DNA links deceased sex offender to 1988 Hultgren killing, officials say

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Officials said at a press conference held Tuesday that advancements in DNA analysis technology has led to the identification of a prime suspect in the 1988 murder of Lucille Hultgren in Galt.

District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert and Galt Police officials said that the 79-year-old woman’s killer was identified as Terry Bramble, a sex offender who lived under Highway 99 for years before dying there of natural causes in 2011, at the age of 55.

“We’ve identified the suspect as Terry Leroy Bramble, with a date of birth of 7/18/1956, who, at the time of the crime, was 32 years old,” Police Chief Brian Kalinowski said.

An obituary published in The Galt Herald in October of 2011 says Bramble moved to Galt in 1969, working as a concrete contractor and a cemetery groundskeeper before developing health problems and falling into homelessness.

Because Bramble, whose DNA was on file with the DA’s Office following a 1992 sex assault conviction in San Joaquin County, is dead, no charges can be filed in the incident. The longtime Galt transient lived and died without ever facing his day in court for the murder.

Obituary photo via family of Terry Bramble / Galt Herald

Officials said Hultgren was found dead in the master bedroom of her home in the 500 Block of Poplar Street by two fellow churchgoers who came to check on her after she missed a service. She was found with stab wounds to the chest and signs of sexual assault, with medical examiners ruling that her death was a homicide via stabbing and strangulation.

“[Hultgren] lived a modest life, by all accounts,” Schubert said. “Her church and her faith was important to her, and her friendships with those people that went with her was critical in this case. Because they, sadly, were the ones that found her.”

Her surviving son, Hank, now the same age she was when she was killed, said in a statement that he was glad the case was solved, and he wished Bramble could’ve faced consequences.

“I’m glad to know the case was solved, I wish the man was still alive to face the consequences,” he said. “I wish my older brother was still alive to hear the news. Thank you to the Galt Police Department and the Sacramento County Crime Lab for solving my mother’s case.”

After investigators collected evidence and canvassed the neighborhood for witnesses, the case soon grew stagnant and went unsolved for 34 years. It was solved after criminalists got a DNA “hit” on fingernail scrapings from Hultgren’s body and bodily fluids from bedsheets found at the scene.

Schubert described the fingernail scrapings as the “needle in a haystack” that investigators were able to recover after exhausting all alternatives and conducting tests numerous times over the years. Schubert said that the amount of DNA required to garner a positive hit has shrunk from the size of a quarter to one-billionth the size of a Sweet N’ Low packet.

The killing was the only remaining cold case in Galt, according to Schubert and Kalinowski.

Ethan Biando
Ethan Biando is a freelance journalist from Sacramento. His writing focuses on crime, courts, and policing. Find him on Twitter @ethanb822

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