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1988 California cold case solved with DNA taken from victim

Death caught Lucille Hultgren’s killer before the law could, but the last desperate acts of Galt’s wife finally helped investigators solve her murder, Galt police and the county prosecutor said Tuesday. Sacramento, Anne-Marie Schubert.

“We are here for one person and their family. This is Lucille Hultgren,” Schubert said at Galt police headquarters. Hultgren’s Killer: Terry Leroy Bramble, a Galt and convicted transient sex offender who lived for years on city streets and under a Highway 99 overpass before dying of natural causes in 2011.

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

Hultgren, who had lived alone for several years after her husband’s death, was last seen by her neighbors on May 20, 1988 – Hultgren’s 79th birthday – Galt Police Chief Doug Mathews said at the Galt Herald in a 2013 story marking the 25th anniversary of his murder.

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Galt’s transient and convicted sex offender, Terry Leroy Bramble, was identified by DNA evidence as the killer of Lucille Hultgren in 1988. Galt Police Department

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

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

“Through an examination of the fingernail scrapes on his body, the identity of a sex offender came to life,” Schubert told reporters at the late morning news conference, calling the evidence critical to identify the long-sought but never-caught murderer.

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

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

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

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

“We did everything we could at the time,” the former police chief said. “I’m happy it’s over.”

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

“That’s what it’s all about – the pursuit of justice for almost 34 years,” Schubert said. One of Hultgren’s sons, Henry, of Stockton, survives him. Another son, Frank, died in 2008, Galt police said.

In a statement read out at the press conference, Henry Hultgren said: “I’m glad the case has been resolved, but I would like the man to still be alive.”

Schubert said she, too, wanted Bramble alive “so we could put him in jail.”

“It will never be the shutdown,” Schubert said. “But these are answers.”

This story was originally published May 17, 2022 2:34 p.m.

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Darrell Smith is the Elk Grove reporter for The Sacramento Bee. He joined The Bee in 2006 and previously worked at newspapers in Palm Springs, Colorado Springs and Marysville. Smith was born and raised at Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville, and lives in Elk Grove.