A Georgia man went to prison for her murder, but for more than 38 years investigators didn’t know who she was until now.
Shirlene “Sheryl” Hammack was murdered on Halloween in 1981 in Quitman, Ga., and buried in a shallow grave in a cornfield. She remained an unidentified Jane Doe until a woman snapped a photo of her grave marker on the 37th anniversary of the murder and posted it on Facebook, according to reports.
Sheryl and her sisters, Johnnie and Lynn, grew up in Thomaston, about 70 miles south of Atlanta in Upson County. Her sisters and her mother, Kathleen, speak of a family that dressed alike and of a wild child who led the way.
“She had this crazy dance,” recalled Johnnie Hay. “Swinging everything from head to toe. We had some good times.”
The fall of 1981 brought a touring fair to Thomaston. Sheryl, 18 years old, decided to join it. Her plans? To earn some money, and to see the country.
“My last memory of her was with her little brown paper sack, walking down the road, going to meet her friends to go to the fair … to leave,” Hay recalled.
Three weeks later, Sheryl stopped calling. Four weeks later, her family received a package with her belongings. But no word from Sheryl. Days became weeks. Which became months. Which became years.
“There were cases that resembled hers,” Hay recalled about the years of waiting. “I would call in, and those cases would never go anywhere.”
The murderer, George Newsome was also part of the traveling fair and admitted to strangling and stabbing Sheryl during an argument over another man.
He was arrested shortly after the murder but initially refused to admit anything. Investigators tied him to the murder after finding rope used to strangle Hammack in a motor home he had stolen, GBI said.
He was more forthcoming after his capture in Alabama, where he wound up after escaping from jail and spending two years on the lam. Sentenced to life in prison, he died of natural causes behind bars in 1988 when he was 58.
The murderer went to his grave, never revealing the name of his victim, which has left the case a mystery for the last thirty-nine years.
But now there’s been a break in the case. Authorities believe they have finally identified the young Georgia woman who was left in a cornfield back in 1981. The murder mystery has stumped investigators for years and only ended after someone called in a tip about the crime, which led to successful DNA testing.
The woman was subsequently buried with an inscription on her tombstone that read: “Known only to God.”
According to AWM, for three decades, the case went cold. Then someone called in with a tip that led to a positive ID. She saw the police sketch pop up on Facebook. The woman believed the victim was her missing friend, Cheryl Hammack. Police did a DNA test with those supplied by Hammack’s relatives and found a match.
Finally, she may rest in peace.
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