Almost exactly 34 years ago—May 23, 1988—two of Lucille Hultgren's many friends stopped by her house to check on her after she didn’t show up for church, only to find her body. The 79-year-old was a recent widow and mother of two adult sons. The coroner later determined that she had been sexually assaulted, stabbed, and strangled. Until this week, it was the only cold case on file in the California town of Galt, in Sacramento County, per KCRA 3.
Authorities say a DNA match based on Hultgren’s fingernail scrapings identified the killer as Terry Leroy Bramble, "a transient and sex offender who lived under a bridge on Highway 99 until his death in 2011." Sacramento County DA Anne Marie Schubert said that "the fingernails were the key to solving this case" and that Hultgren’s body was the "silent witness" who revealed her killer. Although one of Hultgren’s sons has since died, Schubert said the surviving son only wishes the suspect was still alive to face prosecution. "But sometimes justice doesn't lead us that way," she lamented.
The Washington Post says Bramble was 32 at the time of the killing, but he was never on investigators’ radar. However, his DNA was collected after a 1992 sexual assault conviction in nearby San Joaquin County. Schubert credited advances in technology with the fact that such a miniscule DNA sample can now produce a match. According to Fox 40, Galt Police Chief Brian Kalinowski’s department is investigating whether Bramble is tied to any other crimes. “Related to other cases he may be involved in, we are canvassing other jurisdictions to see if there are any common cold cases out there that we can look into not only here in our community but in the region," Kalinowski said during a press conference. (Read more cold cases stories.)