Editor’s note: The following is the 11th installment in a series about the disappearance of 21-year-old Veronica Blumhorst, who vanished Sept. 20, 1990, after finishing her shift at a Mendota, Illinois, grocery store.
MENDOTA – Those close to Veronica Blumhorst say she likely left the alley behind her home nearly 30 years ago with someone she knew and that that person likely killed her.
Volunteers who are now investigating the case say they agree with that theory. But, in an interesting twist, the group says its prime suspect is a different person altogether.
According to the most popular theory, Veronica arrived home around 1:15 a.m., parked her car in the garage and got into another vehicle. It is believed she left willingly with the driver, who many believe was her boyfriend. The theory is based on the findings of police dogs that lost her scent a few hundred feet from the garage. To bolster the theory even more, her boyfriend told police he may have picked her up and hurt her during an argument after he discovered she was pregnant.
But new developments over the last few months suggest that Veronica’s boyfriend, who suffered from memory loss because of a head injury, was just another in a line of men questioned by police. And that questioning may not have been tailored to just her known lover.
A man who was in Dempsey’s Super Valu about an hour before Veronica closed the store told The Times investigators conducted a familiar line of questioning when he was brought into the Mendota Police Department. He said they suggested that he picked up Veronica after work and harmed her in some way.
That led Blumhorst family spokesman Doug Truckenbrod to review the police report, which he says begs the question why her boyfriend would voluntarily make damning statements without some degree of influence. Truckenbrod believes he didn’t. He says it’s more likely that the statements came from a confused young man with memory problems struggling to cooperate with highly trained interviewers.
But what about the statements about Veronica being pregnant? Truckenbrod says the theory may have been floated by police on a mere hunch or part of a control question, often used in interviews to determine if someone is being truthful. For example, an interviewing officer may tell a suspect, “We know the victim’s dress was torn off,” knowing the victim was wearing slacks.
Because only a summary of the boyfriend’s interview has been released and not the transcript, how he arrived at the answers isn’t known. Regardless, Truckenbrod says other information he’s uncovered has brought him to a conclusion about Veronica’s boyfriend.
“I think he was manipulated into saying what he did in the police report,” Truckenbrod said. “And once he lawyered up, the person who killed Veronica was free to fumble along and destroy any trails he himself left.”
His No. 1 suspect? Truckenbrod wouldn’t reveal that. He said the person won’t be named publicly unless police chose to do so in the future. There’s one thing he’s sure of though: It’s not the boyfriend.
“I don’t think he did it, or he’d been charged based on the report,” he said. “I would like to hear the tape of the interview to prove otherwise.”
A killer from Peru?
When the body 21-year-old Tammy Zywicki was found in 1992, another theory about what happened to Veronica Blumhorst began to emerge.
It was Aug. 23, 1992, the day Zywicki, of Martlton, New Jersey, dropped her brother off at Northwestern University then headed to Grinnell College in Iowa, where she was a senior. She never arrived. Her car was later found broken down on Interstate 88 near LaSalle, Illinois. On Sept. 1, her body was found wrapped in a blanket near a highway just east of Joplin, Missouri.
Like the case of Veronica Blumhorst, some of Zywicki’s personal items are missing, including a camera and musical wristwatch. Police say the watch is similar to one Lonnie Bierbrodt, a trucker from Peru, Illinois, gave to his wife as a gift.
Although a strong suspect, Bierbrodt, an ex-con, was never arrested and died of AIDS in 2002. He caught the eyes of police because of the watch and because a witness reported seeing a tractor-trailer parked near Zywicki’s 1985 Pontiac T1000 when it was stalled on the interstate.
And although the truck driver fit Bierbrodt’s description, other witnesses said a pickup, not a semi, was parked near the Pontiac, casting doubt on the existence of either.
According to the theory that Veronica Blumhorst met her fate at the hands of Zywicki’s killer, the perpetrator, possibly Bierbrodt, struck in Mendota nearly a year earlier. As someone from Peru, which is only 16 miles away, Bierbrodt may have been familiar with Mendota and was lurking in the autumn darkness on Sept. 20, 1990, when he encountered Veronica.
Was this man stalking the grocery clerk before he snatched from behind her house? Did he approach Veronica in his semi as police once believed he’d done to Tammy Zywicki?
The circumstances of the Mendota disappearance and information gleaned since his team has ratcheted up its investigation lead Truckenbrod away from such questions.
“I don’t believe that to be true,” he said. “I’m pretty sure she knew her killer.”
This article was originally published Jan. 21, 2020, in The Rock River Times. The FBI has since taken over the investigation into the disappearance of Veronica Blumhorst.