Amber Elaine Lundgren (20) was last seen on June 7, 1997, leaving a nightclub called Bar Code on 81 Broadway Street, Asheville, North Carolina. Her remains were found later that day off Azalea Road. Her case remains unsolved.
To this day, her friends and family wonder what happened to Amber. So it is only fitting to remember her on her birthday.
Authorities believe that Amber disappeared between 230 and 330am. Her body was found on Azalea Road in East Asheville. I have not seen in the papers who found her remains and at exactly what time.
What is the official cause of death? I read that Amber had a single stab wound to her upper right chest area. If it is to the right for the killer it is the heart area. If it is to her right, it isn’t. Did she die of internal bleedings, blood loss, drowning?
“She also had defensive wounds on her arms, hands, and legs,” Det. Welborn said. “It appears to us her clothing was removed after her death.” From this we know she fought for her life and possibly did some damage to her killer. According to the papers, no DNA evidence was found at the crime scene or on the victim’s body. Where were Amber’s clothes and shoes? Did Amber carry a purse?
According to her friends, she had so many defensive wounds and bruises that she had to be dressed in a turtle neck for her open casket funeral. Some said they could still see dirt underneath her fingernails. If this is true I have to wonder whether Amber had an autopsy because I cannot imagine a forensic pathologist or a medical examiner leaving behind materials underneath fingernails in a murder case.
Amber Elaine Lundgren
Amber was an only child to Debi Lundgren, a single mom of 21. Amber had blond hair and blue eyes. She grew up in Tampa, Florida, where her mom Debi lived at the time. According to the papers, Amber had a normal childhood, was not difficult to raise, played softball, and did well in school.
As Debi was a young mother, they “grew up together.” They depended on each other for everything so theirs was more one of close friends than a traditional mother-daughter relationship.
There isn’t anything online about Amber’s father. Debi’s male family members served as role-models. When one of them moved to North Carolina, Debi and Amber moved too. Amber briefly attended T.C. Roberson High but graduated from Asheville High School.
After her graduation, Amber did not continue her education. She may have had plans for that but after high school she apparently started working for Pier 1 and became their assistant manager.
Many of her friends who spoke about Amber in this article describe her as mature but innocent, creative but practical, and naïve but cautious.
One friend Nadia is quoted saying: “You can’t be more cautious than she was,” Nadia says. “After living on her own for more than two years, Amber was careful to keep her doors locked. She left her TV on when she was planning on returning late. When she was out, she was aware of the people around her.”
From what I read online Amber was in that precious transitional phase growing from a young adult into a woman. She had a childlike energy to dress up and decorate everything around holidays, a very vivid imagination as is reflected in her writing, and a deep affection for her family and friends.
Amber loved dancing so when the night club “Bar Code” opened it became a special place for her. From what I read, Bar Code took their security serious. The same article from above has this quote from Shawn, who worked at Bar Code until Amber’s murder: “We considered it the safest club in town,” says Shawn. “The club kept a battalion of bouncers stationed at the door and inside to make sure no one got unwanted attention, he says. “We had more bouncers than all the other clubs.”
On June 15, Nadia and Amber were to move into a better apartment, sharing the costs, and in the fall, Amber planned to continue her education with a course in photography or art at the University of North Carolina in Asheville (UNCA).
Her friends experience to this day nightmares and terrors. In the articles, many complain about frightening dreams. They haven’t fully processed her murder yet. Not knowing who and why leaves room for speculation, suspicion, over-thinking, and possibly, anxiety.
Detective Welborn said that there was no evidence to support that Amber was sexually assaulted. I assume there is a rape kit. If we have a rape kit from 1997 there is good reason to re-examine it with all the advances made in forensic sciences. However, if there was an autopsy how could they have missed materials underneath her fingernails (see above)? There isn’t a lot online that gives me precise answers.
The detective further said that Amber’s killer carried her towards a small drainage ditch as he knew that running water would covered up her body. How do we know he walked carrying her? Did we find deeper than normal foot prints? Do we have an eye-witness? Did we find the first crime scene or do we only have the secondary crime scene e.g. the spot where her remains were found? Do we know whether Amber was dead when she was thrown into the water or, did she drown? Was the cause of death the single stab wound mentioned earlier or was it drowning? Was the knife found that made the stabbing wound?
According to the same article linked to above Amber went to Bar Code with friends. Amy is quoted saying: “that if they got separated, they would meet back at Amber’s apartment and spend the night there.” Amber’s apartment was nearby on Linden Avenue. They said that Amber was the designated driver that night. If she change her mind about not drinking, they would take a taxi.
There are rumors that Amber was leading a wild party life with men and alcohol. But according to Nadia “she didn’t really drink.” Detective Kevin Taylor of the Asheville Police Department is quoted as: “I don’t think she really had a steady boyfriend at the time. I mean, she dated a few guys here and there in the recent past. (She) came from a good home.”
Amber was well-known downtown. She spent a lot of time there. Maybe that contributed to the rumor of her being a party girl. The night before she was murdered she visited the bar Be Here Now. She wanted “to hear Gran Torino and its jazzy horns. We lived downtown, basically,” Nadia said.
Authorities think that Amber left the night club Bar Code between 230-3am. She was seen walking on Lexington Avenue, then turned left on Walnut Street. Her friends think that she may have wanted to go to the bar Gatsby’s. A friend’s brother was a bartender there.
