Greenville, SC (FOX Carolina) - Greenville police chief Ken Miller announced Friday that investigators had found Genevieve "Jenny" Zitricki's killer: a man also responsible for other murders of women and children across three states over a ten-year-period.
In April of 1990, Zitricki, who was 28 years old, was killed in her Greenville Apartment. Police say Zitricki, recently divorced, lived alone at Hidden Lake Apartments (now Lakeside Place Apartments) on Villa Road in Greenville.
Authorities say while she was sleeping, the killer gained entry through the sliding glass door of her patio and attacked her in what the FBI described as a "blitz attack." Zitricki was found beaten and strangled to death in her bathtub. She was found on April 6, 1990 by maintenance workers after she didn't show up for work two days in a row. The coroner determined she died two days earlier from strangulation and blunt force injuries to her head and face. Investigators later learned Zitricki had also been sexually assaulted.
In 2006, then-Police Chief Willie Johnson held a news conference in Greenville to announce that Jenny's killer left behind DNA that now matched the DNA in the killing of a mother and her 12-year-old daughter in Missouri.
Sherri and Megan Sherer were shot with a .22 caliber gun in their farmhouse near Portageville, MO in March of 1998. Officials also say that 12-year-old Megan was sexually assaulted.
Police said the killer, two hours later and 40 miles away on the same day of March 1998, also tried to kill a woman in Dyersburg, Tennessee. Police said the woman fought with the attacker, and he shot her through the door of her mobile home, but she survived.
Ballistics tests linked him back to the Scherer case, connecting all three cases.
In 2012, the FBI released a poster that said in 1998 the killer was described as a white male, over 30 years old, 5'6" tall, slender build, dark colored hair with some gray and a thin graying mustache.
KILLER FINALLY NAMED AFTER 28 YEARS
On Friday, Greenville police chief named the killer as Robert Eugene Brashers.
Miller said Brashers was a "violent serial rapist and murderer."
He was never a suspect at the time of Zitricki's death.
Brashers killed himself during a standoff with police in 1999.
Miller said Brashers had been convicted of beating and shooting a woman in Florida in the 1980s. He was released in 1989, just a few months before Zitricki was killed.
It remains unclear why Brashers targeted Zitricki. Her apartment was in close proximity to the community pool. Police said people would often congregate in the pool and she allowed many pool-goers to user her bathroom. Her outgoing personality may have played a role in her being targeted, police believe.
“We think that since Jenny was so outgoing, her, her apartment was right there by the pool, it wasn’t uncommon to have pool parties and Jenny’s, uh, apartment was used to use the restroom and uh, people going in-and-out," Sgt. Tim Conroy with Greenville police stated. "I believe that she was targeted that way since she was so outgoing. I don’t think it was a random, um, act that he just went into that apartment. He knew who was in that apartment when he entered, so no, I believe she was targeted.”
Police learned that in 1990 Brashers lived in an apartment at 25 Pelham Road, now known as The Park at Benito, less than a mile away from Zitricki’s apartment complex.
Police said they have found no evidence that Brashers and Zitricki ever knew one another.
DNA TRAIL LEADING TO BRASHERS BEGAN IN 2005
Miller said the DNA evidence Brashers left behind ultimately led investigators to identify him.
The path to DNA confirmation began in 2005 when Greenville police handed over evidence from the 1990 case to SLED for DNA testing. The DNA was then entered into the FBI's Codus system and matched the Missouri murders.
In May, 2017, Miller said investigators learned the DNA from the case was also linked to an unsolved rape of a 14-year-old girl in Tennessee.
That revelation led investigators from all agencies with seemingly connected, unsolved cases to a conference call with a new DNA genealogy lab in Virginia.
On August 23, Miller said the lab returned their results, which identified Brasher as someone highly likely to be the suspect. Investigators tracked down Brasher's family members, who consented to a DNA swab for testing. That testing confirmed the perpetrator in the unsolved cases was directly related to the family members who were swabbed.
Miller said Brasher's body was exhumed and investigators collected DNA samples to confirm a match from his burial site in Paragold, AK. The Greenville Police Department funded the exhumation because they needed to confirm a DNA match directly from Brashers' body.
“Today is a bittersweet moment, in that we can finally bring closure to the family of Jenny Zitricki," Miller said at the conclusion of the news conference. "Generations of detectives who worked tirelessly, even returned from retirement to continue this important work, can now see this case closed.”
Philip Hegedusichi, Jenny's brother, reflected that his sister was "a force of nature," and a "firecracker," who is still sorely missed.
"It’s been 28 years since Jenny was taken from us. The years since have brought painful sorrow and loss, and the longing of what could have been," Hegedusichi said.
Hegedusichi said it was the family's hope that Zitricki be remembered "not as she left, but for how she lived.
SUMMARY TIMELINE OF BRASHERS' CRIMINAL HISTORY:
• November 11, 1985: Brashers was arrested for beating and shooting a woman in Port Saint Lucie, FL. For this, he served 3 ½ years in prison and was released on May 4, 1989.
• April 4, 1990: Brashers brutally raped and murdered Jenny Zitricki in Greenville, SC.
• February 18, 1992: Brashers was arrested in Cobb County, GA for Possession of Stolen Pistol and Possession of a Stolen Vehicle. At the time of his arrest he had a scanner, “police” coat, burglary tools, and a fake TN license. He, again, was sentenced to prison and was released on February 17, 1997.
• March 11, 1997: Brashers entered a home in Memphis, TN, and sexually assaulted a 14-year-old female.
• March 28, 1998: Brashers brutally murdered Sherri Scherer and her 12-year-old daughter Megan by shooting each multiple times in Portageville, MO. Megan was also sexually assaulted before she was murdered.
o Later that same day, Brashers attempted to force his way into a home in Dyersburg, TN. The mother, 25, was home with small child. She fought with him, was shot, but survived and provided a description to police. The projectile retrieved from her body was also later linked to the Scherer murders.
• April 12, 1998: Brashers was arrested breaking into a single woman’s home, for whom he had previously done handyman work. Brasher cut the phone lines to the home, was armed with a firearm, had a video camera, and other tools. He was released from custody some time afterward, although that date is currently unclear to us.
• January 13, 1999: Officers located a vehicle in a parking lot of “Super 8” motel in Kennett, Missouri. Officers eventually made contact with multiple occupants of a room and located Brashers hiding under a bed armed with a gun. After four hours of police hostage negotiations, he released the other room occupants.
• January 19, 1999: Brashers died.