ROCKFORD (WREX) — It's one of the most infamous unsolved cases in Rockford and Winnebago County: The murder of Tammy Tracey. A 19-year-old girl who went to wax her car and never came home.
"I cry every single day for her," said Linda Tracey.
Losing her only daughter was hard enough for Linda Tracey. Not knowing who's to blame is agonizing.
"I have to see this person punished and know why he did it before you know I die," she said.
The mystery of Tammy Tracey's death begins in May 20, 1987. Before investigators even knew she was murdered. The teenager told her mom she was headed to Searls Park to wax her car. The next morning, Linda went to wake her daughter.
"The minute I walked into that bedroom and she wasn't there, I knew something bad had happened to her," she said.
Later that day, Linda found Tammy's car still at Searls Park. Tammy was nowhere to be found.
That launched a massive search, both on the ground and in the air, for the missing girl. They wouldn't find her for nearly a year.
One April 15, 1988, a bird watcher stumbled across Tammy's remains at Sugar River Forest Preserve in Winnebago County. Roughly 18 miles from where she went missing. According to investigators, her body was so badly decomposed, they couldn't even tell if the remains were a man's or a woman's.
"She laid out there for 11 months in that forest preserve. You can imagine, through the winter, the animals. It just rips me up inside when I think of that," said Linda.
Tammy had been shot and stabbed to death. But with the mystery of where she was solved, Linda expected the next answer was right around the corner.
"I thought once Tammy was found that it was gonna be cut and dried and they would bring this person to justice," she said.
But justice never came.
"If there were one case that I could say please let us get this one solved and let us get this one cleared up. It would be this one," said Lt. Pete DalPra with the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office.
DalPra and Lieutenant Kurt Whisenand with the Rockford Police Department have spent more than a decade picking up where investigators in the 1980s and 1990s left off. But so far, their efforts haven't produced any new results.
"It is very disappointing as an investigator not to bring that closure to the family," said Whisenand.
When a case turns cold, the common thought is investigators have no idea who the suspect is. That's not the case in Tammy Tracey's murder mystery. In fact, investigators say who killed her isn't a mystery at all.
"All of the investigation since then, in the last 15 years, has all pointed in one direction," said Whisenand.
When asked if he knows who the killer is, Whisenand answers, "I do". And he says he's 100% certain. He would not, however, provide a name.
So why hasn't there been an arrest? Whisenand says it's not that simple.
"What I believe, what I know, and what I can prove are two different things," he said.
"Somebody's got that information and that's what we need," said DalPra.
Information is exactly what Tammy Tracey's family is hoping for. Tammy's brother and sister-in-law bought two billboards in town. On them, a large picture of Tammy with the words "Never Forget" and a phone number to authorities.
It's the first time since her disappearance the family has paid for billboards in hopes of finding answers.
"The publicity, the family putting up the billboards, it's really a positive for the case because maybe it'll be the sort of impetus for the people who have that information to come forward to make that phone call to investigators," said Whisenand.
"I believe it will be solved, between technology, I truly believe somebody in the community knows something. Knows what happened," said DalPra.
Somebody who may see those billboards, or who may see this story, who can put and end not just to a mystery, but to a family's suffering.
If you have any information that could lead to Tammy Tracey's killer, call Crime Stoppers at (815) 963-7867.