‘We got it’: Florida trucker arrested in 1996 for rape and murder of Michigan woman
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — It’s been nearly 26 years since a delivery driver came across a woman’s body wrapped in a blanket in southern Kent County, Michigan.
Sharon Kay Hammack, 29, had been raped, stabbed, tied up and thrown off 76th Street west of Kraft Avenue near Caledonia.
Hammack, a mother of two, was one of twelve women killed in the 1990s in and around Grand Rapids. Most of the victims, including Hammack, have struggled with addiction and engaged in sex work to support their lifestyle.
Regional law enforcement agencies formed a task force in 1996 to investigate the series of murders to determine if they were the work of a serial killer. But investigators were unable to draw any conclusions and, until this week, no charges had been filed in any of the murders.
In some cases, only skeletal remains remained when the women were discovered.
But Sharon Hammack was found the same day of her murder and her killer left traces of him.
FLORIDA TRUCKER WITH VIOLENT STORIES ARRESTED
It was Kent County Sheriff’s Department detectives and advances in DNA that led to the arrest of Garry Dean Artman, a Florida trucker who was living in Michigan at the time of Hammack’s murder.
Artman, who is also suspected in the murder of a sex worker in Maryland, is being held in a Mississippi jail pending extradition to Michigan. According to prison records, Artman was arrested by the Mississippi Highway Patrol on Tuesday.
Artman is a trucker with a violent criminal history, including a rape conviction for which he served 11 years in a Michigan prison. Kent County court records show Artman has a current address in White Springs, North Florida.
On a Friday afternoon Press releasethe Kent County Sheriff’s Department announced that Artman had been charged with open murder, felony murder and first-degree criminal sexual conduct in Hammack’s murder.
“The KCSD is investigating the 1996 homicide of a local prostitute that took place on 76th Street between Patterson and Kraft,” a detective wrote in a probable cause affidavit filed Tuesday in the 63rd District Court in the beltway. is.
“The victim was strangled to death among other injuries. The perpetrator raped the victim leaving vaginal and rectal DNA as well as DNA on other objects including the rope used to tie the In addition, the perpetrator stabbed the victim twice in the head with a knife,” the affidavit reads.
GENEALOGICAL TESTS LEAD TO ARREST
Sheriff’s detectives previously submitted DNA from Hammack’s crime scene for genealogy testing in an effort to find relatives of the killer.
“In 2006, Maryland State Police were investigating the homicide of a known prostitute who was raped and stabbed to death. The attacker also left DNA in (this) victim,” wrote a detective.
“Family DNA was performed on both the Grand Rapids (Hammack) case and the Maryland case. It was determined that the assailant in each case was in fact the same person,” the detective wrote. “Furthermore, the DNA examination determined that the person who committed each offense was from the same parents.”
The sheriff’s investigator went on to explain that they had traced DNA to the parents of four sons.
“Further examination showed only one son with Michigan ties and that was Garry Dean Artman,” the detective wrote. “Artman, by his own admission, lived and worked near the murder scene and was present in the state of Michigan when the homicide took place. Further investigation revealed that shortly before the homicide victim was found in Maryland, she was in Ontario, California. It was discovered that around the same time Garry Dean Artman was within 20 miles of Ontario, California when he was cited by local authorities.
Detectives have not revealed whether they believe Artman was responsible for additional killings in the Grand Rapids area.
According to the Sheriff’s Department press release, investigators will hold a press conference Monday morning regarding Artman’s arrest. Hammack’s relatives are expected.
In the press release, the Sheriff’s Department thanked several law enforcement agencies for their assistance, including the Mississippi State Highway Patrol, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigations, the Forrest County Sheriff’s Office in Mississippi, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office in Alabama, Columbia County Sheriff’s Office in Florida, Michigan State Police Crime Lab, Kent County District Attorney’s Office and the US Postal Inspection Service.
“MAMA, WE HAVE JUSTICE FOR HER”
On Thursday, one of the cold case detectives knocked on Terri Navitskas door in Walker. Navitskas is Hammack’s sister and the investigator wanted to make sure the family knew about the arrest first. He also phoned one of Hammack’s other sisters, Tina DeYoung.
“We got it,” DeYoung said, quoting the detective, as soon as she called.
DeYoung was stunned.
“It’s just a flood of emotions,” she told Nexstar’s WOOD-TV. “I’m happy, but I’m sad too.”
DeYoung said the news brings to mind the pain of losing her sister again, but she is grateful to the Kent County Sheriff’s Department for never forgetting her sister.
Sadly, Hammack’s parents, Jacob and Lois Gross, are both deceased.
“Mom, we got justice for her,” DeYoung said Thursday night, looking up at the sky. “I’m sorry this didn’t happen before the good Lord took you, but justice will be served. You can celebrate with her up there.
WOOD had been working on an in-depth look at the 1990s murders and spoke with Terri Navitskas in mid-May.
“We would like to know who did this to him. It wasn’t right for any of the girls to have that done to them. Just terrible,” Navitskas said in tears. “(Sharon) was a loving sister, a loving daughter and a loving mother of two, and we miss her so much.”
Navitskas said his sister was 3-5 months pregnant when she was killed.
“So there’s a baby that we don’t even know about,” she said. “(Sharon) wanted everything in life for her children. I don’t know who she got involved with on drugs. When she first got into it she wanted to wash up for her kids but then she went so far down the crack it took her down… It was just terrible to see her on the street . I hated seeing her there.
Navitskas said the family worried about Hammack every day, especially when someone started killing sex workers in Grand Rapids.
Hammack, whose body was discovered on October 3, 1996, was the ninth woman killed in a series of 12 murders that began in March 1994, with the discovery of the body of 25-year-old Lesa Otberg in Muskegon.
“My mom and I were walking back and forth on Division Avenue and (Sharon) was right behind a little motel near 28th Street. We would see her and when we approached her and stopped she was running because she didn’t want us to see her like that,” Navitskas said.
She said her mother tried to put Hammack in rehab, but Hammack was still kicked out because they were insecure.
“I think about her all the time,” Navitskas said. “What a wonderful sister she was. She was so loving.