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Death at the Dance Store: The Murder of Amy Blumberg



On New Year’s Eve 1999, Amy Blumberg was on winter break from classes at Eastern Illinois University where she was a junior. She had plans to ring in the new millennium with friends that night, but Amy failed to show up. Her friends called her parents, who went to check on her at her aunt and uncle’s dance store in O’Fallon, Illinois. Amy was supposed to close the store at six that evening, but when her parents pulled up at nearly nine o’clock, Amy’s car was still there. The front door to the store was also open, increasing the concern of her parents. As they searched the back of the store, they noticed blood… a lot of blood. Amy was dead.

Amy Jennifer Blumberg was born September 28th, 1979, in Belleville, Illinois. She grew up in Collinsville, graduating from Collinsville High School in 1997. She enrolled at Eastern Illinois University, where she was a junior at the time of her death. She left behind numerous friends and family members including her parents and brother. Amy’s friends and sorority sisters at Eastern Illinois University celebrated her life shortly after her death in a special memorial on campus. “How lucky I was to live with her for the past six months and now how quiet it really is without her in the room” (Hunt, 2000) her roommate said. Amy was loved by those who knew her, and no one could identify anyone who would want to harm her.

Police arrived at the dance store a little after 9pm on December 31st, 1999. At first, the store looked in proper order. As investigators moved to the back of the store, they saw blood on the doorway to the back hallway that led to the bathrooms. Blood was also found near the cash register and on an outfit hung nearby the register. It did not appear that the store had been robbed and nothing of value was missing, including cash. The blood trail down the back hallway led to the men’s bathroom where Amy’s pants and underwear were found. The blood trail then continued to the women’s bathroom where Amy’s lifeless body lay in a pool of her own blood.

Amy had a single gunshot wound to the head from a .38 caliber pistol. They had the bullet, which was still in the store. She was found with only her top on, suggesting a sexual assault had occurred. That, along with the fact that nothing was missing, indicated that this was a sexually motivated crime. Several hairs were collected from the scene that did not belong to Amy. The O’Fallon police department quickly called in the Greater St. Louis Major Case Squad to assist in this investigation.

Upon learning of Amy’s death, a man came forward who had been in the store the afternoon of the murder. He estimated he was in the store between 1pm and 2pm. He states that he was there to exchange his daughter’s leotard with another as the leotard previously purchased did not fit. He said that his daughter tried on several items as he chatted with Amy. He stated that another man was also present, who he gave a physical description of, and a sketch was created. Police also noted that at 2:26pm, the cash register completed the last transaction of the day. Police asked anyone who was in the store that afternoon to come forward as a witness.



Detectives determined that Amy likely died before 6pm, because otherwise she would not have still been in the store. In fact, she had permission from her aunt and uncle to close early if the store was closed. The other store in the duplex style building was closed that day, so no witnesses from that shop could assist. The police determined that Amy had to have been killed between 2:26 pm, when she made her final sale, and 6pm. The coroner estimated the time of death to be approximately 4pm.

Over the next few days, a reward fund for information leading to the arrest of Amy’s killer grew. Multiple leads were reported in relation to the sketch released by police of the male customer described by the man and his daughter. The murder seemed like a random attack, likely with no personal connection to the victim. Detectives considered if the case could have been related to a string of similar murders along I-70 in the early 1990’s. There was no evidence to connect Amy’s murder to the I-70 killer, who has not been arrested to this day, but police found similarities. The I-70 killer killed multiple store clerks at small stores, such as the dance store, with a gun. The victims were usually young women working alone in the store.

One tip came in from another O’Fallon business. A woman working on December 31st, 1999, described a man whose description matched the sketch already created. She said he was in the business that day and kept asking her if she was working alone. He made her uncomfortable. She wondered if she had escaped being murdered that day. A second sketch was created and circulated, but no suspects were identified.

Amy’s murder went cold, and the years started to pass. At the third anniversary of Amy’s death, her mother told The Belleville News Democrat (2003), “The only thing I can do is remind people that this is still unsolved, and any information they can provide about Amy’s murder could be the key to solving the case”. By the end of 2003, someone would bring information forward, finally leading to a break in the case.

The call to the O’Fallon Police Department at the end of 2003 led to follow-up calls and a meeting with the anonymous tipster’s attorney. The attorney was representing a woman in a divorce case named Dawn Phillips. She stated that her estranged husband, Edward Phillips, owned a .38 caliber pistol. Additionally, she said that he came home the night of the murder with blood on his clothing. He told his wife he had to move a dead animal off the road, but Dawn had her suspicions. He also told her that he had purchased items in the store earlier that day and discovered Amy’s body when he returned to the store to get a refund.

