Just 14-years-old, Amber Creek referred to as a habitual runaway who was in the care of the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services because even though her father loved her, he couldn't keep her out of drugs and alcohol and handed her to the state in December 1996. Even though the children's shelter noted her missing one month later on January 23, 1997, they didn't report her as missing until February 28 - 5 weeks after they last saw her, but over 2 weeks after her body was found in a marsh in Wisconsin, another state. She was buried as "Jane Doe" and over 100 people that didn't even know her - or know who she was - attended her burial.
Amber had been beaten, sexually assaulted and asphyxiated by a bag over her head. That bag had fingerprints and DNA was found on her body, but there was no match in the Wisconsin system or the FBI's database of 49 states. So, imagine how the Wisconsin authorities must have felt after hundreds of hours of investigation and 17 years later to get a phone call from the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations. They were conducting a cold case project and discovered latent fingerprint comparison technology and found a DNA match to James P. Eaton, a 36-year-old bank operations manager from Illinois. He was 19 when Amber was murdered.
Investigators located and followed Eaton until he smoked and discarded two cigarettes. Those cigarettes, a paper bag, and bodily fluids would match him to Amber's murder. A preliminary hearing is set for April 16. Eaton could face life in prison, but he's had nearly two decades of freedom in the meantime.
Sometimes we get resolve. Not necessarily what we had expected or hoped for, but peace in knowing people cared enough to look, investigate, and prosecute even when a case goes cold. As for the Illinois system, they now photograph and fingerprint the children that come through their program and they report them missing right away.