I-Team: Man hopeful DNA could solve sister’s 1989 murder


A cold case murder investigation is heating up, thanks in part to the persistence of the victim’s family.

It’s been 27 years since a young woman named Tracy Jackson was beaten to death in a vacant lot near downtown. No arrest was ever made in the case, but detectives are now taking a new look at the old evidence that’s been tucked away in Metro’s vault.

It’s a heartbreaking story and one with a tinge of the supernatural.

Tracy Jackson’s brother says he’s made a pest of himself, calling Metro detectives over and over to encourage them to re-open the investigation.

One reason the family feels compelled to act is the unnerving sense that Tracy is still around.

The cold case detective who dug into the files says the case is old, but can be solved.

“In the middle of a Sunday morning, it’s a good place to be without anybody being able to see what you’re doing,” said Dave Culver, Metro homicide detective.

Cold case Detective Dave Culver thinks a dirt-covered lot on south Commerce Street says a lot about the killer he’s pursuing. It’s a gritty industrial side street, off the beaten path, suggesting the murderer was familiar with the area.

On May 21, 1989, a homeless man cutting across the lot discovered the battered body of Tracy Jackson, a pretty young mother who’d been in Las Vegas just over a month.

There were multiple pools of blood in different parts of the lot and Tracy’s bloody clothing was scattered  everywhere, including on a barbed-wire fence.

“Pants over here, shirt over there, bra way over there, shoes way over there. There was a struggle. She fought, fought, fought and she didn’t win,” said Bob Freel, Tracy’s brother.

Bob Freel is haunted by the murder on several levels. He was always close to his sister but became even closer after a 1986 accident left him a paraplegic. Tracy, who was pregnant at the time, moved from northern Nevada to California to care for her brother and teach him how to cope with his new reality.

“I became independent because of Tracy and we bonded again, so closely,” he said.

He is still wracked by guilt because it was his suggestion that Tracy give Las Vegas a try. A month or so after moving to town, Tracy was having drinks at the Silver Dollar on East Charleston Boulevard, a once popular watering hole that is shuttered today. When her roommates wanted to leave, Tracy told them she was staying longer and would get a ride. It was the last place she was seen alive.

“She was beat with a pipe, blunt force trauma, fractured every bone in her face, just crushed her face. The funeral parlor director said you don’t want an open casket. You don’t want anybody to see your little sister like that.”

Freel says he felt compelled to pester Metro about working the case, in part, because Tracy is still around. Other family members have had the same sensation.

“That happened to me this spring, about the time Tracy was murdered in 1989,” Freel said. “I felt Tracy just flush through me, and I could smell her, I could feel her. Ever since then I have just been going where she’s pushing me. She’s just nudging.”

“Yeah, he said that to me, that he feels her and is compelled by the case,” Culver said.

Culver, a veteran homicide detective, spends a lot of his time on the phone with loved ones of murder victims. It comes with the territory. The Tracy Jackson file is one of hundreds in the cold case vault and it took Culver awhile to pull everything together. After studying the evidence compiled by previous detectives, Culver came up with a new and promising angle to pursue. Tracy’s clothing recovered from the vacant lot was never tested for unknown DNA.

“In a serious struggle like that, hopefully she was able to get a couple of blows in that maybe caused him to bleed, maybe struck him in the face, broke his lip or nose hard enough to cause him to bleed. Hopefully we will find a foreign profile on her clothing,” Culver said.

So the next step is to send Tracy’s clothing to Metro’s forensic lab to check for DNA. Culver thinks Tracy accepted a ride from her killer, that she was driven to Commerce Street to be sexually assaulted. The killer was likely a local who frequented that saloon. Culver has at least one suspect in mind, and is optimistic that new DNA evidence might establish a link. 

And if it does …

“It would let Tracy free. Let her be free. It would put her at peace. Our whole family has been shattered by this. Everybody repressed it. She needs the peace and justice so she can go and be free,” Freel said.

Culver is waiting on funding to conduct the DNA tests, not only on the clothing items but also on the metal pipe and chunks of cement that were used during the murder. It will take some time.

Anyone who might have information that leads to a conviction in the case would receive a reward of up to $20,000 being offered by the family.

The family has set up a link on WebSleuths with Tracy’s information, you can click here for that page.

Thursday night, the I-Team will have a story on two murders that happened years ago that were solved by cold case detectives.

If you have tips on a cold case in Las Vegas, call Metro Police at 702-828-8973 or e-mail Metro’s Cold Case division.

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