Herald JournalHerald Journal, Sept. 29, 2003

Reopened 1979 death investigation continues aggressively

By Ryan Gueningsman

Interviews and inspections of a 24-year-old Montrose area crime scene continue in the ongoing investigation into the death of Jeffrey Hammill.

"This is an ongoing, intense criminal investigation," said Lieutenant Stewart Wirth of the Wright County Sheriff's Department Wednesday. "There are members of the BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) and Wright County investigators in the field as we speak."

Hammill, a mechanic, was 21 at the time of his death. He had gone back and forth between living at a residence in Buffalo, and a friend's house in Rockford, said Wright County Chief Deputy Don Lindell.

Hammill's body was found alongside the roadway of Wright County Road 12, about two miles north of Montrose at 4:02 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 11, 1979, according to the Wright County Sheriff's Department.

His body was found face up in a pool of blood, and he had suffered a blunt force wound to his head.

Earlier that evening, Hammill was seen at the Country West Bar in Rockford (now Billy Bob's on Hwy. 55). It is believed that while he was walking home to Buffalo after the bar closed, Hammill was picked up and taken to a gathering in Montrose.

Witnesses indicated that he had left the gathering around 2 a.m. Two hours later, a passing motorist called in a report, and deputies found Hammill's body.

An article that appeared in the Aug. 16, 1979, Buffalo newspaper stated that it was ruled an apparent hit-and-run death, and was being investigated by the sheriff's department.

Hammill's services took place Aug. 14 at the Peterson Chapel in Buffalo, with interment at the Wadena Cemetery.

Investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension Cold Case Unit in partnership with Spotlight On Crime is offering a reward of up to $50,000 is being offered for information that could help close the case.

Interest arose in the case again after a citizen contacted the sheriff's office, Wirth said.

Posters have been hung in surrounding communities looking for people who may have some information.

Spotlight on Crime is a fund that provides cash rewards for information that helps solve violent crimes, and is sponsoring the reward. It is a partnership between Minnesota businesses and public safety officials.

Detectives investigating this case believe there are witnesses still in the area and that physical evidence may still exist that could prove critical to the case.

Anyone with information should contact Wirth at the Wright County Sheriff's Office at (763) 682-1162 or the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Cold Case Unit at (651) 642-0610.

There are a group of people who investigators still are hoping to interview, Wirth said.

"In 1979, forensic sciences were not what they are today. We are doing interviews and developing new information at this time," he said. "We'll go as long as we need to uncover the truth."

A cold case solved

An unrelated cold case was brought to justice recently.

The Huling family, a mother and three children, was murdered in their home just outside of Wright County in Stearns County, also in 1979.

The case aired on A&E this past January, Lindell said. At the time of the deaths, Sheriff Gary Miller was a patrolman, and was called to a harassment complaint at the Clearwater Truck Plaza, now Nelson Brothers.

The man, Joe Ture, was arrested and jailed because the car he was using proved to be stolen.

Police later found a pipe in the vehicle, which proved to be one of Ture's murder weapons. He also killed a waitress near the Afton area before making his way to Wright County.

Wright County investigators kept that pipe in evidence, and Ture was eventually convicted of the deaths.

Ture is currently at Stillwater Prison serving a life sentence.

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