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April 02, 2022
“It’s easier to be high, homeless and on the run, than to be sober” admitted fourteen year old runaway Amber Creek in a phone call to her step mother Diana.
Amber had been abused at a young age and had never managed to process the pain. She moved in with her father when she was six years old, moving from Lake Zurich to Palatine, Illinois, around 7 miles away.
Although she filled her time with various hobbies, including cheerleading, playing the violin and singing, she could not erase the memories of what happened to her and fell into depression in her teens. She had never received the relevant therapy or counseling following her ordeal and Amber had begun acting out as a result- running away from home and using drugs and alcohol to numb the pain. She revealed to her cousins that she’d sneak at out the family home at nighttime and go to the woods where she’d planned to meet older boys. Although they displayed concern, there were no words that would make an impact on the depressed young girl, who cried herself to sleep almost every night.
“Someone's going to kill her if we don't do something.” A psychiatrist said in conversation with Amber’s dad.
Since he could not afford the $50,000 private residential therapy for his daughter and was unable to provide her with the help she needed, Amber’s father, Robert Creek, made a desperate move and had her removed from his care in late 1996. Although it sounds like a heartless act, those who know him describe him as an outstanding man, who did what he did to try and keep his daughter safe. Robert would later endure many sleepless nights as a consequence of this decision, riddled with anger and plagued by guilt.
She ended up in a youth center following several failed attempts to find her another family. Apparently he walked into a local police station with the troubled teen and informed the officers that Amber would no longer be able to live with him in his home. As a result the young girl became a ward of the state, and according to the Chicago Tribune, was sent to stay at a North side Juvenile residential center. Sadly she continued on with her cycle of self-destructive behavior.
It was a regular occurrence for her to take off for days at a time (on average, 3) and on the 23rd of January 1997 she would run away never to return. The department responsible for handling Amber was not quick to pass on her information and images to organizations that could be of assistance, such as missing person’s websites with valuable database tools. It’s possible that they didn’t think she was actually missing as she had a history of running away; however their neglect to swiftly submit her information delayed the search. According to Robert Creek when they eventually did submit his daughter’s information, details were incorrect and they even provided a photograph of a completely different child.
On the 9th of February, her body was discovered half-dressed, naked from the waist down, near a stream in at the karcher Wildlife Area in Burlington. She was almost frozen, lying in the snow.
She had a black plastic bag wrapped around her head concealing her cut up and beaten face beneath. Asphyxiation would be listed as the official cause of death on the autopsy report.
The attacker had left a bite mark on her neck and had also posed her body so that her arm was positioned up into what I assume was supposed to be a waving pose as the word “Hi” was written in black marker on her open palm. It was a twisted gag aimed at whoever stumbled across the body first-which happened to be to hunters in the area.
Examination revealed that she had been raped as well as abused. Apparently investigators believe that she may have been prostituting herself for funds to support a drug and alcohol habit. But this detail was never confirmed.
Reports state that there was a $5 price sticker from a “Golden Books” store in Schaumburg on her other arm. According to the Chicago Tribune it was from a mall in Woodfield. As for her clothes, her underwear was stuffed in her pants pocket and found nearby. Some reports state that her backpack and winter jacket was never recovered and were thought to have been kept as mementos by the perpetrator.
It was believed that she was transported from the location of the murder and dumped in the wildlife area later. This point makes many people speculate that her killer did not act alone.
A reconstruction was released in an attempt to identify Amber.
This is the picture that was circulated.
At the time Amber was considered a Jane Doe and was buried at Holy Family Catholic Cemetery in Racine County, Wisconsin. Her headstone and coffin were donated and the funeral was well attended by locals.
Her family had no idea that Amber had met such a tragic end, and she would remain nameless until a year later when her father watched a TV show featuring Amber’s case and identified her to authorities in 1998. Her father admitted to have searched for her in the streets, driving around in his car in the local area to no avail. Apparently she kept in contact with her family in the way of phone calls, so he became worried when the calls stopped and the center that she was residing at hadn’t seen her for a while.
The last time Amber was actually seen alive was at a party in the town of Railing Meadows, around 3 miles away from her home town. The party was in a motel over two nights in February ’97. Two men who attended the gathering were at one point suspects in her murder. According to police they were known to be sketchy and had criminal records, but their DNA was never matched to the scene.
Police released a composite sketch of a man that people in the town had saw Amber in the company of and the search continued.
In 2014 the fingerprints and semen found at the scene were eventually linked the DNA to a (then) 36 year old bank worker named James Eaton. He wasn’t recorded on any criminal database until the year 2000 (on a drug related charge), so when the cold case was reopened in 2014 he could finally be tied to the murder he had committed almost two decades before. Eaton would have been 19 at the time of the brutal act. Police located his apartment and began to follow him, they picked up a couple of half smoked cigarettes that he had thrown away while waiting for a train at a local station and used the DNA on them to arrest the man.
A time line can be viewed here http://timeline.chicagotribune.com/chi-amber-creek-death-timeline-20140415/step/-amber-creek-death-timeline-authorities-track-the-alleged-killer-20140415
It’s not exactly clear how Eaton knew Amber, but he turned out to be a Palatine native and didn’t live far from her around the time. In court, he supposedly revealed that the two supposedly had a sexual relationship and that often included choking.
It makes you wonder, though, was this the first time he’d done something like this? It’s a particularly brutal crime, very twisted, especially with the “Hi” on the hand. Had he done this before? Were there other people involved? Where was Amber killed? Could it have been at the party at the hotel or elsewhere?
Eaton was charged with first degree murder and concealing a corpse. His bail was set at 1 million dollars. It would later be dropped to $500,000 and he would eventually plead no contest to reckless homicide. He was sentenced to 40 years behind bars in January 2017.
Eaton was described as a “pleasant guy” by a classmate and locker neighbor who attended the same school. But in court, Eaton’s sister, a woman named Melissa Johnston, said whether or not her brother was involved in the crime, that he was no longer the same person who had been convicted of committed the brutal act in the mid-nineties. She proclaimed that he was “no longer the lost, angry teen” that he was back then. (http://host.madison.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/illinois-man-gets-years-prison-for-killing-of-teen-girl/article_39629ec2-5d04-57c9-a8ca-d01164c5f1a0.html)
Eaton is currently behind bars, and Amber Creek’s family, although they will never get over the tragic death of the 14 year old, finally feel that justice has been served.
It just goes to show that no matter how long a case remains cold, there is always the hope that the nameless may one day get back their names and those who took away their lives will face the consequences of their actions.
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