Statistics and crime reporting tell us much about murder in the U.S. We know that on average 20,000 Americans are killed every year, and we often learn how they were murdered and why. Far less visible, however, are the repercussions of those homicides—the pain that a victim’s family and friends must live with in the months and years afterward. This is the story of one such crime, the killing of a 21-year-old college student on or shortly after last Aug. 23, and how it challenged and changed the lives of her family, classmates and community over the following 12 months.
Sunday, Aug. 23: With Evanston, Ill., behind her, Tammy Jo Zywicki headed west, around Chicago, toward I-80. Three more hours of driving in the hot afternoon and she’d be back at Grinnell College in Grinnell, Iowa, for the first time in eight months. An art history and Spanish double major, she had studied in Spain during the spring semester of her junior year, then spent the summer living at home with her parents and working at a video store in Marlton, N.J.
Classes didn’t start for two weeks, but Tammy, a photographer who worked on the Cyclone, the school yearbook, planned to arrive early to take pictures of Grinnell athletes who were already training for the fall season. Then the student everyone called Zee was to begin a one-semester art-study program in Chicago. “As a photographer, she was just starling to blossom,” says sports information consultant Jim George. “She had smarts, talent and a bright, bubbly spirit that could charm the biggest, meanest football player into cracking at least a little smile.”
The day before, Tammy and her younger brother, Daren, 19, then a Northwestern University sophomore, had driven her unair-conditioned Pontiac 1000 hatchback for nine hours, starting near Pittsburgh, where their parents were visiting relatives, and arriving at Daren’s school in Evanston that evening. The next morning Tammy continued alone. “The car stalled a few times,” Daren remembers. “The engine would just decelerate, the oil light would flicker, and then, when you’d pull over, the engine would shut off. After the next two stalls, I added oil and water, and it ran fine. The morning before Tammy left, I checked everything and told her that if it seemed to be doing that again, just stop somewhere and wait until evening when it was cooler, like at a rest area.”
Those were the last words of advice Daren would ever offer his sister. At 5:05 p.m. that Sunday—about four hours after she had said goodbye to her brother—an Illinois state police officer spotted a white 1985 Pontiac parked on the westbound shoulder of I-80, five miles east of La Salle. Located next to mile marker 83, the locked car was lagged as an abandoned vehicle. Not until 2 p.m. the next day, Monday, would it be towed away, and not until 7 p.m. would its owner be identified.
Monday, Aug. 24: Back home in New Jersey, the Zywickis had expected Tammy to make her usual check-in call when she arrived in Grinnell. When she didn’t telephone on Sunday evening, neither parent was overly concerned. “We thought she probably met up with friends, and it got too late to call,” said JoAnn. But by Monday morning, when they still hadn’t heard, they began to worry. “By then, we knew something was wrong,” Hank said. “It just wasn’t like her not to check in with us.”
JoAnn repeatedly called Tammy’s friends at Grinnell, but they hadn’t seen her. “Z!” someone had scrawled on the message board outside her dorm room. “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? YOUR MOM’S HAVING A COW!”
A civil engineer with the construction giant Fluor Daniel in Marlton, Hank Zywicki, then 52, had always kept a close watch on his children’s activities, especially Tammy’s. Much of his caution, he says, stemmed from fears brought on by the accidental death 17 years before of his 7-year-old niece—Tammy’s cousin—who was struck by a falling tree limb while crossing a creek. “I was more lax with the boys, but not with Tammy,” Hank says. “She was very responsible, but I’d still worry about things—her being out late, driving, going to parties, whatever.”
JoAnn, a 50-year-old former secretary and now a homemaker, usually fretted less about her daughter’s activities. In Greenville, S.C.—where the family lived until Hank was transferred to New Jersey last year—JoAnn treated her children’s friends with an all-welcoming enthusiasm. “Everybody just hung out at the Zywicki house,” said Trinh Glover, a high school friend of Tammy’s. “Her mom always had the snacks and soda. She was so cool.”
