Amber Creek entered the world on July 2, 1982, in Park Ridge, Illinois. Initially, she resided with her mother, Elizabeth, who struggled with addiction and was involved with a partner who turned out to be a pedophile. When Amber disclosed the abuse at the tender age of six, the authorities intervened, removing her from her mother’s care. Subsequently, she was placed under the guardianship of her father, Robert, who lived in the nearby town of Palatine.
Despite grappling with her traumatic memories, Amber appeared to gradually recover over time. However, her newfound tranquility proved ephemeral, merely acting as a temporary respite for the profound emotional wounds she carried within her soul. At the age of fourteen, Amber was struck by severe depression. Desperate to fill the void in her life, she resorted to reckless behavior, sneaking out at night and frequently running away, seeking solace in alcohol, drugs, and casual encounters.
In December 1996, Amber’s therapist recommended residential therapy, recognizing that they were in a critical phase of trying to save Amber’s life. Unfortunately, Robert could not afford the costly residential treatment, and the state refused to assume custody of Amber as long as Robert provided a safe and adequate environment for her. In a desperate attempt to rescue his daughter from self-destruction, Robert made a last-ditch effort by leaving her at the local police station, informing the officers that he could no longer care for her. Consequently, the state was compelled to take custody of Amber.
Due to the unavailability of a foster family, Amber was placed in a youth shelter in Chicago. During this period, Amber underwent a drastic transformation in her appearance (as depicted below).
Despite being a runaway on nine occasions within the following six weeks, Amber always returned after a few days. However, everything changed on January 23, 1997, when Amber ran away for the last time. Left homeless and abandoned, she turned to prostitution as a means of survival. On February 1, 1997, Amber attended an alcohol-fueled gathering with a group of men in a disreputable motel located in Rolling Meadows. She departed from the party in the company of an unfamiliar man, never to be seen alive again.
Nine days later, on February 9, 1997, two hunters exploring the Karcher Wildlife Area, near a marsh in Burlington, Wisconsin, made a horrifying discovery. They stumbled upon Amber’s frozen corpse, positioned against a tree with her arm eerily raised, seemingly waving at them. She had been subjected to brutal beatings and sexual assault. The word ‘Hi’ was inscribed on the palm of the hand that appeared to be waving, using a black marker, and a $5 price tag was affixed to her arm. A garbage bag, which had been used to suffocate her, still covered her head. Beneath the bag, a savage bite mark adorned her neck. She was found partially unclothed from the waist down. Her pants were later discovered in a nearby parking lot, with her underwear crumpled in one of the pockets.
The police struggled to identify Amber, partly due to the delayed report from the youth shelter, which only alerted them to her disappearance five weeks after she had run away. Moreover, when the shelter eventually provided a photograph, it was that of the wrong girl. Consequently, the unidentified victim, known as ‘Jane Doe,’ was laid to rest in a donated casket, with local sheriff’s deputies serving as pallbearers and approximately one hundred sympathetic locals attending her funeral. Although strangers to Amber, these individuals were deeply moved by her tragic story. More than a year later, Amber was finally identified when her case was featured on America’s Most Wanted. Robert Creek, after viewing the episode, contacted the police, leading to a formal identification through dental records and DNA matching. Amber was then reburied under a headstone bearing her true name.
With limited leads to pursue, the case eventually went cold. Nevertheless, the police held a strong conviction that Amber had fallen victim to one of her clients. It was not until February 2014, seventeen years after Amber’s murder, that detectives finally made a breakthrough in the investigation.
The Oklahoma crime lab, while reviewing old cold case fingerprints, received a hit on a thumbprint found on the garbage bag recovered from the crime scene. The thumbprint matched a 36-year-old Palatine resident named James Eaton, who had been nineteen at the time of Amber’s murder and was previously unknown to the police. His fingerprints had not entered the system until his 2000 arrest on minor drug charges.
Law enforcement officers meticulously monitored Eaton’s activities for several days, ultimately collecting discarded cigarette butts outside a train station. Through DNA analysis, they were able to link him to the crime scene. Eaton was subsequently apprehended and charged with first-degree murder and concealing a corpse in early April 2014. Although he never admitted guilt and initially pleaded not guilty in October 2014, Eaton eventually entered a plea of no contest to a reduced charge of first-degree reckless homicide on October 25, 2016. He now faces a potential prison sentence of up to forty years and is scheduled to be sentenced on January 20, 2017.