The Murder of Tracy Lynn Kirkpatrick

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EARLY LIFE:

Tracy Lynn Kirkpatrick was born on June 9, 1971 to parents Bill and Diane. She was the third of four children, which also included her sisters, Angie and Deonda, and brother, Jack. While Tracy was born in East Liverpool, Ohio, the family would later relocate to Point of Rocks, Maryland.

Those who knew Tracy describe her as being both funny and smart, with a feisty attitude. She had a good sense of humour, with a love for people, and her friends recall her constantly blasting the radio in her 10-year-old Pontiac Grand Prix, which she had bought with her own money. Tracy also had a more reserved side to her, and was known for being quiet and shy. She was an introspective young woman who liked her independence and was known for not allowing her picture to be taken. She was also compassionate, a trait which extended to not just her loved ones, but to animals as well. She would often take in strays from around the neighbourhood, not wanting to leave them out on their own.

At 17 years old, Tracy was in her final year at Brunswick High School. She was an honours student, with a GPA that sat between 3.5 and 4.0. She had an interest in writing and poetry, and often expressed her feelings through her work. The majority of her poems spoke of loneliness, and one was published in the New American Poetry Anthology. Given her dedication to her school work, it came as no surprise to those who knew her that she’d had her whole life planned out. Upon graduating, she was set to attend St. Mary’s University to study accounting, with the hope of later getting accepted into law school.

MURDER:

The evening of March 15, 1989 saw Tracy working her first solo closing shift at Alien’s Women’s Sportswear, located within the Westridge Shopping Center in Frederick, Maryland. It was one of two part-time jobs the young girl held in order to pay for university in the fall.

At around 6:00pm, Diane stopped by the store to bring Tracy some dinner and found her alone, reading a book. The pair chatted for a bit, with Tracy telling her mother that she planned to head straight to bed upon getting home that night.

Two hours later, at around 8:00pm, Tracy’s manager stopped by the store for a few minutes. It’s been noted that the store’s cash register did not record any sales after this time, and Tracy was again alone in the store from then onward.

When closing time came around at 9:00pm, a security guard named Don Barnes Jr., who also worked as a sheriff’s deputy for Frederick County, noticed the store’s lights were still on. However, it didn’t strike him as odd, as he assumed the cashier on duty was most likely still prepping it for close. He began to grow concerned when at 10:30pm he circled around again and noticed the lights were still on and the front door was unlocked. He called out, but received no response, and continued into the store to investigate, where he came upon Tracy’s body in the back storeroom. She had been stabbed several times in the chest and back.

The police were called not long after.

When Tracy didn’t return home at her expected time, Bill and Diane decided to drive to the shopping center. They worried their daughter may have experienced car trouble, but also recalled that she’d been late the previous night because she had been talking with her ex-boyfriend, whom she’d recently decided to start dating again. When the pair arrived at around 11:15pm, they noticed numerous police cars outside the store, which worried them. It was not long after that they learnt of Tracy’s death.

INVESTIGATION:

Investigators at the scene found no motive for the murder. There was no sign of sexual assault or a struggle, and the store’s cash receipts were still on the counter. As the door hadn’t been forced open and there was still money in the cash register, robbery was quickly ruled out, despite her purse being missing. Blood droplets were found in a rear hallway, leading to the store’s loading dock and trash bins, and while no weapon was recovered, the wounds Tracy suffered indicated a knife had been used in the attack.

As Tracy didn’t appear to have any defensive wounds, it was the working theory that she was killed by someone she knew. However, investigators didn’t rule out that the murder could have been committed by a drifter who’d been passing through Frederick.

Numerous mistakes were made during the initial investigation. The first surrounds the doors to the back of the store, through which the murderer likely escaped. Investigators did not seize them and only examined them through the dim light of a flashlight. The second error involved the store’s phone records, which were not subpoenaed before the phone company erased them.

A man who had been waiting in the front parking lot for his partner spoke with police and shared that he’d seen nothing out of the ordinary that night.

Given the evidence present, it’s believed Tracy was killed between 8:00pm, when her manager stopped by the store, and 10:30pm, when Don Barnes Jr. discovered her body.

Tracy was eventually laid to rest in Oak Grove Cemetery in Freedom, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh.

The case went cold until three months later, when a man called into a nationwide confessions hotline in Las Vegas, Nevada. The hotline was known for charging callers by the minute to record their confessions, which strangers could pay to listen to. The man, who called himself “Don”, left the following message, claiming to be Tracy’s murderer:

“Hello, my name is Don and I’m calling from Frederick, Maryland. I know this is going to sound surprising, but three months ago I stabbed a girl to death, and you might think in making this tape I’m setting myself up to be caught, but there are a lot of guys named Don in Frederick.

“The girl I killed was working in a ladies’ sportswear store. I often came by and talked to her when she was working alone, and one night when she was in the storeroom and we were talking, our conversation turned into an argument. And so I took out a knife I have with me at all times and I killed her. And a few days later, I realized I had created a lot of sadness and I thought about turning myself into the police, but whatever they do to me, that won’t bring Tracy back. So I’ve decided that I better keep free because we have the death penalty in Maryland.

“Thanks for listening. I’m sorry about what I did, but nothing can change it. Bye.”

Upon receiving the call, an attorney for the hotline forwarded the tape to Las Vegas police, who, in turn, forwarded it to authorities in Frederick. Upon listening to the tape, they were convinced the man calling himself “Don” was the killer, as there was a sincerity in his voice and he knew specific details about the murder. Investigators were able to trace the call to a payphone inside a supermarket in Walkersville, Maryland, approximately eight miles from Frederick.

