From College Senior to Cold Case: Who Killed Tammy Zywicki?

from FBI poster

On August 23, 1992, Grinnell College senior Tammy Zywicki drove off from the Chicago suburb of Evanston toward the school’s Iowa campus. She never made it.

The following day, an Illinois State Trooper ticketed Tammy’s abandoned 1985 Pontiac T1000. A number of Tammy’s possessions were missing from the vehicle as well, including her purse, a Canon camera, and a watch that played “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” A massive eight-day search commenced, ending when a passerby “smelled an odor” and called the cops.

Responders found Tammy’s dead body wrapped in a blanket and bound with duct tape, nearly 500 miles away on a highway entrance ramp outside Sarcoxie, Missourri. Someone had stabbed her to death.

Reportedly, the killer stabbed Tammy seven times total; six times she was punctured in a “circular pattern” around her heart. One of the cuts was to her right arm. Greenville Online reports it’s possible the murder weapon was small, perhaps a penknife.

Tammy Zywicki. Photo: FBI

Tammy Zywicki. Photo: FBI

The last time she was seen alive, Tammy had stopped in Evanston to drop off a traveling companion identified only as Daren. The pair’s long road trip had kicked off back in New Jersey. When police questioned Daren, he told them that the car overheated along the way, suggesting the possibility that Tammy had pulled over on the highway due to mechanical trouble.

In immediate pursuit of suspects, police set up roadblocks, interviewed numerous parties, and continued to sift through information and leads, reports say. Two months into the investigation, a local nurse said she saw an ex-con turned trucker named Lonnie Bierbrodt with Tammy before the disappearance. Police brought in Bierbrodt for questioning and took his fingerprints, but his alibi proved credible and he was cut loose.

In 2015, NBC Chicago said the Illinois State Police had assembled a team to run down fresh leads in the case. A former investigator, Martin McCarthy, told the network he believes Bierbrodt is guilty of the crime. Illinois State Police Master Sergeant Jeff Padilla strongly disagrees. “There is a lot of misinformation about him out there. For as much circumstantial information that there is about his involvement, there’s as much that indicates that he’s not involved,” Padilla said. One of the most damning facts that would seem to implicate him in the case is that the blanket she was found wrapped in bore the logo of the type of truck Bierbrodt drove.

At present, the case remains open and active, while Tammy Zywicki’s memory lives on. The FBI is looking for your tips to finally close this case. If you know anything at all about Tammy’s murder, please contact Special Agent Jorge Fonseca, Illinois State Police at (815) 726-6377, Ext 286.

Read more:

NBC Chicago

Greenville Online

Iowa Cold Cases

Main photo: from FBI poster

  • Tammy Gross

    I’ve never forgotten Tammy or her case. Though she was younger, I identified with her by name & description (& I lived in Chicagoland). It was her murder that prompted me to get my first cellphone to keep me safe if/when I had a car breakdown.

    On a whim I looked up her name today, saddened to see there’s been no resolution or justice for Tammy.

    If nothing else, her death did bring awareness for young women such as myself so we could be prepared in case of emergency. Perhaps her death saved some lives, including mine.