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Suspect in Tammy Tracey murder arrested after 33 years

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Jesse Smith
Jesse Smith

ROCKFORD (WREX) — The cold case murder of 19-year-old Tammy Tracey may finally be solved.

Authorities announced today the arrest and indictment of Jesse Smith, born May 4, 1956, for the murder of Tammy Tracey.

Jesse Smith

Smith was taken into custody Thursday afternoon in Albany, Georgia on a $5 million bond, according to Winnebago County State's Attorney Marilyn Hite Ross. Smith will be brought back to Illinois to face the charges.

Hite Ross says Smith lived in the Rockford area at the time of the murder and knew the family.

“The filing of these charges is the culmination of the tenacious efforts of all of the law enforcement agencies who worked on this murder investigation. The patience of the Tracey family during this time period is to be commended,” said State's Attorney Hite Ross.

"It's heartbreaking," said Rockford Police Chief Dan O'Shea. O'Shea says one of the first people he met when he came to Rockford 4.5 years ago was Linda Tracey, Tammy's mom.

O'Shea says the Tracey family can now get closure and continue to get closure as the case moves through the court.

Tammy was last seen on May 27, 1987. She went to Searls Park in Winnebago County to wax her car. When she didn't return home the next day, her mother Linda Tracey called police. Tammy's car was found at the park, but the teen was nowhere to be found.

A massive search was launched for the teen, but there was no sign of Tammy.

Nearly one year later, on April 15, 1988, a bird watcher stumbled across human remains at the Sugar River Forest Preserve in Winnebago County. Those remains were eventually identified as Tammy's.

"I thought once Tammy was found that it was gonna be cut and dried and they would bring this person to justice,"  Linda Tracey told 13 WREX back in May of 2020.

13 WREX produced a special report on the mystery of Tammy's death on the 33-year anniversary of her disappearance. At the time, investigators from Rockford Police and the Winnebago County Sheriff's Office said they knew who the killer was, but didn't have enough evidence to bring the person to justice.

"They always said that it was somebody that she knew because, she just wouldn't go with anybody. She just wouldn't," Linda Tracey told us. "I have to see this person punished and know why he did it before, you know, I die."

Kristin Crowley

Evening News Anchor
Kristin Crowley anchors the 5, 6 and 10 p.m. news. She is also a reporter for 13 Investigates. She brings more than a decade of experience to the newsroom. Her work at WREX has earned her multiple awards including a regional Edward R. Murrow for Investigative Journalism and three regional Emmys.

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