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35-year-old cold case solved with the help from genealogy databases

Posted at 6:22 PM, Oct 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-10-22 19:34:51-04

OZAUKEE COUNTY — An Ozaukee County cold case has been solved after nearly 35 years. The Ozaukee County Sheriff said Tuesday that forensic science tied a man named Philip Cross to the rape and 1984 murder of Traci Hammerberg.

“After almost 35 years we’ve found the person that brutally raped, strangled and bludgeoned Traci Hammerberg to death,” Johnson said.

Johnson admits, Cross wasn’t even a suspect in this cold case until just a few months ago.

Forensic scientists used DNA evidence from Hammerberg’s body and compared it to public genealogy databases that thousands of people use to learn about their family history.

“The closest relative identified through the databases was a second cousin,” Johnson said.

Johnson said investigators spent months creating a ‘family tree’ going back several generations to eventually match that DNA to Cross who was 21-years-old at the time of the murder.

In December of 1984, Hammerberg left to go to a party and she never returned home.

“Traci’s body was discovered naked from the waste down,” Johnson said.

An autopsy revealed the 18-year-old was raped and died from severe blows to her head. Johnson said Cross’ job put him in the area where Hammerberg was that night.

“Cross’ second shift of employment at Rexnord (Plastics) would allow him to be in the Port Washington area at the time Traci left on foot from her friend’s residence,” he said.

While Johnson is pleased this cold case is solved after three decades, he wishes Cross were still alive to be held accountable.

"We had mixed feelings on it," Johnson said. "I wanted him to face greater justice. He stole Traci's life. He was able to live the life that he wanted his way."

Johnson says Cross died in a drug overdose in Milwaukee in 2012. Cross had a lengthy criminal history including domestic violence.