BY JIM BUTTS
It was a cold Thursday morning in Shabbona when 25-year-old Amy Todd Fleming failed to show up to work on Jan. 11, 1996.
Two of her fellow teachers at Indian Creek Middle School worried about her, and decided to check on their friend at about 9:30 a.m. at her rural home, 3422 U.S. Route 30, near the town of Lee.
When they found Amy, she was dead, strangled to death.
Thursday marked the 11-year anniversary of her death, which has left a void in the lives of her loved ones, a void family members say has been especially difficult to fill because Amy's killer has not been arrested.
"She was a loving person and I hope someday the person or persons who did this are found and justice is served. That's what I pray for every day," Amy's father, Stanley Todd, said last week.
The detectives at the Lee County Sheriff's Department have never stopped pursuing Amy's killer. Although there have been lulls in the investigation and staff at the department has changed over the past decade, every lead has been followed up on, regardless of how insignificant it may seem, said Lee County Sheriff John Varga.
In fact, a new group of detectives is taking a "fresh look" at the case. The department issued a news release last week asking anyone with information concerning the case to call the Lee County Sheriff's Department.
"This case will never be closed as unsolved," Varga said in the statement. "We will continue to look into any and all information that we receive concerning the case. We owe it to the Fleming and Todd families. We owe it to the many investigators that worked the case from the beginning and we owe it to the people of Lee County to continue to do everything in our power to bring the person responsible for the murder to justice."
A killer's profile
Fleming was last heard from alive on the cold, snowy night of Jan. 10, 1996, during a phone call with a family member at about 8:30 p.m., according to original news reports in the Telegraph.
Her husband, Derek Fleming, was out of state at a cattle show.
Immediately after she was found dead, a multi-county investigative task force assembled, including officers from Lee, DeKalb, Ogle, Whiteside, Winnebago, Stephenson and Boone County Sheriff's Departments, Illinois State Police and investigators from the Sycamore and DeKalb Police Departments.
The FBI even provided assistance, creating a behavioral profile of the individual who may have committed the killing. By their reckoning, the responsible party was likely familiar with Amy and had attempted to stage the crime scene. A Quasar brand microwave oven and a Sharp brand VCR were stolen from the home the night of the killing, possibly to make the crime look like a burglary, according to investigators.
Shortly after her death, community leaders in Shabbona and Waterman raised a $25,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whomever was responsible for the killing.
The reward has gone unpaid.
Two years after the killing, Lee County Sheriff Tim Bivins told the Telegraph that investigators had conducted more than 500 interviews and spent thousands of man-hours in the search. Varga, who succeeded Bivins in December, said the original task force ended up devoting more than 20,000 man-hours to the investigation, compiling seven volumes of case data.
The flow of information to investigators has slowed over the years, and the detectives investigating the case have changed with retirements and reassignments over the past few years. However, no one is giving up, said Varga.
"We have a young, aggressive group of detectives that may be able to bring a fresh perspective to the investigation," Varga said in a statement. "The downside is that it has taken quite some time for them to review and familiarize themselves with the case. The upside of this is the fact that the former lead investigator, retired Detective Lieutenant Keane Hudson, remains with the department as a part-time deputy, so we can and often do rely on him for information and guidance."
Det. Sgt. David Glessner was recently appointed as head of the detective division at the Lee department, and believes the killer is still alive and he also thinks the killer was familiar with Fleming.
The girl next door
Unfortunately for investigators, a lot of people knew Amy Todd Fleming.
Born July 22, 1970 to parents Dennis and Susan, Amy was raised on a farm in rural DeKalb County before working her way through high school and college at a local diner. She married Derek on July 1, 1994 and became a popular special education teacher who also coached basketball and volleyball.
Outgoing, opinionated and independent, Fleming enjoyed gardening and working in the yard and was actively involved in the school district, community and the show cattle business with her husband, according to family.
She didn't seem to have any enemies.
Shortly before her death, Amy cooked Christmas cookies with her friends and gave them to her grandparents and elderly people in the area.
"That's what makes it so hard: the why of it all. There's so many terrible people in the world, why her?" said Susan Dalen, Amy's mother.
Amy's parents and sister, Sherry Newman of Shabbona, said they have mixed emotions on the ongoing investigation. They are frustrated it hasn't been solved, thankful investigators haven't given up and hopeful the killer can still be found.
Born less than a year apart, Newman said she honors her older sister by continuing to remember her.
"We think about her every day. My children know they have an Aunt Amy," said Newman. "I know we all miss her very much and we hope justice can be served."
Amy Todd Fleming Memorial Fund
This fund was established in 1998 by Amy's husband and parents, and is earmarked to benefit special needs children in the Indian Creek School District where she was a special education teacher. The Foundation will continue to accept donations. To donate, or for more information, call (815) 824-2197.
To provide a tip
Anyone with information regarding the death of Amy Todd Fleming is asked to call the Lee County Sheriff's Department at 284-6631 or Lee/Ogle Crime Stoppers at (888) 228-4488.
Reach Jim Butts at 625-3600, 284-2222 or (800) 798-4085, ext. 570.