The following is an excerpt from my book Tales of Coles County, a collection of history, folklore, and true crime from one of the most interesting counties in Illinois. Order it in paperback or Kindle today.
As Eastern Illinois University let out for winter break in December 1999, sorority sisters at the Gamma Mu chapter of Sigma Kappa were still grieving from the loss of Andrea Will less than two years earlier. Twenty-year-old Amy J. Blumberg, a junior family and consumer sciences major, joined Sigma Kappa in the fall of 1998, so the two young women never met, however, she undoubtedly heard stories and shared many mutual friends. She lived with around 40 other members in the Sigma Kappa sorority house in EIU’s Greek Court and served as activities chairman.
Amy Blumberg returned home to Collinsville, Illinois, a Metro East suburb of St. Louis, to stay with her parents, Ken and Sue, over the holidays. They were devout members of St. John’s Evangelical United Church of Christ. She worked at her uncle Dennis’ store, On Stage Dance Apparel at 138 Eagle Drive in nearby O’Fallon, to help out and earn extra money for school.
The store, a cottage-like brick building just east of the I-64 and U.S. Highway 50 interchange, was tucked away between a gas station, railroad tracks, and an empty field. On Friday, December 31, 1999, Amy was working alone until closing at 6:00 p.m., anticipating ushering in the new millennium with her friends later that night. It was a calm, snowless evening, with a temperature around 50 degrees Fahrenheit and falling.
Amy never came home. Her parents began to worry when Amy’s friends called to ask about her whereabouts. At around 9:00 p.m., they drove to the store to re-trace her route, thinking her car might have broken down on the way home. Amy’s car was still in the parking lot. Ken, her father, went inside, where he discovered Amy’s body lying on the floor, wearing only a dark blue shirt pulled up to her armpits, near the restroom in a pool of blood.
Later, the cash register showed the last purchase was for a $29.96 pair of black leotards at 2:25 p.m. The coroner estimated her time of death at 4:00 p.m., which left two hours between the murder and the time the store was supposed to close. Did any potential customers see her body, and if so, why hadn’t they called the police?
There was at least one witness. Edward S. Phillips, then 32 years old, was working as a truck driver delivering food to prisons for the Illinois Department of Corrections and lived with his wife, Dawn, and young daughter in Mount Sterling, Illinois. He was five foot, eight inches tall, roughly 210 pounds with brown hair and hazel eyes.
Phillips did not deny finding Amy’s body. He bought something for his daughter, he said, and later followed a trail of blood to Amy’s body when he went to return the purchase. Rather than call police, he panicked and drove back to Mount Sterling, over 130 miles away, disposing of an unregistered pistol along the way. He told his wife he had blood on his clothes from moving a dead animal off the road.
There appeared to be no motivation for the crime. No money was missing from the register, and Amy hadn’t been sexually assaulted. O’Fallon police officers were so befuddled they sought help from the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis for the first time since 1982, as well as an FBI behavioral science unit.
Within days, detectives from the Major Case Squad arrived at Eastern Illinois University to interview Amy’s friends, classmates, and professors. When classes resumed for the spring semester, Amy’s parents and several hundred students held a candlelit memorial service in the Grand Ballroom inside the Martin Luther King Jr. University Union.
Four years later, in January 2004, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Robert Haida charged Edward Phillips with first degree murder while Phillips was in prison serving time on unrelated charges of burglary, perjury, and obstructing justice. After Phillips and his wife Dawn got divorced, they were embroiled in a heated child custody battle, and Dawn told police about the blood on his pants the night of December 31, 1999.
Phillips’ ex-wife, prosecutors said, also bore an uncanny resemblance to Amy Blumberg as a young woman. At trial, prosecutors showed jurors an empty box for a .380 caliber pistol found at Phillips’ home, which fired a small caliber bullet similar to the one that killed Amy Blumberg. The murder weapon, however, has never been found.
Prosecutors admitted their case was circumstantial, but Assistant State’s Attorney Jim Piper asked jurors to “Use your common sense.” Phillips’ defense attorney claimed the prosecution’s case rested on the testimony of a bitter ex-wife and that other suspects warranted consideration.
The jury deliberated for over 24 hours before returning a guilty verdict. On Tuesday, May 29, 2007, Phillips was sentenced to 55 years in prison without parole for the murder of Amy Blumberg. At sentencing, Phillips, who declined to testify at trial, turned to Amy’s parents and told them “I didn’t kill your daughter.”
Ken Blumberg, Amy’s father, was not convinced. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Ed did it,” he told the press.
Phillips’ conviction brought closure to the case, but nothing would bring Amy back. Amy’s friends and sorority sisters continue to keep her memory alive. Phillips, currently prisoner #S01121 in Menard Correctional Center, will remain in prison until December 9, 2060.
- “Sharing life tales in honor of Miss Blumberg.” Eastern Illinois University. The Warbler. Charleston: 2000/2001.
- “Young woman is found shot to death at shop in O’Fallon, Ill.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis) 2 January 2000.
- “St. Louis police officers arrive at EIU to investigate New Year’s Eve shooting death of student in O’Fallon.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 3 January 2000.
- “Sorority coping with another fallen ‘sister’.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 4 January 2000.
- “O’Fallon police send details of woman’s slaying to special FBI unit.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis) 9 January 2000.
- Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 10-11, 18 January 2000.
- “Apparent lack of motive makes woman’s slaying harder to solve.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis) 10 April 2000.
- “Police still need leads in slaying of woman a year ago.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis) 31 December 2000.
- “In court, father tells of grisly scene.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis) 3 April 2007.
- “Guilty verdict in killing of Illinois student.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis) 14 April 2007.
- “Phillips gets 55-year term for killing Amy Blumberg.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis) 30 May 2007.