Now both parents were worried. JoAnn asked Grinnell police to look for Tammy’s car, then began calling Iowa and Illinois state police. It was only after their daughter’s hatchback had been towed and a description logged on computer that the Zywickis learned of its location. Hank immediately filed a missing-persons report with the Illinois police, describing Tammy as a “5’2″, 120-lb. blonde with green eyes and long, blond hair.” Later he added that she was probably wearing tortoise-shell, wire-rim glasses and had her hair in a ponytail. When last seen by her brother, she was wearing a white T-shirt, dark shorts and gray running shoes, a fabric friendship necklace and a green watch that played “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head.” She was carrying about $150 in cash, credit cards, a leather handbag, extra clothes in a box and several cameras.
Tuesday, Aug. 25: “I tried to tell my boss what had happened,” Hank recalls, “but I was so agitated I couldn’t concentrate.” When Hank stammered out his plan to drive to Illinois, his manager took charge and arranged to have the Zywickis flown to Chicago. Hank’s colleagues volunteered to house-sit, take care of the couple’s two cats and answer the phone—in case Tammy called home for help. “I can’t see her going with someone or hitchhiking,” JoAnn said before leaving New Jersey, “It’d have to be by force.”
Wednesday, Aug. 26: While most of the country’s attention focused on the devastation wrought by Hurricane Andrew two days before—which limited media coverage of Tammy’s case mainly to the Midwest—scores of students at Grinnell and other schools volunteered to help find her. For the next six days they fanned out across the region, posting and handing out hundreds of missing-persons fliers with Tammy’s picture at truck stops, convenience stores and airports. At Grinnell they held the first of two candlelight vigils for Tammy. “Even if you didn’t know her, you pitched in,” one volunteer said, echoing a general sentiment among female students. “I could have been Tammy. We’re all vulnerable.”
In Illinois, stale police scoured the I-80 site where the car was found, using metal detectors, search dogs and a helicopter. The car, which started up without a problem after being towed, was checked for fingerprints and searched for evidence. Tammy’s leather bag, money, credit cards and a Canon EOS camera were missing.
Meanwhile, at the Chicago home of friends, the Zywickis continued to make emotional public pleas, hoping news reports might produce leads. By now, Hank and JoAnn had been joined by their sons, Dean, 25, a computer-science graduate student at Johns Hopkins University; Todd, 26, a University of Virginia law student; and Daren, who had been the last to see his sister. “Tammy, if you see this, just hang on,” Todd said before TV cameras, his voice breaking. “We’re coming for you.” Added Dean: “If someone’s holding her, they’re not going to be able to get far. Putting up with three brothers all the time, she can handle herself pretty well.”
Monday, Aug. 31: Investigators announced they were looking for a “white, five-axle, semi tractor-trailer with two brownish, diagonal stripes on both the tractor and trailer.” Drive-by witnesses reported seeing the truck and its driver near mile marker 83 on 1-80 on Aug. 23, roughly between 3 and 4 p.m. The man—described as white, about six feet tall, with bushy, dark hair—appeared to be talking to a young blond woman resembling Tammy. The two were standing by her car apparently checking something under the hood. “He’s the last person we know who may have talked to her,” said Lt. Harold Brignadello at the Illinois slate police station in La Salle. “He’s not a suspect. We just want to talk to him.”
Volunteers now helped the Zywickis fax revised fliers to trucking groups and about 40,000 trucking firms nationwide. Students at Grinnell and other campuses also rushed out to post the new fliers at highway stops. Sounding hopeful, Todd remarked, “Tammy has incredibly good judgment. She wouldn’t get into a car with a stranger.” JoAnn, stressing Tammy’s street smarts, added that her daughter was a “strong-willed, tough cookie” who had worked in many jobs and traveled on her own in Spain.
Tuesday, Sept. 1: Nine days after Tammy disappeared, hot-tub installer Lonny DeMotte, 37, was driving his pickup truck on 1-44, near Joplin, Mo., some 500 miles southwest of La Salle. It started to rain, and DeMotte, concerned that his tools in the back of the truck were gelling wet, pulled to the side of the highway at the Sarcoxie exit. “I was finished and was coming around to the front of the truck when I smelled the odor,” says DeMotte. “I looked right and saw the blanket in the grass. Just from the shape of it, I could tell it was a body.”
