigation from the multi-agency task force that was formed to look into the case.
“The people who worked on that task force — the detectives from the Rockford Police Department, the (Winnebago) County Sheriff’s Department, state police — they did an excellent job considering the restraints that they were under,” Whisenand said.
“Everything that I know about the case, I learned from them. They’re really the ones who basically solved the case. It’s just a matter of having that one little piece of information that puts us over the hump that we could prove it in court.”
The prime suspect is a man who is still alive, Whisenand said. He declined to say whether police believe that Tracey knew her killer.
“I’m not going to go into too many details as to who he is,” Whisenand said. “Obviously, as an investigator, there are a lot of things that we know. But unfortunately, the only thing that counts is what we can prove. We believe we know who did it. We believe we know who is responsible. Unfortunately, we just don’t have enough evidence to prove it.”
Tammy knew her killer, said Linda Tracey, through she declined to elaborate on their relationship or name the man she believes to be responsible for her daughter’s death.
Thirty-three years later, Linda Tracey said she still has hope that Tammy’s killer will be charged with her murder.
“Yes, I do, and it needs to be done now,” Linda said. “This person has walked free for all of these years. He’s had a life. Tammy never even got to be 21 years old. She never got to get married. She never got to have any children. He took her life and it’s time that somebody stepped up and said something about it so that he could be arrested for it.”
If you have any information about the case, call Rockford Area Crime Stoppers at 815-963-7867.
Ken DeCoster: firstname.lastname@example.org; @DeCosterKen