Edward Phillips was born March 7th, 1966. He married his wife in 1993 and became a father to two daughters. Dawn, his wife, was employed by the Illinois Department of Corrections. Edward worked as a maintenance equipment operator for the Illinois Department of Corrections and drove a truck that delivered meat to Illinois prisons. Both Dawn and Edward were firearm enthusiasts. In late 2003, the couple was undergoing divorce proceedings. During the divorce process, Edward was arrested and charged with burglary, perjury, and obstructing justice. He was sentenced to eight years total for these crimes and was in prison at the time Dawn notified police of Phillips’ involvement in Amy’s murder.

Police began to investigate Phillips for two weeks before arresting him on January 16th, 2004, and charging him with Amy’s murder. The prosecutors noted that Dawn looked extremely similar to Amy Blumberg. The defense said that the information leading to the arrest came from a bitter ex-wife and was not based on factual information. The family of Amy Blumberg did not want to wait years for justice, which would have been the case had the state pursued the death penalty, so it was agreed that Edward Phillips would not face the death penalty. He was, however, eligible for life in prison without the possibility of parole.

Phillips admitted to police that he was in the area that day and was the final customer at the store at 2:25 pm. Phillips, who lived in Mt. Sterling, Illinois, said he bought the leotard for his daughter, but later returned to the store to get a refund. He said that he found Amy’s body upon returning to the store, panicked, and left the store. He admitted to disposing of his .38 caliber pistol because he said it was unregistered. He denied killing Amy.

Before Edward Phillips went to trial, his attorney motioned to suppress evidence found in his trailer. This included medicine droppers, leg shackles, duct tape, and pornography (Hundsdorfer, 2005). The defense said that the evidence was not relevant as the murder was not proven to be sexually motivated. The prosecution argued that the removal of Amy’s clothing indicated a sexual motivation.

During the trial, Kenneth and Susan Blumberg testified. They explained that they started receiving phone calls around 6pm, when Amy failed to show up to spend time with her friends. They tried to call the store and reach Amy but had no success. They described going to the store, finding Amy’s vehicle, and then finding Amy’s body. Her father recalled telling his wife that they were “too late” upon finding his daughter’s body. Amy’s aunt testified that she permitted Amy to close the store a 2pm if business was slow that day. The last recorded sale at the store occurred at 2:25 pm and was a child’s black leotard.

One of the responding officers testified that upon entering the store, they found the trail of blood and blood splattering on the floor of the hallway. He described the blood found in the men’s restroom with the trail continuing to the women’s restroom. The body of Amy was found dead inside the women’s restroom. Crime scene technician Alva Busch testified that he saw Amy’s keys and purse on top of the counter in the store. He said the cash register had not been disturbed and no money seemed to have been stolen. He also testified to the blood trail as well as finding nylon pants, underwear, socks, and tennis shoes in the men’s room. He also found a tampon on the floor next to the urinal. He testified that Amy was found nude from the waist down with her legs spread. He testified to the collection of hair and fibers.

Another detective testified that he searched Dawn and Edward’s home following the tips of his involvement. They found a gun box for the .38 caliber pistol, but it was empty. They found ammunition that matched the bullet at the crime scene. The man who sold Edward Phillips the .38 caliber pistol testified to selling the gun to Edward and was able to present the bill of sale signed by Phillips. The sexual evidence that Edward wanted suppressed was not presented at trial.

Dr. Raj Nanduri, the medical examiner, testified that Amy suffered multiple injuries. She had bruises and scrapes on various parts of her body including her knee, hip, and upper arm. She also had bruises on her breast. Amy died of a gunshot wound at close range. The bullet entered the back of her left ear and exited the front of her right ear. According to Dr. Nanduri, the gun shot would have caused almost immediate death.

Edward Phillips’ fingerprints, palm prints, and DNA was not discovered at the crime scene. Hairs on Amy’s nylon pants were consistent with Amy, but other hairs were found that were not consistent with the victim or Edward Philips. However, a hair found on Amy’s ankle was found to be consistent with Edward Phillip’s DNA profile.

The defense theorized that Dawn and Edward were going through a terrible divorce and custody battle. Edward claimed to have evidence that Dawn was abusive to the children. He said she made several threats to incriminate him in the murder of Amy Blumberg if he wasn’t nice to her. However, other witnesses poked holes in the theory of the bitter estranged wife out to get her soon-to-be ex-husband.

