Mildred, Teresa’s mom, was very grateful for what we did to keep her only child’s case in the media. She passed away in March 2016. I spoke with her about Tess. She told me about the day she gave birth. Her voice broke telling me how small she was and that Tess liked to play with her kitten. She had many hobbies growing up and loved to dance. She was so excited when she got her driver’s license. Mildred said Tess had a small Buick and loved driving. She would drive you to the market, the dry cleaner, anywhere.
Before I started writing about Teresa Sue Hilt, her case didn’t have a good web presence. Her case was in local newspaper articles however, not all old newspaper editions are online in archives. Together with Michall Holmes, we decided to change Tess’ digital footptint. She needed to be online so people would find her if they searched for her name. It paid off. Her as of yet unsolved murder has attracted the attention of the media again. It also resulted in collaboration with the authorities. It resulted in leads.
For the 45th anniversary, Michall Holmes who knew Tess, wrote this:
Do you believe in Miracles?
February, 1980. The US Olympic Hockey team somehow defeats the mighty Soviets. One of those hallmark memories many of my generation will never forget.
Tess Hilt never got the chance to see it. Or the Royals winning the ’85 Series or, for that matter, the 2015 Series. Tess never got the chance to be a Mom. Or a grandmother. Never got the chance to marry. Never saw a Tom Hanks movie. Or Star Wars. Or Back to the Future. An only child, she wasn’t there to help her Mom in her old age. Her Mom died wondering, “Who and why”.
A rage infested person tortured and killed little Tess, August 4, 1973. It was vicious and painful. It was ‘overkill’. Tess tried hard to live. The killer made absolutely certain she would not.
Tess Hilt was tiny. Not 5 feet tall. She was funny (she would introduce her cousin, born just a couple of months before her, as her ‘much older’ cousin). Tess was always friendly. She was flirtatious and fun. She was a good kid from a small town. A ‘child of the 60’, a child of the 70’s, a poet, a musician. She like to take walks. She liked, “Niblits”, corn. She LOVED music. She loved the theater. Thanks to all our tipsters we know Tess well.
The miracle Tess’ family and friends want is just to know, “Who and why”. Who murdered her in such an unimaginably brutal way? And, WHY? Why did you have to hurt her so? Even when she was not able to fight back, why did you continue your rage filled attack? What you did was evil and wrong. We will never stop looking for you.
Our wonderful tipsters have given us a tremendous amount of information. I can’t thank them enough. It is likely Law Enforcement folks pretty much know who killed Tess Hilt. Though many of them weren’t born when she was killed, there are those who are working very hard on Tess’ case. They know who they are and we are very grateful.
I am particularly grateful to Alice de Sturler and Defrosting Cold Cases. We started this process several years ago with NO experience and no idea where to start. Somehow we found her. We would be nowhere without her wise counsel and her dedicated efforts.
Thanks to all.
Expecting a miracle,
I appreciate that Michall took the time to write this piece and I thank him for his kind words. Michall manages Tess’ memorial page on Facebook and has dedicated many hours to her case.
When I was introduced to this case, one of the first things that popped into my head was that we were dealing with a female killer. Why? Tess’ face. In highly personal crimes, the killer has a bone to pick with the victim for rejecting them, breaking up, having an affair, anything. A knife makes a very personal statement much more so than for example a gun or a bomb. In highly personal crimes, we often see the victim’s face disfigured by beating, stabbing, slashing, etc. Not Tess. All her trauma was in the area where the killer felt hurt most: the heart.
I think the motive for this murder was jealousy. Maybe Tess was favored by someone the killer had their eyes on. Maybe the killer feared losing their partner to Tess or, maybe she had seen Tess just talking or interacting with someone and felt jealous. Tess did mention an older man in her life. Is it possible that Tess made someone jealous by just saying that she had an affair?
Tess was stabbed at least eight times of which several times in the heart area. The force needed might suggest a man however, a determined woman can do this too.
It was mentioned in the papers that Tess’ travel checks were found in the parking lot and her wallet was found near the rail tracks. Both are to the south of the apartment complex where she lived and was murdered. It makes you think that Tess was murdered by a stranger who dumped her belongings while running away. Maybe it was an attempt from the killer who lived nearby to distract police.
Some people pondered that a male killer would go near rail tracks at night. But do we have proof that the items were dropped at night? They could have been dropped there during the day. And that opens up the possibility that the killer was a woman. A woman might be reluctant to be near a railroad at night but during the day? I am curious whether any fingerprints were found on the wallet. Maybe we can unleash the M-Vac on the creases and folds.
Forensics will solve this case
1: Touch DNA
I spoke with my friend Sue Carney. She thinks that Tess’ stockings and shoelaces would offer forensic opportunities. DNA profiling did not exist in 1973 however, if evidence was properly preserved Sue thinks DNA testing is worth a try. She is thinking about a low template DNA test of the ends of the laces and the stockings by recovering material from the regions thought to have been handled by whoever tied the knots. That is a job for the M-Vac.
Hair particles found at the crime scene showed that the one who left that hair had a rare scalp disease. Monilethrix makes your hair brittle and fall out.
“Monilethrix is caused by mutations affecting the genes KRTHB1 (KRT81), KRTHB3 (KRT83), or KRTHB6 (KRT86) which code for type II hair cortexkeratins. The disorder is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. This means that the defective gene(s) responsible for a disorder is located on an autosome, and only one copy of the gene is sufficient to cause the disorder, when inherited from a parent who has the disorder.”
The age of onset, severity, and course may vary from person to person. There is no cure for monilethrix.
“Monilethrix occurs mainly on the scalp, predominantly on the occiput and nape and occasionally on other scalp areas. Scalp involvement can be widespread or localized. Occasionally, the eyelashes, eyebrows, pubic, axillary, and limb hair are involved. While there is no recognized definitive treatment for monilethrix, oral acitretin and topical 2% minoxidil have shown good clinical and cosmetic results with continued use.”
This is an asset when police searches in ancestry databases.
This is how the authorities caught Joseph James DeAngelo, Jr. He is known as the Golden State Killer, the Original Night Stalker, the East Area Rapist, the Diamond Knot Killer, and since April 26, 2018, we add the new name: defendant.
This technique shows us approximately what the DNA bearer looks like and it can be age-progressed. In the case of Jennifer Bastian, the image gave people an idea what the murderer looked like. DNA sealed it. The cases of Michella Welch and Amber Tinsley too were solved this way. Michelle Martinko and Teresa Sue Hilt are hopefully next.
5: the M-Vac
The M-Vac’s wet vacuuming collection system uses a solution that is sprayed on a surface while simultaneously vacuuming that surface. It creates a “mini-hurricane” that loosens the DNA material which is transferred to the collection bottle and later concentrated onto a filter. It picks up particle that traditional cutting and swabbing could not. Surfaces are not limited to clothes but range from concrete, rocks, to leather, cork, all porous surfaces, and even animal skin. It is the current gold-standard for touch DNA collection and has been used in courts successfully.
6: The Bardole DNA Collection Method
This new method separates and isolates DNA material from small evidence items. The application could include many items that are now difficult to sample like shell casings, fingernail clippings, rings, gun parts, keys, bomb fragments and other small items.
Where we used to need vials of blood a pin drop will do now. Discarded materials with saliva or other bodily fluids can now be examined, entered into ancestry databases, and by using familial DNA the authorities can zoom in on people who share the same DNA characteristics. Add surveillance, testing a discarded item for DNA, and bingo.
There is no more hiding.
As with the Golden State Killer, police came knocking on his door and he was not prepared for that. The same thing will happen here.
Rest in peace, Teresa Sue Hilt.