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.
At approximately 10:20 a.m. on Tuesday, June 29, 1999, a friend of 23-year-old Amy Denise Warner became concerned that he hadn’t seen or heard from her since the previous day. He went to her home at 17 7th Street in Charleston, just north of Jefferson Elementary School. There he found Amy, a single mother and a manager at Elder-Beerman in the Cross County Mall in Mattoon, lying half-way on her couch in the living room, blood covering the floor.
Her two children, a 4-year-old girl and 7-month-old boy, were home but not physically harmed. Investigators said there was no sign of forced entry. Amy died from a stab-wound to her neck, and she had defensive wounds on her hands. Investigators estimated her time of death at around 12 hours before her body was discovered.
Amy, a 1993 graduate of Charleston High School, was well-liked, an avid reader, and quick to smile and laugh. She worked tirelessly to provide for her children. Who would do this to her, and why? Her friends and family, and the broader community, struggled to make sense of the senseless brutality.
After months of painstaking investigation with help from the Illinois State Police, including interviews with over 30 friends, family members, and neighbors, Charleston police came up empty handed. Amy’s family, along with the Times-Courier and Journal Gazette, initially offered a $3,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or persons responsible, which grew to $10,000 by October 20, 2000.
In 2001, police arrested 25-year-old Anthony B. Mertz for the murder of fellow EIU student Shannon McNamara. During his trial, two friends of Mertz testified that he bragged about killing Amy Warner, as well as setting fire to an apartment building, but there wasn’t enough evidence to charge him with either crime. Tara Hofer, a former girlfriend, testified that Mertz had been asleep with her the night of Amy’s murder, and she would have awakened if he left, but many remain unconvinced.
“I am satisfied with the fact that they have the right one in prison,” Linda Walker (1944-2019), Amy’s mother, told the Journal Gazette. Though Coles County State’s Attorney Steve Ferguson never charged Mertz with the crime, upon retirement, he admitted “The evidence points that way.”
Charleston Community Unit School District 1 purchased the house at 17 7th Street and eventually tore it down to make way for an expanded Jefferson Elementary campus. To this day, no one has been charged with Amy Warner’s murder, and the case remains open.
- “Woman found dead in Charleston.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 30 June 1999.
- “Body found on Seventh.” Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 30 June 1999.
- “Children were there to see mom die.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 1 July 1999.
- “Police: Child woke to find mom dead.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 2 July 1999.
- “Police interview neighbors, friends, family in Charleston murder case.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 13 July 1999.
- “Grief-stricken family hoping for break in case.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 30 September 1999.
- “Mertz lnked to Warner murder.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 19 February 2003.
- “Defense tries to clear Mertz in other cases.” Herald and Review (Decatur) 22 February 2003.
- “Warner’s family sure Mertz was killer.” Journal Gazette (Mattoon) 7 March 2003.
- “State’s attorney finishes 20 years.” JG-TC (Mattoon) 1 December 2012.