- A nearly two-decade mystery surrounding the disappearance and slaying of 14-year-old runaway Amber Creek.
- Despite the prosecutors being certain they have found the killer, another unnamed man is also under investigation after having admitted that he engaged in choking acts while having sex with the teenager to get a high.
Amber Creek was born on July 2, 1982 in Park Ridge, Illinois. Initially she lived with her mother, Elizabeth - a coke addict whose new boyfriend turned out to be a paedophile. When Amber revealed the abuse at age six, the state removed her from her mother’s care and sent her to live with her father, Robert, in nearby Palatine.
Though plagued by her horrible memories, Amber seemed to heal with time. But the peace she found was only to be temporary, a Band-Aid placed over a gaping wound in her soul that refused to heal. At age fourteen Amber was struck down by severe depression. She began to sneak out at night and at other times run away, desperately trying to fill the void in her life with booze, drugs and sex.
[[inline “amber-creek-2.jpg” “Amber Creek”]]
In December 1996 Amber’s erapist recommended residential therapy. He knew that they were at a crucial stage where they were battling to save Amber’s life. Unable to pay for the pricey residential therapy, and with the state refusing to take Amber into their care whilst Robert was providing safe, adequate care, Robert made a desperate Hail Mary play to rescue his daughter from the brink of self-destruction – he dropped her off at the local police station, telling officers that she could no longer live with him. This forced the state to take custody of Amber.
Unable to house her with a foster family, Amber was placed in a Chicago youth shelter. At that time, Amber changed her appearance drastically (right below).
[[inline “amber-creek-3.jpg” “Amber Creek”]]
Amber would not stay put, running away nine times over the next six weeks. However she would always return after no more than a few days. That was until January 23, 1997 when Amber ran for the final time. Homeless and alone, she turned to prostitution to survive. On February 1, 1997 Amber attended a boozy party at a seedy motel with a group of men in Rolling Meadows. She left the party with a man, a stranger, never to be seen alive again.
On February 9, 1997 two hunters roaming near a marsh in the Karcher Wildlife Area in Burlington, Wisconsin made a grisly find. Amber’s frozen corpse sat posed against a tree with her arm raised up high, seemingly waving to them. She had been beaten and raped. The word ‘Hi’ was written on the palm of the waving hand in black marker and a $5 price tag was stuck to her arm. A garbage bag which had been used to suffocate her was still covering Amber’s head. Underneath the bag a vicious wound from a human bite marked her neck. She was nude from the waist down. Her pants were later found in a nearby parking lot with her underwear balled up in a pocket.
The police failed to identify Amber, partly due to the youth shelter not reporting her as missing until five weeks after she ran away and then providing the wrong girl’s photograph when they finally did. ‘Jane Doe’ was buried in a casket donated by a local man, with sheriff’s deputies as pallbearers and one hundred locals in attendance at her funeral. These people were unknown to Amber but were touched by her story. Amber was finally identified more than a year later after America’s Most Wanted ran the story and Robert Creek contacted police after viewing the episode. Formal identification was achieved through dental records and DNA matching. Amber was reburied under a headstone now bearing her real name.
With few leads to follow up on, the case went cold. Police were, however, convinced that Amber had been killed by one of her clients. It was not until February 2014, seventeen years after Amber’s murder, that detectives finally caught a break in the case.
An Oklahoma crime lab was reviewing old cold case fingerprints when the system got a hit on a thumbprint from the garbage bag at the crime scene that matched a 36-year-old Palatine man named James Eaton. He had been nineteen at the time of Amber’s murder and was unknown to police at the time. His fingerprints had not entered the system until a 2000 arrest for minor drug charges.
Police tailed Eaton for days, eventually recovering cigarette butts he had discarded outside a train station and using DNA matching to tie him to the crime scene. He was arrested and charged with first-degree murder and hiding a corpse in early April 2014. Although he never confessed, and originally pleaded not guilty in October 2014, Eaton later entered a plea of no contest to a reduced charge of first-degree reckless homicide on October 25, 2016. He faces up to forty years in prison and is due to be sentenced on January 20, 2017.