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DNA In Fingernail Scrapings Lead To Identification Of Suspect In 1988 Cold Case Murder

Sacramento County investigators have determined that Terry Leroy Bramble, a sex offender who died in 2011, killed 79-year-old Lucille Hultgren in 1988.

By Gina Tron
Police handouts of Lucille Hultgren and Terry Bramble

DNA on a victim’s fingernails has led to the identification of her suspected killer decades later, according to authorities.

Lucille Hultgren, 79, was sexually assaulted, stabbed in the chest, and strangled inside her home in Galt, California in 1988. Investigators looked at several pieces of evidence, including a pillow that was placed over her head during her murder and DNA under her fingernails, in trying to track down her killer, officials stated at a news conference Tuesday organized by the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office.

It was the fingernail scrapings taken from Hultgren that have now, thanks to advanced DNA testing, that led to her suspected killer. Galt Police Chief Brian Kalinowski announced that they have determined that Terry Leroy Bramble was the assailant. He would have been 32 at the time of Hultgren’s murder.

He died of natural causes in 2011 of natural when he was living under a bridge on Highway 99 in Galt. He was a registered sex offender at the time.

Bramble's DNA was collected during a sexual assault investigation that led to a conviction in 1992. 

"The fingernail scrapings became the key to solving this case," Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert said Tuesday. She noted that Hultgren’s husband had just died months before her murder; she was the mother of two children, who had last seen her on Mother’s Day. She lived alone and was living a "modest" life. Schubert said that her family has been living with the weight of this case for more than 33 years.

“She was a mother, she was a wife, she was a 79-year-old woman who lived her life with dignity and respect only to have it taken away by a sex offender,” she said.

In a statement, Hultgren’s son said he's glad the case has been solved.

However, he noted, "I wish the man was still alive to face the consequences. I wish my older brother was still alive to hear the news."

The Galt Police Department said in a statement that they hope that the suspect’s identification can “provide some closure for her family.”

When questioned by reporters, police said they will investigate to see if Bramble can be linked to any other unsolved cases. They do not know why Hultgren was targeted.

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