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posted: 4/9/2014 10:15 AM

Editorial: The rewards of persistence in a cold case

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

Seventeen years is a long time to wait for anything. But Tuesday was the day the family of Amber Creek finally received some answers,

And now they can perhaps start counting the days when the ever-elusive closure to their nightmare might come.

Amber was just 14, described by her family as a troubled teen, when she ran away and then went missing in February 1997. Her body was found about a week after she was last seen leaving a party at a Rolling Meadows motel with an unidentified man.

But the body of that teen girl was a Jane Doe for 17 months until finally identified as Amber, who was from Palatine.

Amber's story could be that of many wayward suburban teens. After having trouble living with both her mother and her father, she became a ward of the state. But she ran away from the facilities where she was living and met a terrible fate, never having the chance to grow out of that dark phase of her life.

"She was a troubled teen, but I remembered her as a sweet girl who was very theatrical, who loved to play and was very loving," said her aunt, Carol Creek.

Now, 17 years later, an arrest has been made. It's a testament to the advances law enforcement has seen in the last two decades and to the fact that cold cases can and do get resolved. It should give hope to anyone still waiting for answers in cases that are unsolved.

"I hope this brings (Amber's) family the closure they desperately deserve," said Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling when announcing the arrest on Tuesday of 36-year-old James P. Eaton of Palatine.

How Eaton was apprehended is a story straight out of a "procedural" law and order television show.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations had reviewed Amber's case as part of a cold case project. According to court documents, latent prints that had been submitted in 1997 to the FBI were identified as thumbprints belonging to Eaton, who had been convicted in 2000 on a drug paraphernalia possession charge in LaSalle County, Ill.

Once the fingerprint match was made, Racine County sheriff's police began tailing Eaton, and on March 22 recovered two cigarettes he had smoked at the Palatine Metra train station. That was enough, according to the court documents, for investigators to match his DNA to DNA left at the scene of the 1997 murder.

Another aunt of Amber's, Nora Mowers, told the Daily Herald on Monday there isn't closure yet, but this brings the family one step closer.

"It felt wonderful to finally start having some justice for what happened to Amber," Mower said.

Indeed, justice needs to be served. And if these charges are proved, then all involved in making it happen can breathe a sigh of relief and be proud that they never closed the book on Amber's case.

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