The teenagers were heading to a party in Gratton later that night, but first decided to have a couple of beers at “Quades Tavern” in Port Washington. The bartender remembered Traci, they made small talk and she told him about her plans later that night.
After a night of partying in Gratton Traci decided it was time to call it and night and leave. She left the party around 30 minutes after midnight and started the 4 mile walk along Highway 33. This wasn’t the first time the 18 year old had walked from Port Washington to Saukville on foot.
She would never make it home.
In the early hours of Saturday the 14th a man named Dan Sierack discovered the half-naked body of teenage girl, clothed only from the waist up, on a gravel driveway on Maple road and made a call to the local Sherriff.
It was Traci Hamerberg.
Police were unsure if the teenager had been murdered at the discovery site or killed elsewhere and dumped.
Autopsy revealed that she had died as a result of “massive head injuries”. She had also been strangled and raped. The officers working on the case admitted that they had no idea what the murder weapon was and the Winona Daily would later quote them as saying “it could be anything from a stick to a baseball bat”. Later reports would describe the object as “metallic”. Expended Marlboro cigarettes were also found near the body, a brand that Hammerberg was not known to smoke.
Locals had nothing to offer in the way of clues, they said they had neither heard nor seen anything suspicious that night. Two hunters would later report separate sightings of a vehicle speeding down the highway in the dark with the lights out on the night of the murder, but nothing ever came of the statements.
Traci’s remains were cremated by Poole Funerals and her family were forced to carry on not knowing what had happened to her and who was responsible. Locals lived in fear of a monster who was still out walking the streets as Traci’s killer continued to evade punishment. One of Hammerberg’s former class mates, Wendy Smith, was murdered not long after, leading people to wonder if there was a serial killer on the loose.
Despite hundreds of interviews and a grueling elimination process that saw several hundred potential suspects DNA tasted the murder went unsolved for three and a half decades. The Ozaukee County Sherriff’s office were at a loss for avenues to explore and wouldn’t have a breakthrough until March of 2019 when they submitted the DNA found on the victim’s body into a genealogy database.
They discovered that a relative of the unknown perpetrator had a profile on the database and were eventually able to identify Traci’s killer as a man named Philip Cross. The process was no easy feat and dozens of males within the perpetrator’s age range had to be eliminated before they got their guy several months later in August 2019.
Cross, who would have been 21 years old and resided in Wisconsin at the time of the crime, OD’d in 2012, so the details of what happened that night will never be known. Those following the developments wondered if Cross offered Traci a ride on that cold December night?
Did he snatch her off the side of the road her against her will? Did they have any prior connection to one another? Did he premeditate the assault and murder or was it an opportunistic crime on his part?
Recent reports state that Philip Cross and Traci Hammerberg rode the same bus to school and detailed Cross’ often violent reactions to not getting what he wanted. Those who knew him said he abused drugs and alcohol and was generally abusive and aggressive towards others. Cross was in and out of correctional schools growing up and had a history of abusive relationships with romantic partners. He only got worse as time went on and was arrested for his violent, abusive and destructive behavior multiple times over the years.
A mug shot from the mid-eighties shows a young Caucasian male with dark, short wavy hair and light eyes staring emotionlessly into the camera. Investigators knew they had their guy, but knew virtually nothing about him. Research into the man who had so violently murdered a teenage girl over three decades ago revealed that he worked the graveyard shift at Rexnord Plastics in Gratton and lived in the family home on Greenbay Road, putting him in the right time and place that night in 1984.
Investigators believe that Hammerberg may have hitched a ride with Cross and asked him to drop her off on the driveway. They think the two may have talked and smoked for a few minutes and that she may have rejected his advances, causing him to fly into a fit of rage and murder her before speeding away from the scene of the crime.