The Greenville Police Department has identified a serial killer whose crimes had puzzled investigators for nearly three decades.
Greenville Police Chief Ken Miller identified now-deceased Robert Eugene Brashers as Genevieve Zitricki’s killer at a news conference Friday at Greenville’s City Hall, 28 years after her murder.
Brashers was identified through DNA testing, which is the first time the Greenville Police Department has made a breakthrough in a cold case through DNA testing, Miller said.
Zitricki, who went by Jenny, was 28 years old and recently divorced when she was found beaten and strangled to death in her bathtub at what was then Hidden Lake Apartments on Villa Road in 1990.
It’s taken the span of her life for investigators to finally put her case to rest.
Last year, retired police officers and law enforcement agents volunteered to help the Greenville Police Department investigate a list of cold cases that had been shelved for years, including Zitricki’s.
Friday’s announcement comes as a result of law enforcement’s use of Parabon NanoLabs, a DNA technology company based in Virginia. The breakthrough was from tracking the DNA through “genetic genealogy,” which uses advanced DNA testing in combination with genetic analysis to establish relationships between relatives.
Parabon NanoLabs was able to match Brashers’ DNA with a relative’s who had used GEDmatch, a database that gained recent national attention after law enforcement used it to identify California’s notorious Golden State Killer earlier this year.
At the time of Zitricki’s death, Greenville police said she was likely murdered in her bedroom before being dragged to her bathtub and submerged in water. A threatening message left on her mirror said “Don’t [expletive] with my family,” but detectives were never able to determine if the note was legitimate or made to cover the killer’s tracks, until now.
Zitricki’s brother, Philip Hegedusich, was her only family member at the news conference, speaking on behalf of their family for their gratitude to each of the law enforcement agencies involved in the case. Their mother, he said, was relieved to finally know the truth.
“Twenty-eight years. Twenty. Eight. Years,” Hegedusich emphasized at the news conference. “It’s been a long time. It’s been time enough for trails to go cold, for memories to fade, and for connections to fray and sever. It’s almost been time enough to give up hope, but the men and women of this outstanding organization in concert with professionals from other far-flung jurisdictions never gave up. They never wavered. They never forgot their promise.”
Hegedusich spoke about his “firecracker” sister who was a fan of the Cleveland Browns.
“It’s been 28 years since Jenny was taken from us,” Hegedusich said. “The intervening years have brought the painful sorrow of loss and the longing for what could have been, but we do well to remember her in life. She was a force of nature, a firecracker, a bundle of infectious energy, an intelligent, vibrant, caring human being. All of the lives she touched, near and far, then and now, should keep her in their hearts not as she left, but as she lived.”
Authorities had already linked Zitricki’s killer to several other crimes through what is now known to be Brashers’ DNA — the death of a mother and daughter in Missouri in 1998 as well as the sexual assault of a 14-year-old victim in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1997, along with a series of other crimes he had been arrested for between 1985 and 1999.
In 1998, Sherri Scherer and her 12-year-old daughter, Megan, were found dead from gunshot wounds in their Missouri home. The victims were bound and authorities said the girl had been raped. Two hours later, authorities said ballistic evidence showed the same man tried to enter a home in Dyer County, Tennessee, where he shot a woman who struggled with him at the door.
In 2006, investigators were able to link DNA evidence taken from Zitricki’s crime scene with the double homicide in Missouri.
Last year, investigators found another link — this time, to the 1997 rape of a 14-year-old victim in Memphis, Tennessee. Miller said the 20-year-old DNA was discovered in 2017 because of a backlog in rape kits at the Memphis Police Department.
Each link brought investigators one step closer to discovering a web of interconnected crimes spanning the Southeast.
After investigators were able to link Brashers’ DNA with a relative’s, his family willingly provided law enforcement swabs of DNA.
The case was officially closed when Brashers’ remains were exhumed in Paragould, Arkansas, on Sept. 27 and tested against the DNA samples. Brashers’ address history shows that he lived within short driving distance to each crime when it occurred.
Miller said Brashers lived most of his life in Huntsville, Alabama, before moving around and committing brutal assaults and murders across several states.
“We now know that Robert Brashers was a violent serial rapist and murderer. His criminal history tells the story of a vicious, brutal murderer,” Miller said.
Detective Sgt. Tim Conroy with GPD said Brashers had a wife who said they had married sometime after Brasher attempted to break in a home in Paragould, Arkansas, in 1998, but law enforcement has not been able to confirm they were married.
Conroy said law enforcement last spoke with Brashers’ wife Tuesday, and plan to speak with her again. He said Brashers’ wife indicated she was aware of some of his crimes, but not the sexual assaults or murders.
Brashers died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on Jan. 19, 1999, six days after a standoff with police at a Super 8 motel in Kennett, Missouri, where he held his wife, daughter, and two stepdaughters hostage.
Miller said Brashers’ crimes were not random attacks, but were likely planned given his residences in relation to each crime. He said Vitricki was likely targeted because she was outgoing and lived right by the complex’s pool.
“I believe that she was targeted that way, since she was so outgoing. I don’t think it was a random attack that he just went into that apartment. He knew who was in that apartment he entered,” Miller said.
Miller said it’s possible Brashers committed other crimes not yet known because of the backlog of rape kits at many law enforcement agencies. He encouraged anyone who knew Brashers at the time to contact the police department so law enforcement can build a stronger timeline of the events.