But the weird part is that Amber didn’t warn her friends that she, as designated driver, was leaving Bar Code to go elsewhere. Was she planning to return soon to Bar Code and is that why she didn’t bother to mention it? Or, did she in fact let people know that she was leaving and that they were supposed to take a taxi? And then what? Still meet up at her apartment to spend the night? There are many gaps in the timeline of this case.
I have not read anywhere that she arrived at Gatsby’s and spoke to anyone. If I missed that, let me know. But another curious detail is that if Amber was taken against her will e.g. kidnapped, nobody reported a woman screaming or a struggle at 3am. So did Amber get into someone’s car on her own, was she incapacitated, deceived, what happened? Authorities said that “whether she went willingly or not is still undetermined.” Maybe she knew the driver or another person in that car.
Her friends started looking for her that night. They went back to Amber’s apartment to find the door locked. How did they get there if Amber was the designated driver? Did they take a taxi? The articles said they arrived at Amber’s apartment around 430am.
Amber’s friends who also worked at Pier 1 called her family when Amber didn’t show up for work. Only at 5pm one friend, Nadia, calls police to report Amber missing. I do not understand that. You didn’t see her at 430am, you didn’t see her at work a few hours later, why wait till 5pm to report her missing?
A delay in reporting someone missing results in a loss of information. If anyone goes missing it should be reported immediately. Amber should have been reported missing after she didn’t show up for work. After officially reporting someone missing, everyone could still search on their own but at least now the authorities were informed.
Maybe the dynamics in Asheville at that time were such that her friends believed they had a better chance of finding her if they asked family and friends first. However, you miss out on an enormous network if you do not immediately alert the authorities.
By the time the reporting was finally done, the body of a young woman had been found. Police just didn’t know that it was Amber. “To see if it was Amber, police showed Nadia photos of a couple unique tattoos—a band circling an arm and a sun around a belly button.” That must have been the most horrifying experience in Nadia’s life to have to identify a friend from pictures of her tattoos.
Detective Kevin Taylor of the Asheville Police Department is one of the investigators on the Lundgren case. He confirmed that Amber was appropriately dressed for the season: a top, jeans, and flip-flop type shoes but not like sandals. As he said “dressed in normal attire to go out for the night club.” Were any of her clothes ever found? What exactly was found at the secondary crime scene?
Amber drove a 1968 blue Mercedes with matching hub caps. I wonder if that car was searched for any traces.
According to the information in the public domain, a witness saw a man besides a truck on the morning that Amber’s remains were found. The witness described that man as between 25-45 years old, stocky build, and of medium height. Note that the page I link to is very slow loading.
Interesting detail: the man is described with dark-red hair and a beard. I wonder how well-lit the area was for this witness to be able to say that his hair was dark-red as opposed to brown. At what time exactly did this witness see this man?
The witness also saw that the truck was dark navy blue. Again, how well-lit was the area? It could have been black. The truck appeared to be an older model pick-up truck. It had tool boxes in the flat-bed that were lighter in color. Those tool boxes ran along both lengths of the flat-bed. There is a discussion on WebSleuths about the color of this truck (links below) and it varies to red and green.
Note: the above information comes from CrimeNet.org, see below for a remark about that website.
If you do an online search for “Amber Lundgren murder North Carolina” information pops up such as the decision of the Supreme Court of North Carolina in State v. Terry Alvin Hyatt. It was decided June 28, 2002. If you search in that decision for Amber’s name you will find this:
“Agent Shook and Detective Benjamin identified themselves as law enforcement officers and informed defendant they wanted to ask him about the death of Amber Lundgren, a homicide victim whose death occurred in early 1998. Defendant was willing to cooperate and volunteered to have blood drawn for DNA analysis at the Buncombe County Health Department. Defendant also reluctantly agreed to have his truck photographed for a vehicle lineup.”
Terry Alvin Hyatt was sentenced to death for the 1979 robberies, rapes, and murders of Betty Sue McConnell (21) and Harriet Delaney Simmons (40) in Buncombe County, NC. Both women were stabbed to death.
On Aug 13, 1998, Jerry Harmon went to see Captain Pat Hefner at the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department. Harmon told Hefner he had information he wanted to get off his mind. Harmon described the rape-murder of McConnell by Terry Alvin Hyatt. Read more about these cases on FindLaw (links in resources).
Amber is only mentioned once in that decision. There doesn’t seem to be anything else to connect Hyatt to Lundgren. If there was DNA found on Amber’s body or around the crime scene it should be compared to Hyatt’s. In fact, if any DNA was found it should be entered into CODIS or used for phenotyping and for genetic analysis as they did with the cases of Jennifer Bastian and Michelle Martinko.
On Websleuths, there’s speculation DNA was found. If DNA was found, we need to be patient and that is hard. After so many years we want answers however, test results must be of such quality that it holds in court. If not, we are back at square one. That is not an option.
Amber’s case is listed on the Asheville North Carolina Cold Cases page, you can find that here. If you have any information please call the Asheville Police Department at (828) 252-1110.
The last words
The last words in this unsolved murder case should be Amber’s. On her grave we can read her poetry:
A butterfly lights beside us like a sunbeam
and for a brief moment its glory and beauty
belong to our world
but then it flies on again.
And though we wish it could have stayed
we feel lucky to have seen it
for a little while.
Rest in peace, Amber Elaine Lundgren.
Ashville Police, NC
CrimeNet (According to GoDaddy the domain expired 1/25/2019 and is pending renewal or will expire)