Brittany Phillips

‘He’s still out there’: As gifted student’s brutal murder remains unsolved, determined mom travels nationwide searching for killer & hoping to change laws

It’s been 14 years since she last saw her teen daughter alive, but an Oklahoma mother is on a mission to find the killer and to help change laws.

Next month marks the 14th year since 18-year-old Brittany Phillips was raped and killed inside her Tulsa apartment. The young college student, described as a sweet, studious person who never got into trouble, moved back to Tulsa in 2004, after a year away attending college in Florida. She returned home to her Oklahoma roots and found an apartment a mile away from her former high school, in an area she felt safe and secure in.

Brittany had a full Chemistry scholarship to Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, where she attended school from March 2003 until May 2004. Her intelligence allowed her to attend her freshman year at college while a year younger that most of the other students at the school. She decided the following year, however, she was feeling homesick.

“She was grown but she was also still a little girl,” Brittany’s mother, Dr. Maggie Zingman, told CrimeOnline. “She wanted to be close to family, so she moved back home.”

Within a week of returning to her home state, Brittany was dead.

Posted by Brittany Phillips on Monday, March 21, 2011

 

Zingman wasn’t prepared to lose her daughter at such a young age, and like many parents, she thought it would never happen to her.

On September 30, 2004, three days after she spoke to Brittany on the phone, Zingman learned her only daughter had been raped, then brutally suffocated to death. Zingman still vividly recalled when her life changed forever, after an officer arrived to her Chandler home in the dead of the night, reminicient of a late-night horror movie, with tragic news.

“I was in a little town and she was going to visit me that weekend. I called her the next day and couldn’t get ahold of her. I called her again and couldn’t get ahold of her. Thursday night, September 30, I called and left the typical Mom message. At 1 a.m. the next morning I got a knock on my door. I opened the door and a young sheriff, all alone, had a piece of paper in his hand and he said to me, ‘Are you Brittany Phillips’ mother?’ And I said, ‘yes.’”

“He said, ‘Here, you need to call this detective in Tulsa. Your daughter has been murdered.’”

The officer left quickly, leaving Maggie in shock, confused, and unsure of what to do. She lived an hour away in Chandler but immediately set out on the drive to Tulsa, where Brittany had been attending Tulsa Community College.

By the time Maggie arrived at her daughter’s apartment, her body had already been taken by the Medical Examiner. She learned Brittany was likely dead for around three days before authorities discovered her. Zingman never got to see her daughter’s body. She said authorities identified the teen by her driver’s license.

At the time, Zingman didn’t know she could have demanded to see Brittany’s body. She was reduced to saying her goodbyes by running her finger over Brittany’s nose at the funeral, where the teen’s entire body and face were covered with a sheet.

Brittany was buried on her 19th birthday.

Investigators collected DNA at the crime scene. Thousands of people were tested, but authorities failed to find a match. Investigators still have the DNA and by using phenotypes (pictured below), created a snapshot of the suspect. Yet none of Brittany’s family recognized him, no one at Brittany’s school knew him, and none of her friends knew of anyone who planned to visit her the night she was murdered.

Zingman told CrimeOnline that every boy her daughter had dated or associated with provided DNA samples, none of which matched.

Points of Entry

Another mystery surrounding Brittany’s murder is the point of entry into her apartment. Did the killer climb through her second story window? Did he sneak through an attic shared all of the apartments in the unit?

Maggie said the scene did not appear to look like someone broke in. Although someone had taken the screens off of Brittany’s 2nd floor windows, Zingman said detectives indicated it looked as if the screens were taken off to “stage a crime scene.”

The killer also could have entered the apartment through the balcony’s porch doors.

It’s unclear whether the attacker entered the apartment before Brittany arrived home, after she arrived, or when she was sleeping.

On the Road

In a quest to spread awareness about her daughter’s murder, Zingman has traveled 200,000 miles in “Caravan to Catch a Killer” vehicles, decked out in bright purple and pink with photos of her daughter and information about the crime and killer painted onto it. As of 2018, she’s on the third vehicle, driven to cities through the the nation, where she explains to local news stations what happened to her daughter, while spreading awareness about violence and rape.

One of her stops included visiting CrimeOnline‘s Nancy Grace at her Atlanta studio, where the grieving mom participated in an hour-long interview with the popular legal analyst and host of “Crime Stories.”

[Photo Credit: Sheryl McCollum]
The idea for “Caravan to Catch a Killer” came about after Zingman said she couldn’t attract national attention to Brittany’s case. She decided took matters into her own hands. As she drives from state to state, her eye-grabbing vehicles almost always garners public interest. Zingman said people are naturally curious and are always supportive after hearing her story. Many people have cried after learning about Brittany, while others commended Zingman on her courage and resolve.

A Call to Action

Another reason for traveling nationwide, according to Zingman, is to help spread awareness that there are no laws in numerous states that require DNA testing upon a person’s arrest for heinous crimes.

Despite the massive amounts of people interviewed and DNA testing done, investigators have yet to find a match to Brittany’s attacker. What this means is that although DNA was obtained and preserved from the crime scene, the suspect hasn’t submitted DNA for any other crimes. It’s possible that the suspect may have been arrested before, but since many law enforcement agencies typically do not test every person’s DNA upon arrest, there is no way of getting a match on him.

Zingman wants the laws changed. She thinks that obtaining every person’s DNA upon arrest for serious crimes, just as fingerprints are taken upon arrest, should be mandatory for all law enforcement agencies across the nation.

“It really became more about educating people about laws that are allowing our women and children to be hurt. [We’re] still seeking tips, 200,001 miles later across 48 states.”

“Brittany was killed without witnesses. She wasn’t in an area that was troubled. She wasn’t in any of the high risk markers. What I didn’t know then was that these laws, like taking DNA upon arrest, which Oklahoma just passed, are the things that are going to save our daughters.”

Thirty states now require DNA testing upon arrest, but Zingman is hoping all states will eventually pass the law.

“I don’t want other parents to go through this.”

Sheryl McCollum, director of Atlanta’s Cold Case Research Investigative Institute, agrees with Zingman. McCollum is pushing for a potential new law, the “Cold Case Accountability Act of 2020,” to pass. The act would require, in part, law enforcement in all 50 states to test for DNA upon arrest for all violent crimes.

“There are 22 states that essentially help criminals get away with crime by not taking DNA upon arrest,” McCollum explained. “This law would change that by requiring all states to take DNA upon the arrest of the seven deadly sins!”

Learn More: The Cold Case Accountability Act of 2020 

Meanwhile, Zingman still holds onto hope that one day her daughter’s killer will be captured. Authorities recently sent the suspect’s DNA off for familial DNA testing. It’s the same type of DNA technology used to eventually capture “Golden State Killer,” Joseph James DeAngelo, who was apprehended for rape and murder after his discarded DNA left at a crime scene was tested for familial matches.

It will be several weeks before the test results are complete and available.

Anyone with any information about Brittany’s murder is urged to contact Crime Stoppers or the Homicide Tip Line at 918-798-8477. 

[Feature Photo: Brittany Phillips/Provided]