Arrest in 17-Year-Old Cold Case, Thanks to Cigarette
And some very determined Oklahoma investigators
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 9, 2014 11:33 AM CDT
In this photo provided in 1998 by the Racine County Sheriff is Amber Gail Creek on her 13th birthday.   (AP Photo/Racine County Sheriff via the Racine Journal Times)
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(Newser) – Police have been searching for 17 years for the killer of Amber Gail Creek, a 14-year-old runaway foster child from Illinois found strangled and beaten to death in Wisconsin in 1997, the word "Hi" written on her hand, a $5 price tag stuck to her arm, and a plastic bag wrapped around her head. Now they have a suspect in custody, thanks to the Latent Evidence Unit of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, the Los Angeles Times reports. That unit had been unable to find a match for the fingerprint sample back in 1997, but investigators started going through old files last year, figuring that recent improvements might lead to a hit this time around.

They were right: The fingerprints found on the plastic bag belonged to Illinois man James P. Eaton, the Chicago Tribune reports. Eaton, now 36, was in the FBI's national database thanks to a minor offense, but had never been a suspect in the original investigation. Investigators followed Eaton for days, and finally, while waiting for a train in Chicago, Eaton smoked and then discarded a cigarette. Investigators retrieved it, and a crime lab confirmed the DNA on it matched that found on Amber's body. Eaton was arrested this week, and faces charges of first-degree murder and hiding a corpse. The Oklahoma investigator who matched the fingerprints says her counterpart in Wisconsin promised her dinner if she actually managed to get a hit, and now, she notes, "He definitely owe[s] me dinner." And her counterpart adds that when he heard there was a hit, "I literally almost fell off my chair in my office." (Meanwhile, Houston police think they've solved decades-old rapes—and that a serial rapist was to blame.)