For detective working on cold case, murder is impossible to forget

Thirty-four years after teen’s body was found in rural Grafton, Sheriff’s Office continues search for her killer
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

For members of the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office, many crimes and incidents are hard to forget.

For Detective Amy Steger, one is impossible to not remember.

She’s in charge of investigating the murder 34 years ago of Traci Hammerberg, an 18-year-old Saukville girl whose body was found on Dec. 15, 1984, in the driveway of a house on Maple Road in the Town of Grafton.

“There hasn’t been a period (since the murder) that someone hasn’t been working on the case,” said Steger, who has been heading up the investigation for four years.

“She’s never been forgotten,” Steger said. “Everyone is determined to find the person who is responsible for her death. This case means a lot to a lot of people.”

The night of Dec. 14, 1984, Traci Lynn Hammerberg, a student at Port Washington High School, attended a party in Port. She left with friends and that was the last time anyone saw her alive. 

Her body was left  in the Town of Grafton driveway. She was nude from the waist down, wearing red socks. Her blue jeans were strewn about near her body. She had been raped and beaten to death. Trauma to the head was the cause of death. 

Traci’s stepsister, Jennifer Sarabia, was 6 years old in 1984 and watching “The Muppets Movie” on TV with her mother when a promotion for the 10 o’clock news announced the top story was that a body of a girl had been found in Grafton.

“Right away, my mom had that gut feeling it was Traci,” Sarabia said. “She started making calls and sure enough. Then I was shipped off to the neighbors across the street.”

The unit investigating the “cold case,” a term used to describe unsolved crimes, currently includes three people — two in the Ozaukee County Sheriff’s Office, including Steger, and one with the state Division of Criminal Investigation, or DCI. 

Steger said her office periodically gets phone calls, messages on social media and anonymous tips from people who remember the case and think they may have new information.

“Somebody came in just a couple months ago,” Steger said. “Especially this time of year around the anniversary we hear from people. We follow up on any leads we get. One name might lead to a couple more. Obviously, somebody knows something.”

One of the ways investigators follow up is by collecting DNA samples and comparing them to DNA evidence found at the crime scene, she said.

The people Hammerberg left with that night and the people in the house on Highway A were cleared by investigators. 

In fact, more than 400 DNA samples have been collected as part of the investigation, likely the most associated with any case in the state, officials say.

The DNA from the Hammerberg case also is periodically run through national data bases, especially when a new serial killer is identified as having killed in multiple states.

Hammerberg’s is one of three cold cases the sheriff’s office is investigating, the others being that of Brad Machett, a 10-year-old boy, and Beth Umolac, a 19-year-old woman whose body was found stabbed to death. Both bodies were found in October 1980 and both, like Hammerberg’s, in the Town of Grafton.

Steger and the others also work on current cases, she said.

Shortly after Traci’s murder, Sarabia and the rest of her family moved to Oostburg. Sarabia lives in Sheboygan now and has a child of her own, a 7-year-old daughter.

Her mother, Judith, died in 2004, her father, Robert, in 2008, never knowing who killed their daughter.

Every year on the anniversary of Traci’s death, “I do a little extra praying or a little extra talking to her,” she said. “I pray more that they find the person who did it.

“I feel that hopefully something is going to happen. I just hope that I’m still around when it does.”

A $5,000 reward for information leading to the identification of Hammerberg’s murder is still in effect.

  People can leave an anonymous tip by texting “OZSO” to 847411, calling 284-7172, or emailing Steger at asteger@co.ozaukee.wi.us.

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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