February 24, 2024
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New suspect in the ‘92 killing of Tammy Zywicki near Utica?

Former investigator in cold case sees some parallels

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A new person of interest has been developed in the 1992 disappearance and death of Tammy Jo Zywicki, the Iowa college student last seen after her car broke down on Interstate 80 near La Salle.

Authorities in Iowa have apprehended a long-haul trucker who’s been implicated in three women’s slayings in the 1990s and who, The Associated Press reported, could be responsible for other unsolved homicides.

Officers arrested Clark Perry Baldwin, 58, in Waterloo, Iowa on Wednesday after new DNA evidence allegedly tied him to three women whose bodies were dumped in Wyoming and Tennessee. Court documents allege that he also raped and choked a woman in Texas in 1991.

Detectives with the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation are “looking at any connections” that Baldwin may have to cold cases from that era, special agent Mike Krapfl said. He said other agencies were scrutinizing Baldwin, given that he traveled the country.

“Obviously there are several cases that need to be followed up on,” Krapfl said.

One of the cases identified was Zywicki, though neither La Salle County’s top prosecutor nor Zywicki’s mother said they have yet been contacted by Iowa authorities about any link between Baldwin and the 28-year-old case.

La Salle County state’s attorney Karen Donnelly said she planned to contact state police to discuss the Baldwin case. Zywicki’s mother, Joanne, now a resident of Florida, said she was alerted to Baldwin’s emergence as a person of interest but otherwise had not heard from law enforcement.

“I’m glad to see so much interest in the case,” she said.

One of the people interested in Baldwin’s emergence is Bob Britt, the lead investigator in the Zywicki case when he was with state police. Britt reviewed The Associated Press story and said, yes, Baldwin is a name he’d never come across during the Zywicki investigation. He also was struck by several parallels between the Zywicki murder and the homicides to which Baldwin has been linked.

Court documents allege Baldwin raped a female hitchhiker from Kansas in Wheeler County, Texas, at gunpoint in his truck in 1991. The 21-year-old woman told police that Baldwin struck her on the head, bound her hands and mouth and tried to choke her to death. (He allegedly admitted to the assault but was released pending grand jury proceedings. Ultimately, he wasn’t prosecuted.)

That, Britt said, is “almost exactly” what happened to Tammy Zywicki. Her assailant tried to strangle her with her necklace but instead stabbed her with a pen knife, causing her to bleed to death.

Another detail from the Baldwin case leaped out at Britt: Baldwin was, during the 1990s, a resident of Springfield, Missouri, not far from where Tammy’s body was discovered on Sept. 1, 1992. Zywicki 's body was located along Interstate 44 in rural Lawrence County, Missouri, located between Springfield and Joplin and, as Britt recalled it, closer to Springfield.

“He fits my profile,” Britt said, expressing hope that trucking records still might be available linking Baldwin to time and scene where Zywicki’s body was found.

Other cases being probed including the death of 22-year-old Rhonda Knutson, a truck stop convenience store clerk in northern Iowa who was bludgeoned to death during an overnight shift in 1992. Baldwin lived in nearby Nashua, Iowa.

In Wyoming, Baldwin is charged in the deaths of two women whose bodies were found in 1992 roughly 400 miles apart. Investigators never identified the women, nicknaming them “Bitter Creek Betty” and “I-90 Jane Doe.” In Tennessee, Baldwin is charged with two counts of murder in the 1991 killing of a 32-year-old pregnant woman from Topping, Virginia, Pamela McCall, and her fetus.

A Tennessee crime lab developed a DNA profile of the suspect in McCall’s death last year after a cold case investigator submitted evidence for analysis. A check in a national database matched the profile to one that had been developed years earlier linking the two Wyoming deaths.

Investigators zeroed in on Baldwin after finding DNA in commercial genealogy databases of someone related to the suspect’s profile, court documents say. Last month in Waterloo, Iowa, the FBI secretly collected DNA from Baldwin’s trash and a shopping cart he used at Walmart and testing revealed that it was a match.

Tennessee District Attorney General Brent Cooper praised investigators for “bringing this serial killer to justice.”

Baldwin, a cross-country truck driver for Marten Transport, became a person of interest in a 1992 homicide investigation in Iowa. His ex-wife told police then that Baldwin once bragged about “killing a girl out west by strangulation and throwing her out of his truck,” court documents say.

In 1997, Secret Service agents raided Baldwin’s apartment in Springfield, Missouri, after learning he was making counterfeit U.S. currency on a personal computer. He and two female associates were indicted on counterfeiting charges. Baldwin was sentenced to 18 months in prison and released in 1999.

Baldwin is being held without bond at the Black Hawk County jail. In a court hearing Thursday, he didn’t challenge his extradition to Tennessee, where he is expected to be transferred in coming weeks and eventually face trial first.