A friend of Edward Phillips testified that Edward told her that he had been in O’Fallon on the day of the murder and stopped to buy his daughter a leotard. He said he later thought the leotard would not fit, so brought it back to the store. He said he could not find the clerk, but eventually found her dead in the bathroom. He said he had blood on his hands and clothing, stopped at a gas station to wash his hands and throw the leotard away. He admitted to lying to his wife about the source of the blood. He said Dawn was going to blackmail him, but he was innocent of murder.

The defendant’s former neighbor testified that Edward told him he had met a girl named Amy who looked like his wife. Edward later told him the same story of purchasing the leotard, returning to the store, and finding Amy’s body. He told his neighbor that he panicked and fled the scene. He told his neighbor he threw the gun out the window of his truck on the way home. He said the gun matched the gun used in the murder, something he would not have known unless he was involved. Another friend testified that Edward told him the same story, adding that the defendant feared his wife would tell authorities during the divorce proceedings.

Dawn’s father testified that in January 2000, Dawn and Edward came to him and explained what Edward claimed happened on December 31st, 1999. He again said he found Amy’s body but was not involved in the crime. His father-in-law encouraged him to contact police, but Edward refused.

Dawn testified as well, explaining she saw blood on her husband when he returned home that night. Her husband told her it was from moving a dead animal off of the road. She said that Edward threw the clothing he had on away. She said that Edward worked that night, delivering items to prisons in anticipation for catastrophic Y2K events that never actually happened. He got home at 2 am, slept in the next day, and then told his wife the story of finding Amy’s body. He said he could not get the images out of his head. He said he saw a man in a track suit with a duffel bag leaving the store as he returned to exchange the leotard.

In 2002, Edward Phillips was diagnosed with colon cancer and underwent surgery and chemotherapy. His wife said that she focused on his illness and recovery, pushing the incident out of her focus. She did not believe her husband was involved in the murder at that time. However, in 2003, the couple split up and Edward sought full custody of their two young daughters. Dawn admitted to threatening to tell authorities that he failed to report what he saw on New Year’s Eve 1999. The divorce was granted December 15th, 2003, with child custody, visitation, and property distribution to be determined at subsequent hearings.

The defense presented voicemail messages in which they state Dawn threatened Edward if he did not drop his attempts at getting custody of the girls. However, Dawn stated this was not her voice on the voicemails. The defense pointed out that after Edward’s arrest, she was granted full custody of the girls and retained ownership of their home. The defense also presented a jail house informant who stated another suspect, in jail for shooting a store clerk, admitted to killing Amy Blumberg. No forensic evidence, however, could connect this suspect to the murder.



On April 11th, 2007, the jury began deliberations. On April 12th, the jury said they could not reach a verdict. The judge encouraged them to continue deliberations, which they did. On April 13th, 2007, the jury returned a guilty verdict. Following his conviction, Edward Phillips told Amy’s parents, “I am standing here looking you in the eyes, telling you I did not kill your daughter” (Hundsdorfer, 2007). Edward Phillips was sentenced to fifty-five years in prison for Amy’s murder. He continues to maintain his innocence and appeal his conviction. He is currently housed at Menard Correctional Center. He will not be eligible for parole until 2060, at which time he will be ninety-four years old.





References

Hundsdorfer, B. (2007). Phillips gets 55 years in prison. The Belleville News-Democrat. 30 May 2007

Obituary. (2000). Amy Blumberg. The Belleville-News Democrat. 2 Jan 2000

Matthews, J. (2000). New year is marred by killings. The Belleville News Democrat. 2 Jan 2000

Hunt, J. (2000) In the name of love. Journal Gazette. 13 Jan 2000

Hundsdorfer, B. (2003). Detective still hopeful murder will be solved. The Belleville News-Democrat. 1 Jan 2003

Hundsorder, B. (2004). Blumberg suspect won’t face execution. The Belleville News-Democrat. 2 Sep 2004

Hundsdorfer, B. (2005). Phillips’ lawyer moves to bar sexual evidence. The Belleville News-Democrat. 20 Jun 2005

Hundsdorfer, B. (2007). Father tells how he found body. The Belleville News-Democrat. 3 Apr 2007

Pistor, N. (2007). Ex-wife denies using tip about murder to gain edge in divorce case. Journal Gazette. 6 Apr 2007

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