$500,000 bond set for James Eaton, accused in 1997 death of Amber Creek

RACINE (WITI) -- A judge on Wednesday, April 9th set bond at $500,000 for 36-year-old James Eaton -- the Palatine, Illinois man arrested for his alleged role in the death of Amber Creek in 1997. 

A Racine County District Attorney had asked for a $1 million bond in the case.

Eaton faces two charges in the case: first-degree intentional homicide, and hiding a corpse.

The homicide charge carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The body of 14-year-old Amber Creek was found in the Karcher Marsh and Wildlife Area in Burlington in 1997. The body was discovered by a sportsman in the wooded marsh. For more than a year, the body’s identity was unknown. She was laid to rest with a “Jane Doe” headstone.

“I can assure you, this case never had dust settling on it,” Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling said on Tuesday, April 8th during a news conference in which he announced the arrest of Eaton.

Eventually, a search of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children’s database and dental records helped to develop her identity — but her killer remained at large.

Investigators say Creek was suffocated with a plastic bag. The runaway had been beaten and sexually assaulted.

The District Attorney argued in court on Wednesday during Eaton's initial appearance that Creek had been treated like a piece of garbage -- sexually assaulted and savagely attacked.

A criminal complaint in the case says she had a human bite mark on her neck, blunt force trauma, and cuts to her face. 

She was found with a plastic bag over her head, and a $5 price tag stuck to her arm. She reportedly had the word "Hi" written on her palm.

Based upon the pain and suffering in this case, and the fact that Eaton has a good job in Illinois, the District Attorney asked for a $1 million bond -- but a half-million keeps Eaton in jail for now.

Sheriff Schmaling said during his news conference on Tuesday, investigators were able to recover a number of latent fingerprints from that plastic bag that was placed on Creek’s head. They also recovered the offender’s DNA from her body.

Initially, the recovered fingerprints did not match any within the state’s criminal justice system. Scaled photographs of the latest fingerprints were sent to the FBI and the crime laboratories in each of the other 49 states. Until recently, no matches were found.

Then on February 28th, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation – Latent Evidence Unit contacted the Wisconsin Department of Justice and reported a “hit” from the latent fingerprints on the bag around Amber’s head — and those known fingerprints of James Eaton.

Eaton had not previously been a suspect or mentioned during the course of the Creek investigation.

Immediately upon receiving the new lead, Sheriff’s investigators launched an in-depth investigation into Eaton. That investigation included the physical surveillance of Eaton by two investigators.  After several days of surveillance, the investigators were able to recover a partially-used cigarette discarded by Eaton at a train station in the metro Chicago area.

The cigarette was taken to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory in Milwaukee. After analyzing the DNA taken from the cigarette Eaton was smoking, and comparing that DNA to the offender DNA taken from Amber Creek’s body, the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory reports that the offender DNA belongs to James Eaton.

“As you can imagine (Amber Creek’s family) is incredibly happy — but they’re also trying to deal with this new-found information,” Schmaling said.

Racine County authorities now believe people who have ties to Eaton could have knowledge that could help their case. They’re urging anyone with information on the murder of Amber Creek to call the Criminal Investigation Bureau at 262-636-3225. You can also call Racine Crimestoppers at 1-888-636-9330.

Eaton has a preliminary hearing scheduled for next Wednesday, April 16th.

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