DeMotte drove to a nearby highway patrol station, then returned to the scene with an officer. They made a small cut in the blanket and saw a human leg. The body, which was lying faceup on a grassy slope about 14 feet from the pavement, had been wrapped tightly in a white, twin-size sheet and a dull-red blanket. Silver duct tape closed off both ends.
By the afternoon, Lawrence County coroner Don Lakin had performed the first examination of the shoeless, badly decomposed body. “It appeared to be a white female,” Lakin reported, “approximately 16 to 24 years of age. She was clothed in a blue T-shirt with Eastside Eagles Soccer 1989 printed in white lettering on the front. Also had a pair of faded, blue cutoff sweatpants, athletic socks….”
Seven puncture wounds, made by a sharp instrument no more than a half-inch wide, were found in the upper chest area. The weapon had penetrated the lungs, liver and pericardial sac around the heart. The victim’s right biceps was also punctured—possibly due to a struggle—and a bruiselike discoloration appeared on the right side of her neck. “Poor little thing,” Lakin said. “It looked like she’d been there under the sun for a good four or five days.” (A pathologist later estimated how long the body had lain there by the type of insects removed from soft-tissue areas.) “The odd part was she didn’t appear to have any blood—just some body fluids on the sheet and blanket from the decomposition.”
Despite the similarities, the body was not immediately identified as Tammy’s. “It’s unbelievable how many girls fit [the body’s] description,” says Lakin. “After this hit the news, I got calls from all over the U.S. from people thinking it was their daughter.”
Wednesday, Sept. 2: While the Zywickis waited for a detailed Missouri medical examiner’s report, they tried to remain hopeful. This victim’s clothes were not the same as those Tammy wore when her brother Daren last saw her, and the dead woman’s underwear—lacy panties and a frilly, flesh-colored brassiere with the word “Love” embroidered between the cups—was by no means the sort of lingerie Tammy wore.
But other evidence was foreboding. The T-shirt was from Tammy’s soccer learn at Eastside High School in Taylors, S.C. Also, several patches on the cutoffs were from two other teams she had played for. Wearily, JoAnn, now back in Marlton, told reporters from the porch of her two-story, four-bedroom home, “We don’t want to talk about it anymore. We’re trying to be as calm as we can.”
Thursday, Sept. 3: Local police called the family to relay the news: A “definite” ID, based on matching dental records, confirmed that Tammy was the murder victim, although it was uncertain whether she was killed on Aug’. 23 or several day s later. “Losing your kid is every parent’s worst night-mare,” said Bonnie Yablonsky, JoAnn’s sister and the mother of the 7-year-old niece who had died. “But we’re made of strong, Polish stock, I just told JoAnn, ‘Hang in there. If you let yourself fall apart, the criminal hasn’t only taken one life but two, or more.’ ”
Tuesday, Sept. 8: The Zywickis attended Mass at the Catholic church in West Newton, Pa., where they were married 28 years ago. Nearby, on a rain-sodden slope of the West Newton Memorial Cemetery, Tammy’s body was being lowered into her grave. “We thought it best not to see her buried,” Hank explains. “Same reason we had a closed casket at the funeral home. I don’t think we could take being left with those images.” Originally from this hilly, coal-mining area south of Pittsburgh, the couple also felt that Tammy—born in neighboring Pleasant Hill—was “coming full circle back to her roots.”
By the time Tammy was buried, the hunt for her killer had sparked nationwide interest, especially after America’s Most Wanted aired a spot announcement on her disappearance. That prompted a flood of tips about the truck with the diagonal stripes and a logo no one seemed to remember. Because her death involved an abduction across state lines, FBI agents joined the 14 Illinois state police investigators working with Missouri authorities on the case. At the beginning of the investigation the Zywickis had criticized the police for treating Tammy’s disappearance, initially, as though she were a runaway. Now authorities stressed their strong interest in the case. “A lot of us have college-age daughters,” said Lieutenant Brignadello, “so we also have personal reasons for wanting to catch the killer.”
