Calif. cops use DNA from victim’s fingernails to solve 1988 slaying

Lucille Hultgren's final, desperate moments helped catch her killer


By Darrell Smith
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Death caught Lucille Hultgren’s killer before the law could, but the Galt woman’s final desperate acts ultimately helped investigators solve her murder, Galt police and Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert announced Tuesday.

“We’re here for one person and her family. That is Lucille Hultgren,” Schubert said at Galt Police headquarters. Hultgren’s killer: Terry Leroy Bramble, a Galt transient and convicted sex offender who lived for years on the city’s streets and under a Highway 99 overpass before he died of natural causes in 2011.

Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert talks about a 34-year-old cold case at the Galt Police Department on Tuesday. Lucille Hultgren, visible in the photo above Schubert, was killed in 1988.
Sacramento District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert talks about a 34-year-old cold case at the Galt Police Department on Tuesday. Lucille Hultgren, visible in the photo above Schubert, was killed in 1988. (Hector Amezcua)

Bramble was 32 when he strangled and stabbed Hultgren, 79, to death in May 1988 in her Poplar Street home just weeks after Mother’s Day that year.

Hultgren, who had lived alone for several years after her husband died, was last seen by her neighbors May 20, 1988 — Hultgren’s 79th birthday — then- Galt Police Chief Doug Mathews told the Galt Herald in a 2013 story marking the 25th anniversary of her murder.

“Lucille Hultgren was a mother, a wife, a 79-year-old woman who lived her life with dignity until it was taken away by a sex offender,” Schubert said.

DNA evidence lifted from the 79-year-old’s fingernails, embedded when Hultgren struggled to fight off the man who took her life, gave Galt police and Sacramento County District Attorney’s crime lab investigators the name that at long last closed the case.

“Through an examination of fingernail scrapings from her body, the identity of a sex offender came to life,” Schubert told reporters at the late-morning news conference, calling the evidence critical to identifying the long-sought but never-captured murderer.

Tuesday’s revelation added to a growing list of cold cases the Sacramento office has helped solve through genetic genealogy, including East Area Rapist/Golden State Killer Joseph DeAngelo and NorCal Rapist Roy Waller.

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Hultgren has been described by Galt police and news accounts as devoted to her family and her church, Galt’s First Methodist Church.

It was Hultgren’s church family who discovered her body May 23, 1988, inside the Poplar Street house she had called home for 25 years. Parishioners had become concerned about her whereabouts when she failed to show for church services the previous Sunday.

Mathews attended the news conference announcing the name of Hultgren’s killer.

“We did everything we could at the time,” the former chief of police said. “I’m satisfied that it’s completed.”

But Galt police could never pin down a suspect and leads would later turn cold. Bramble’s motive remains unknown.

“That is what this case is about — about the pursuit of justice for almost 34 years,” Schubert said. One of Hultgren’s sons, Henry, of Stockton, survives her. Another son, Frank, died in 2008, said Galt police.

In a statement read at the news conference, Henry Hultgren said, “I’m glad the case was solved, but I wish the man was still alive.”

Schubert said, she too, wished Bramble was alive “so we could put him in prison.”

“It will never be closure,” Schubert said. “But it is answers.”

©2022 The Sacramento Bee. Visit sacbee.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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