Murder of Amber Creek
Creek in February 1996 (left) compared to an undated photograph changing her image after suffering from depression.
July 12, 1982|
Park Ridge, Illinois, United States
|Died||January 31, 1997 (aged 14)
Burlington, Wisconsin, United States
|Cause of death||Homicide by asphyxiation|
|Body discovered||February 9, 1997|
|Resting place||Holy Family Cemetery, Caledonia, Wisconsin|
|Known for||Murder victim|
Amber Gail "Aimee" Creek was a Palatine, Illinois girl who was murdered in 1997. Creek had run away from a youth shelter and was subsequently murdered and left in Burlington, Wisconsin, where she remained unidentified for approximately one year. It was not until April 2014 that police had arrested a suspect, James Eaton, who was native to the same town as the victim, Palatine, Illinois. Eaton plead guilty to a reduced charge of reckless homicide in late 2016.
Amber Creek, described as a frequent runaway and a ward of the state, ran away from a youth shelter for the sixth time in early 1997 after long periods of depression that had resulted in her using drugs and alcohol. Creek's father had taken her to a local police station and requested that she would be removed from his custody. Subsequently, after unsuccessful attempts to enter the subject into foster care, she was placed in a group home from which she eventually ran away. It is also believed that she later resorted to prostitution. Although she did not disclose her location, she did regularly speak with family members by telephone. She was last seen alive in February 1997, attending a hotel party with a group of men in Rolling Meadows, Illinois.
On February 9, 1997, her body was discovered, frozen in a wildlife refuge, by hunters in Burlington, Racine County, Wisconsin. It had been around two weeks after she had been reported missing. She was believed to have been murdered at a different location, which has never been identified, and then disposed of at the refuge.
A garbage bag was used to suffocate her, as it was found around her head. She had also been physically abused and raped. Creek had been bitten on the neck and was beaten and slashed in the facial area. The bite had caused compression to her neck, which played a role in her death. The word "hi" was written on the girl's palm, which was raised in an upward position. A price tag from a bookstore was observed to have been present on one of her arms. She wore few clothes, as some were likely removed in the process of the assault, including her jacket and backpack containing personal items. Her underwear was later discovered inside of her pants pocket. A possible explanation to why some of her belongings were not found at the scene is that the murderer may have taken souvenirs. Authorities surmise that Creek may have been murdered by someone that may have received prostitution services from her.
Around one hundred Wisconsin inhabitants attended the then-unidentified victim's funeral where she was buried in a donated casket. Initially, Creek was buried in a grave that read "Jane Doe" due to the fact that her identity was not yet known. Afterwards, she was later reburied and a new headstone was created that bore her name and lifespan.
Police reportedly spent thousands of hours comparing DNA, dental records and fingerprints to many different missing person cases. Consequently, it was not until June 26, 1998 when her body was positively identified, through DNA and dental comparison over a year after her death. After viewing the television show, America's Most Wanted that aired in December 1998, which documented the case, Creek's father had notified police that he suspected that the body belonged to his daughter. When Creek had first vanished, she was not reported missing for five weeks, as her history of running away had prevented investigation. After the identification, laws in the state were changed to prevent an issue like this from happening again.
Arrest of James Eaton
In October 2013, an Oklahoma crime lab began re-examining fingerprints taken from scenes of unsolved murders. In February 2014, Creek's case was reopened; examiners in an Oklahoma crime lab were able to match a thumbprint on the garbage bag concealing the body to James Paul Eaton, a 36-year-old divorced man. Eaton was nineteen at the time of the murder and lived in Palatine, Illinois, the same town as Creek. One of the men seen with Amber in early February 1997 bore a strong resemblance to Eaton. Eaton's fingerprints were not on record at the time of the murder, recorded only in 2000 after his arrest for possession of drug paraphernalia. Investigators located the suspect in Chicago, and on March 22 collected discarded cigarette butts to match his DNA to that found at the crime scene. Eaton was subsequently arrested in early April and is currently incarcerated in Racine, Wisconsin. Authorities also looked though his computer, Facebook profile and phone, as well as searching his residence for possible souvenirs from the scene, as some of Amber's belongings had been suspected to have been taken by her killer.
Police attempted to garner a confession from Eaton by showing him images of Creek when she was alive and also by showing pictures of her body after she was found.
Creek's uncle, Anthony Mowers, has expressed that he believes that others may be involved in the murder, particularly in the transportation of Eaton and Amber to Wisconsin, claiming she may have believed she was being taken to her grandmother's residence that was located in the state at the time. Police have also stated that they believe there are more who know details about the crime. It has not yet been reported if the bite on the body matched Eaton's dental records, which has also led some to suspect that there have been more responsible for the victim's death. However, it has been stated that his saliva was found at the scene but has not explicitly been reported to have been on the bite area.
Eaton's original charges consisted of first-degree murder and concealing a body, which carried a sentence of life in prison. He pleaded not guilty to both charges at his October 2014 arraignment. The trial itself was scheduled to begin in November 2015. His defense attorney has stated that they had not been given all of the evidence available in the case, despite strong indication that he played some role in Creek's death. However, the final pretrial conference and trial were later delayed to May 31 and June 6, 2016, respectively, as the defense was attempting to locate an individual to examine the bite mark on Creek's neck as well as the DNA from the scene.
A judge, convinced by Eaton's attorney, eventually ruled that information that was obtained through interrogation of Eaton after his arrest, including his reaction to Amber's photographs, could not be used in court, as police had continued to interrogate him after he requested getting a lawyer, which they did not acknowledge until his third request, on April 5, 2014. However, it was ruled that information obtained by police the next day could still be used.
On October 25, 2016, Eaton plead no contest to a reduced charge of first-degree reckless homicide. Another unnamed man is also under investigation for suspected involvement in the murder. Eaton was sentenced to 40 years with eligibility for parole after serving ten years.
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