In the following weeks, more than 60 drive-by witnesses reported having seen Tammy on Aug. 23. All together, they claimed to have seen 26 different vehicles—including cars, motorcycles and vans—that stopped to help her, with men and women at different times apparently offering her assistance. “It’s incredible,” JoAnn said. “All those people saw her or talked to her, and not one of them had a cellular phone they could pick up to get her some help.”
Remarkably, none of the people who stopped has ever come forward to notify police of their encounter with Tammy. “We can’t explain it,” FBI agent Bob Long says, “except that maybe these people still don’t know about the case, or they’re afraid to get involved.”
However, some leads did place Tammy elsewhere in the hours and days following her disappearance. A motel clerk in Mendota, 15 miles north of La Salle, for example, said a lone young woman resembling Tammy appeared at the motel and asked about room rates. The girl said she was driving to her college in Iowa when her car broke down on 1-80, and now a trucker outside was giving her a lift to Wisconsin to visit a boyfriend. Though police believed the clerk’s sincerity—she passed two polygraph tests—they were unable to come up with a Wisconsin boyfriend, nor could anyone corroborate the clerk’s story. “Another dead end, like a thousand others,” said Lieutenant Brignadello. “It’s frustrating.”
By the end of the month, the three Zywicki sons had returned to their schools, and Hank went back to his job—”relieved” to immerse himself in work again. He and JoAnn had also appeared on A.M. Philadelphia and The Oprah Winfrey Show, which focused on highway murders of women. “As tough as it was emotionally to talk about it,” JoAnn said after Oprah, “we had decided on lots of exposure to keep Tammy’s story alive.” Hank added that they wanted to help “take back America’s highways.” Then, expressing his frustration at the slow pace of the investigation, he said, “I just want them to find the person who killed our daughter. If they don’t catch that son of a bitch, I don’t know what I’ll do.”
Thursday, Oct. 15: JoAnn was speaking almost daily by phone with her sister, Bonnie, at home near Pittsburgh. Bonnie would console and listen, trying to shoulder some of JoAnn’s pain. Having lost her daughter in the creek accident years ago, Bonnie knew the first months would be the toughest to bear. “Life goes on,” Bonnie would tell her. “Get through it one day at a time until it doesn’t hurt as much.”
The two carefully went over anything new in the case—promising leads, press interviews, offers of help by psychics and private investigators. JoAnn kept a log of names, numbers and notes relevant to the case and called it “my bible.”
The Zywicki home was filled with Tammy reminders: hundreds of condolence cards, pictures of her in every room, her paintings from art class, and her cats, an 11-year-old tabby called Zorro and a blind, gray tabby named Bob. Upstairs, Tammy’s small room was cluttered with picture albums, family photos, dozens of Garfield figures, a lifesize, inflatable Gumby, a James Dean poster, soccer shoes and a pair of Birkenstock sandals. “It’s hard, but I’m about the only person who comes into the room,” JoAnn said.
Many of the mementos were from Tammy’s high school years at East-side. A lop student, she had been the photo editor of the Aurea Aguila yearbook her senior year, starred on school and city soccer teams and was known to be levelheaded and independent. “Tammy had a mind of her own and wasn’t influenced by those around her,” recalls Marian Rice, her Spanish teacher. Johnelle Ohlinger, a school friend, remembers the time Tammy surprised an obnoxious boy who was pestering them. “We were walking in the hallway,” she says, “and this guy wouldn’t leave us alone. So Tammy turned around and decked him. He never bothered us again.”
Hank, home from work for lunch, sat in the living room beneath a framed collage of Tammy’s school portraits. A reporter had arrived, asking about the latest news in the case. Hank grimly mentioned that the family had finally-received the autopsy report but kept to himself the confirmation that she had been sexually assaulted. As he spoke, he methodically popped the pea-size bubbles of a sheet of plastic insulation, pressing hard with his thumbs and fingers. “There’s always those people that tend to feel sorry for the criminal,” Hank said flatly. “I don’t think I could forgive the person. I think I could be the one to execute him.”
