Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling (center) briefs the media Monday along with others who have been involved in the 17-year-old murder case of Amber Gail Creek. Schmaling announced Tuesday that an arrest has been made, and that James P. Eaton has been charged with first degree intentional homicide. (Photo by Jennifer Eisenbart)

Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling (center) briefs the media Monday along with others who have been involved in the 17-year-old murder case of Amber Gail Creek. Schmaling announced Tuesday that an arrest has been made, and that James P. Eaton has been charged with first degree intentional homicide. (Photo by Jennifer Eisenbart)

James P. Eaton

James P. Eaton

Teen’s body was found in marsh in Town of Burlington

Charges were filed today against a 36-year-old Palatine, Ill., man in the murder of Amber Creek, a 14-year-old runaway whose body was found in a Town of Burlington marsh in 1997.

James P. Eaton is accused in Racine County Circuit Court of first-degree intentional homicide and hiding a corpse.

Racine County Sheriff’s Department investigators announced details of the arrest and charges in a press briefing late Tuesday morning at the sheriff’s substation in Yorkville.

“This is a day that we have been waiting more than 17 years to arrive,” Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said at the press briefing. The sheriff made it clear he would not answer questions, so as not to compromise the ongoing investigation.

Amber Creek

Amber Creek

According to the information provided at the briefing, fingerprints and DNA from the case were entered into state and national databases at the time of the crime. However, it was not until February of this year that a hit came up on either. Eaton, who would’ve been 19 at the time of the murder, had not previously been a suspect in the case.

According to Burlington Standard Press archives, the body of Creek, also of Palatine, Ill., was found on February 9, 1997, by two men who were scouting for hunting areas in the Karcher Springs State Natural Area near Schaal Road and the Kenosha County line in the Town of Burlington.

Creek – who had been beaten, sexually assaulted and suffocated with a plastic bag, according to investigators at the time – remained unidentified for 16 months after he body was discovered.

According to reports, her body had been posed with an upraised hand and the word “Hi” written on her palm.

Eaton had not made his initial appearance in court as of late Tuesday morning. He is being held in the Racine County Jail on $1 million bond, according to sheriff’s officials.

Schmaling said that, while it was a great moment for the family to have closure, they were also asking for privacy to deal with their grief.

Additional coverage of the case against Eaton will appear in this week’s print editions of the Burlington Standard Press, Westine Report and Waterford Post.

The sheriff’s department initially planned to hold its press briefing on Monday, but postponed it until Tuesday after learning the authorities in Fond du Lac County planned to hold a separate press briefing regarding another cold murder case with ties to Racine County.

Investigators in Fond du Lac have said they’ve gathered sufficient evidence in the 1990 murder of Berit Beck, of Sturtevant, to name a 60-year-old truck driver from Kenosha as a suspect in the case.

Local officials said they don’t want the public to confuse the two cases.

“Out of respect for the Creek family and the Beck family – and for the benefit of our ongoing respective investigations – we have decided to postpone our media briefing regarding the arrest of a suspect in the rape and murder of Amber Creek,” Racine County Chief Deputy John Hanrahan said in an email to media members Sunday.

“Both cases are extremely important and warrant independent exposure to generate investigative leads without unnecessarily confusing the public or diminishing the significance of each.”

In-depth coverage of the arrest and the details of the case can be found in this week’s print editions of the Burlington Standard Press, Waterford Post and Westine Report.

Jennifer Eisenbart reported the details of the press briefing for this story.

The Karcher Springs State Natural Area, where the body of Amber Creek was found is between Schaal Road and Highway 83 along the Racine-Kenosha county line. (Google maps)

The Karcher Springs State Natural Area, where the body of Amber Creek was found, is between Schaal Road and Highway 83 along the Racine-Kenosha county line. (Google maps)

 

 

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