On October 10, 1989, believing “Don” was trying to turn himself him, one of the investigators wrote an open letter to him, which was published to the front page of The Frederick News-Post. It read:

“I am personally willing to work with you to resolve this tragic situation and I pray you now will come forward to relieve the hurt, which Tracy’s family and friends have suffered, as well as the pain, which has consumed your life since that night.”

Approximately two weeks after the letter was published, a Massachusetts physic by the name of Martha Woodworth contacted the Frederick Police Department, claiming a man she had been in contact with was obsessed with the case and had asked her to help him solve it. He said his name was “Sean” and he appeared to be fascinated with homicides, especially Tracy’s. He had sent her numerous newspaper clippings about the case through the mail, which prompted her to contact the authorities.

Hoping they were on to something, investigators played part of the confession tape for Martha. After listening to it, she confirmed that “Don” and “Sean” were the same person. A look at the envelope the newspaper clippings had arrived in showed “Sean” resided in Walkersville, where the phone call had been made back in June.

On the first anniversary of Tracy’s murder, investigators asked four local radio DJs to play the confession tape in full. The tape was played on the radio stations simultaneously, and within two hours someone had called in to say they recognized the voice. In total, three different individuals would call in and identify the voice as belonging to “Sean”.

The positive ID of “Sean” being “Don” led investigators to pay him a visit, after which he pleaded the 5th Amendment and refused to speak with them. It was also learnt that his name was neither “Sean” nor “Don”. The next day, they returned to his residence with a search warrant, where they found newspaper clippings and material related to the case, items which were sent to the Maryland State Police crime lab for analysis. They also obtained a DNA sample.

Despite the evidence they had pointing to the unnamed man, police were unable to find enough to file charges against him. They weren’t able to confirm he was at the crime scene on the night of March 15, 1989 or had any involvement, and he’s since been cleared as a suspect.

To help bring in leads, local merchants put up a $5,000 reward for information.

In 1998, a DNA sample from the case was submitted for testing. However, the amount was insufficient to develop a genetic profile of the killer, as was another sample submitted in 2003. In March 2009, investigators sent away “touch” DNA for testing to a private contractor with the Maryland State Police, and it’s been reported that they have samples from two individuals who are currently suspects in the case.

The case has been presented to two cold case review panels over the years – one nationally and another from the Mid-Atlantic region – in the hopes of reinvigorating the investigation. It was also taken to the Vidocq Society, which is a group of investigators who evaluate cold cases from across the world.

The Frederick Police Department is still actively investigating the case, which is amongst the most well-known in the city. They still continue to receive information, and the force’s Criminal Investigation’s Division has a full filing cabinet and a couple of drawers devoted to all the files pertaining to the case. Recently, investigators have gone back and interviewed former detectives who previously worked the case, in the hopes of uncovering new clues, and they remain in regular contact with the Kirkpatrick family.

According to the police department, each new detective who takes over the case becomes personally affected by it. They consult with predecessors, discuss any new developments, annually review the case and consider any new ideas.

THEORIES:

1) The primary theory in the case is that the security guard, Don Barnes Jr., is responsible for Tracy’s murder. According to his daughter, he was abusive toward her and her mother, and, as such, she believes he was involved in the killing. His father was a former sheriff with Frederick County, which has led some to suggest that a potential cover up has occurred, in order to protect Don Barnes Jr.

2) The second theory is presented by a detective who worked on the case between 1992 and 1994. He alleges that an acquaintance of Tracy’s was responsible for her death, saying that he’d visited the store that night to tell her he had feelings for her, but turned violent when she told him she wanted to remain friends. According to the detective, he had brought the case to a grand jury, from which two-thirds voted to indict, but that the State’s Attorney’s Office had declined to prosecute the case.

While he claims that “politics and personal agendas” and “people not doing their jobs” are the reason the acquaintance was never arrested, those involved in the case say the indictment was not pursued because of circumstantial evidence. To avoid a suspect being protected by double-jeopardy, it’s said they kept the case open in order to give future investigators the chance to obtain more evidence that would secure a conviction.

3) A final theory presented by online sleuths is that Tracy was a possible victim of the I-70 Killer. The unknown serial killer is suspected of killing six store clerks in the Midwestern United States from 1992 to potentially 1994, with suspected victims in Indiana, Texas, Missouri and Kansas.

Those who follow this theory speculate that the I-70 Killer was active prior to 1992. However, there is no evidence to suggest this, and as police have never identified a suspect in the murders, it’s not known if he was actually involved in Tracy’s death.

AFTERMATH:

Tracy’s case has been featured on Unsolved Mysteries and A Current Affair.

The Kirkpatrick remains in the Frederick area. They continue to keep Tracy’s memory alive, holding regular vigils at the Westridge Shopping Center. Each year, they commemorate her birthday by bringing either yellow roses or carnations to a cherry tree they planted in her honour at Brunswick High School. Tracy is said to have liked the cherry trees that blossom in Washington, D.C.

In 2014, Deonda wrote a letter to her sister, where she described making a photo collage as a Christmas gift for their parents in December 2013. She wrote that making the collage made her realize that Tracy’s legacy continues to live on in her nieces and nephews.

Digital creative specialist Paul Puglisi is currently working on a documentary called In the Silent Land: Who Killed Tracey Kirkpatrick? The family gave him permission to tell Tracy’s story, and the film is said to currently be in production. Puglisi has set up a GoFundMe page to help fund it.

CASE CONTACT INFORMATION:

Those with information regarding the murder of Tracy Kirkpatrick are asked to contact the Frederick Police Department at 301-600-6219.

Image Credit: Unsolved Mysteries Wiki

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