Sunday, Nov. 8: In the afternoon, when Hank turned off 1-80 at the Grinnell exit, he began to cry. It was an overpowering reaction that he hadn’t expected. The college had invited him and JoAnn back to meet with students and to discuss a scholarship fund in Tammy’s name. “The school was a big part of her life,” Hank explains, adding that he had last visited the campus in December 1991 to pick up Tammy before sending her off to Spain. “So a lot of memories came back.”
Several hours later more than 200 students squeezed into the foyer and sitting room of the campus guest house to visit the Zywickis. Afterward, Jason Paschall, a junior from Omaha who had briefly dated Tammy before her trip to Spain, said, “Until they came, we were reeling. Tammy’s death really hit everyone hard. But I think the Zywickis were so strong that we fed on that strength.”
The couple also spoke with a local private detective who had volunteered his services. A former Grinnell police chief, Jim Ahrens planned to investigate trucking companies and their routes. He and the police believed the likely killer was a trucker, because Tammy’s body was found at a sufficient distance down the on-ramp to have been dumped from the back of a truck. Ahrens also believed that the murderer may be responsible for other unsolved cases in the region. “I want nothing to do with the reward,” Ahrens said, referring to the just-announced offer of $100,000 by an anonymous Pennsylvania donor to anyone with a tip that would help arrest and convict the murderer. “I just want to catch the guy. I believe he’s still out there, and I think he’s going to do it again.”
Before she went to Spain, Tammy had spent 2½ years on the Grinnell campus. If she didn’t know everyone, at least they knew her—usually by her camera, long blond hair and tomboyish exuberance. “You didn’t intimidate Zee,” said senior Mark Patton. “She had her own quirky way for every thing. She ate cheeseburgers for breakfast, power-napped in the afternoon, hated dresses, loved Tom Petty and James Dean and liked to party as much as the next student.”
Tammy’s father knew these things, but before he left Grinnell, he learned something else about his daughter. He was talking with Patton, who mentioned the annual Grinnell Waltz—the school’s annual ball. “A bunch of us would all go together,” Mark said, noticing tears welling up in Hank’s eyes. “Could my daughter dance?” Hank asked. Realizing that Hank had probably never had the chance to see Tammy dance, Mark answered softly, “Yeah, she could dance.”
Friday, Nov. 27: The morning after Thanksgiving came as a welcome relief. Yesterday had been “rough,” as JoAnn put it. She set out a turkey with all the fixings, Hank and the boys seemed to eat well, and everyone tried to stay upbeat and cooperative. Still, Tammy’s absence left a big hole to fill during the family’s first holiday gel-together. A candle was lit in her memory, and the talk about Tammy was open and direct. “We don’t shy away from talking about her,” JoAnn explained. “We’re also not big religious people. We just work things out. Hank and I have our times, but we don’t give up. I’ve had pretty bad nights, or sometimes I’ll forget to make dinner. Hank will hold things in. And the boys, they seem to be handling it.”
In the living room, Daren played with a Game Boy, Dean worked over a jigsaw puzzle, and Todd was telling a visitor how close they were to Tammy. “Just one of the guys,” he said. “She thrived on jokes and gags. Like when we were kids, we’d be sitting in the back of the car, and one of us would say, ‘So, Tammy, I’m getting hungry. Would you like to get some lunch?’ And she’d say, ‘Yeah, I want a sandwich!’ Then we’d squeeze together and smush the person between us.”
Later, Daren, who JoAnn said was having the hardest time “working through” Tammy’s death, spoke: “Sometimes I’ll be watching TV and the topic or situation triggers it, and I’ll just usually leave or whatever. It’s day to day. I can handle it. I’m fine with that.”
