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DNA Leads To Arrest Of Trucker For 1996 Cold Case Murder Of Pregnant Mom In Michigan

Sharon Hammack was one of a dozen women killed in the Grand Rapids area of Michigan in the 1990s. Police now say DNA has identified Garry Dean Artman as the man who raped and killed her in 1996.

A police handout of Garry Dean Artman

Nearly 26 years after a pregnant Michigan mother of two was brutally raped and murdered, advancements in DNA have led investigators to a Florida-based trucker.

Garry Dean Artman, 64, was arrested last week for the 1996 murder of Sharon Hammack, 29, the Kent County Sheriff’s Office announced in a Friday press release. He was taken into custody in Mississippi and is currently awaiting extradition back to Michigan, where the murder occurred.

He faces charges of open murder, homicide, felony murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct. 

Artman is also a suspect in the murder of a sex worker who disappeared from outside of Los Angeles whose remains were later found in Maryland. The same DNA was found in both victims and then allegedly matched to Artman. 

Detectives in Kent County “along with advancements in DNA testing,” pieced together evidence from Hammack's murder.

“Familial DNA was done on both the Grand Rapids case and the Maryland case. It was determined that the assailant in each case was in the fact the same person,” a detective wrote in an affidavit obtained by WOOD-TV

Though the DNA from the two cases didn't have a match in existing systems, genetic genealogy led investigators to focus on four siblings — but only one had any ties to Michigan.

“Artman, by his own admission, was living and working near the murder scene and was present in the state of Michigan when the homicide was committed,” the affidavit staes. “Further investigation revealed that shortly before the homicide victim (was) found in Maryland, she was in Ontario, California. It was found that around the same time Garry Dean Artman was within 20 miles of Ontario, CA.”

Hammack’s hogtied body was found on Oct. 3, 1996 in Kent County, Michigan, WOOD-TV reports. She had been “sexually assaulted and strangled to death,” according to the press release. She had also been raped and stabbed twice in the head before her death. Then, she was rolled up in a blanket and dumped on the side of a road; a delivery driver discovered her the same day she was murdered.

Hammock was the ninth body found of a dozen women killed in the 1990s in and around Michigan’s Grand Rapids area, WOOD reports. Unlike Hammack, most of the victims' remains had already become skeletal by the time they were found. The majority of the 12 Michigan victims, like Hammack, had addiction issues and engaged in sex work.

While a local task force was formed in 1996 to investigate the 12 murders, there have been no charges in any of the cases until last week.  

It’s not clear if investigators suspect that Artman killed any of the other 11 women, or if he will be charged in Maryland for the other woman's murder to which his DNA is allegedly connected. It’s not clear if Artman yet has a lawyer.

He was previously incarcerated for 11 years in Michigan on a charge of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, police said.

“We got him,” the victim’s sister, Tina DeYoung, told WOOD-TV, quoting the detective who called her to announce the arrest.

She said that the arrest has brought up a lot of emotions.

“Mama, we got justice for her,” DeYoung said on Thursday night, looking toward the sky, in a gesture to her deceased parents, according to WOOD. “I’m sorry it didn’t happen before the good Lord took you, but justice will be served. You can celebrate with her up there.”

Hammack's other sister, Terri Navitskas, previously spoke about her sister to the station. She said the mother-of-two was pregnant with a third child at the time of her death, and that her addiction had driven her to sex work. 

"I don’t know who she got hooked up with on the drugs," Navitskas said. "When she first got into it, she wanted to get clean for her children, but then she got so far into the crack, it took her downhill."

She said that the family had been aware of Hammack's choices and feared for her safety after the sex worker murders started in 1994, but their attempts to get her into drug rehabilitation programs failed due to her lack of health insurance.

"It wasn’t right for any of the girls to have this done to them,” she told the station. “She was a loving sister, a loving daughter and a loving mother to two children, and we miss her so bad.”

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