Christmas: Bonnie had suggested that JoAnn not do anything special for the day. “Just go with the flow”,” she said. “Do what feels natural, don’t push.” Good advice, since of all holidays, Christmas was Tammy’s special time. Since childhood, she alone would choose and usually decorate the tree. This year, Hank picked it out, bringing back a ceiling scraper that no one decorated with any enthusiasm. They tossed a few things on the branches, and the new centerpiece ornament was too heavy for the top. The white-and-pink porcelain angel was placed in the front window instead. Another ornament found a spot on the tree: a little book hung from a gold string. “It’s about an angel and how an angel gets its wings,” JoAnn said. Tammy’s favorite movie, Todd recalled, was the Jimmy Stewart classic It ‘s a Wonderful Life, in which the angel Clarence earns his wings by doing a good deed.
For years, Hank and Tammy had talked about getting a bird for the house but never quite got around to it. The day before Christmas, at Dean’s instigation, the boys purchased a crested male cockatiel, put it in a cage and gave it to their father when the family opened presents.
Hank chuckled. “But you can’t keep it caged,” he said, opening the wire door to let it out. “A bird’s got to fly free. Now, how ’bout I name it Tammy?” The suggestion was greeted with silence, as the cockatiel flew around the room. Then someone suggested Ed, after the Ed Grimley character from Saturday Night Live. Hank agreed and was soon happily coaxing Ed to perch on his shoulder.
Friday, March 12, 1993: JoAnn had struggled through a hard winter. “These were the worst months—they were hell,” she told a friend. Despite regular calls from her sons and others, being home alone became a daily trial. Tammy’s cat Zorro died in early February, which left JoAnn the company of the blind cat, Bob, and a bird that only came to Hank. “My salvation was having two little girls up the street that I could hug anytime I needed a lift,” JoAnn said. “They’re just 2 and 3, and we got quite attached. Their mom and I would have tea, and I got the hugging I needed.”
Today, the day before what would have been Tammy’s 22nd birthday, JoAnn woke up apprehensive but feeling strong. In several hours she would present her first talk to a class of criminology students at Stockton State College in Pomona, N.J. The speech was part of a new, activist reaction to her daughter’s death. Leads in the case had dwindled, and the Illinois investigation team had been scaled back from 14 to two. Moreover, JoAnn had tired of badgering police for information. “So I decided to share my story with others,” JoAnn said. “We have to make something good come of this. We just can’t let Tammy go this way.”
At the college, JoAnn stood before 50 or so students, a demure, matronly figure with long, brown hair and an earnest expression. She was nervous. She wanted this talk—sponsored by the South Jersey Survivors of Violent Crimes—to have an impact, to make people aware of highway homicides in America, of prevention and the role of police. When the family lived in South Carolina, JoAnn spent most of her days with young people, usually as a volunteer mother at high school functions. She never had a problem talking to students. But this was different—this was a mission, one that would soon blossom into other talks, other support-group visits.
“Let me start by telling you a little bit about Tammy,’ “JoAnn began. “She would have been 22 tomorrow, but she’s not here to celebrate her birthday…”JoAnn paused, a choke in her voice. Then she caught her breath and continued. This time she did not falter.
Saturday, May. 1: This morning, Hank and JoAnn looked at granite samples from two gravestone shops in West Newton. By the time they walked up the slope toward Tammy’s burial site, they had chosen a dark gray headstone with a Garfield next to the simple inscription of her name and the dates of her birth and death.
As he had in the past, Hank continued to feel he was somehow partly responsible for his daughter’s fate, for raising her to be cautious with strangers. “Maybe if she had been more of a free spirit,” he said, while strolling between the headstones, “she would have taken the first ride and got through the whole thing without a problem. That’s what’s so frustrating. There are prostitutes and other kinds of women in crazy situations, and they’re still alive. Then there’s a kid like Tammy, someone you protected, nurtured and guided. She worked hard, went to school on a scholarship, did all the right things. And someone lakes her life. It’s unfair, totally” wrong. People talk about Cod and how He’s controlling things. Well, why did He let this happen?”
Nearing the small stone chapel by the exit, Hank gazed back up the green slope, tree-lined and dotted with hundreds of polished sentinels. “I can still see her,” he said. “When we’d visit Grinnell, sometimes she’d see me across the lawn by her dorm. She’d come running over in her Umbro shorts, ponytail flying, waving her arms, and she’d have a big ol’ grin on her face.”
Hank recalled that he had survived a house fire, accidents, marital problems—”you know, arguments, your good times and your bad times”—and job problems. “But nothing’s as bad as this,” he said. “It sure helps keep everything else in perspective. Some stuff just isn’t as important as before. I’ve learned to take life in stride.”
Saturday, May 22: In Ames, Iowa, psychic Su Walker closed her eyes, leaned back in her living-room recliner and asked for a few minutes of silence. Background seashore sounds wafted from a stereo speaker as Hank and JoAnn waited for Walker to “drop down” into a trance. Though they were mildly skeptical of clairvoyants, they paid Walker a brief visit while spending graduation weekend at Grinnell. “We don’t believe or disbelieve,” JoAnn said. “We just want to see if she can help.”
For the next hour, Walker held a snapshot of Tammy and answered questions from Hank. As the session progressed she gave a description of the killer: “Slender build, 32 to 40 years old, high forehead, slightly bulging brown eyes, longish hair, Caucasian.” She also saw Tammy in the truck cab, the sheet and red blanket in the sleeper compartment, the raping and stabbing, even the farmhouse that hid the truck. “Did she know we were looking for her?” Hank asked.
“Yes,” said Walker. “She watched you in her spirit form when you were before the TV cameras.”
Later, driving to Grinnell for the seniors’ baccalaureate and commencement exercises, Hank expressed disbelief in Walker’s visions. Most of the details, even the sexual assault, were publicly known or could have been imagined. But JoAnn was more hopeful. “You never know,” she said. “Psychics themselves say it’s hit or miss. I’m willing to give them a chance.”
Monday, May 24: While rain clouds threatened to disrupt Grinnell’s outdoor graduation ceremony, Hank roamed with a video-camera, taping students and speakers. JoAnn, meanwhile, sat on a folding chair clutching her program, which honored Tammy as a member of the Class of 1993. After the presentation of degrees, Hank and JoAnn walked away from the crowd to speak to a TV reporter, who asked why they were attending the graduation. “Well, we needed to close a chapter in our lives,” Hank said. “And then Tammy’s not here, so we’re here in her place.” JoAnn, noting the sun’s rays spiking through the clouds, corrected him: “Oh, she’s here. She made sure it wasn’t going to rain.”
Sunday, July 4: Hank and the boys playfully lined themselves up on the Atlantic City boardwalk and stepped out in a synchronized strut. “Tammy would have started the whole thing,” JoAnn said, watching from a distance. “She got her playfulness from her father. I guess he’s starting to be his old self again.”
Leaving the boardwalk, the family—along with Dean’s and Todd’s girlfriends—clowned among some exposed pilings along the beach. “It’s coming on a year,” JoAnn said. “Still no results from the investigation. But what can you do? I have no faith in the FBI or police.” In particular, she is concerned about a recent loss of possible evidence. Witnesses at a gas station near where Tammy was found had reported seeing a truck and trucker that might be linked to Tammy’s case. Yet police, who initially said they had collected receipts from the filling station, never did, and the slips were eventually thrown away. Master Sgt. Harold Hendrickson of the Illinois state police said the oversight occurred because they were, simply, “stretched too thin.”
Friday, Aug. 6: Almost a year after Tammy disappeared, the Zywickis feel their worst months are behind them and hope her killer will soon be caught and tried. Todd, Dean and Daren have been helped by supportive girlfriends who “brought them out of their down times,” JoAnn says. Hank remains strong and stoic, though still vulnerable to tearful memories. JoAnn, who no longer relies so strongly on frequent chats with her sister, recently began attending local meetings of Compassionate Friends, a mutual-support group for parents of deceased children. “We sit in a circle, share our stories and pass around boxes of tissues,” JoAnn says. “Another thing I do is keep busy. Like in a few weeks, around the time Tammy left us, we’ll light a candle for her, then maybe go to the beach. Nothing drastic. Just get through it, and start on the next year.