It’s been nearly 15 years since college student Brittany Phillips was found raped and murdered in her Tulsa apartment on September 30, 2004. But her mother hasn’t given up her mission to find her daughter’s killer.
“He’s still out there,” Dr. Maggie Zingman told Dateline. “And I won’t stop until I get justice for my daughter.”
Brittany, 18, was described by her mother as “extremely intelligent” and “incredibly kind.”
“She was so smart, just so extremely intelligent,” Maggie said. “She wanted to get into cancer research. Her grandmother had recently died and I think that really affected her, but inspired her to find a cure She had a passion to help others.”
Brittany, who started college a year early, received a full chemistry scholarship to Eckerd College in Florida. She attended her mother’s alma mater for about a year before she became homesick.
Brittany moved home to Tulsa in 2004 and started attending Tulsa Community College. Her brother also lived in Tulsa. Her mother, who is a psychologist, lived just an hour away in Chandler, Oklahoma. Brittany often visited her on the weekends.
Maggie said the last time she spoke to Brittany was on the phone on Monday, September 27.
“We were very close, we talked all the time,” Maggie told Dateline. “That day, that Monday, I talked to Britty like I normally did, and I just told her I’d call her later in the week.”
But she never got the chance.
“I called her the next day and couldn’t get ahold of her,’ Maggie said. “But I knew she had school and was probably busy.”
On Thursday, Maggie called and left Brittany what she called a “ typical Mom” message.
“I called and said, ‘Britty, I know you’re OK, but just call me back because I just want to hear it from you.’”
Hours later, around 1 a.m. on Friday, there was a knock at Maggie’s door.
"I opened the door to one young officer, just standing there by himself, in the rain, and he just said to me, 'Are you Maggie Zingman?' I said, “Yeah.” He said, 'You need to call Tulsa Police, your daughter's been murdered.'"
The young deputy left Maggie standing there alone, shocked.
According to Tulsa Police, Brittany was last seen on September 27, 2004, leaving Tulsa Community College with a friend. Just before 10 p.m., she dropped the friend off at home and then drove to her own apartment on 65th Street.
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It was the last time her friend saw her.
After a few days of Brittany not showing up to class, authorities said her friends went to check on her, but the door was locked. They called the police to do a welfare check and once inside, they made a horrific discovery. Brittany was dead inside her apartment.
Police said there did not appear to be any sign of forced entry. It is not known if the attacker was inside the apartment waiting for her or attacked her when she was asleep. But police said there were signs of an altercation. Brittany had been raped and strangled.
By the time Maggie arrived at her daughter’s apartment, Brittany’s body had already been taken away by the medical examiner.
“They wouldn’t let me see her body, they said it would be too shocking,” Maggie said. “But I was already in shock. I just wanted to see my baby.”
Maggie had to say goodbye to her daughter through a thin blanket that covered her face.
“I just stroked her little nose with my finger and I said, 'I'm sorry this happened, Britty. I'm sorry I didn't protect you. I'm sorry that they won't let me touch you. I’m just so sorry.'"
Brittany was buried on October 4, which would have been her 19th birthday.
Investigators collected DNA from the scene and hundreds of people were tested, but they failed to find a match. The case turned cold.
But Maggie refused to give up. She had an idea… a bright pink and purple, traffic-stopping idea.
In 2007, the "Caravan to Catch a Killer" was born.
Maggie drives the van, which is wrapped with photos of Brittany, across the country, hoping to gather information about her daughter’s case, as well as change DNA laws for similar cases.
“The kindness of strangers is what fuels me to go on,” Maggie said.
As of 2019, she has driven 239,000 miles through 48 states, chasing leads and tips and spreading awareness about violence and rape.
“We’re asking for DNA samples to be taken from individuals upon request,” Maggie said.
In 2018, Maggie got the call she had been waiting for. Or so she thought.
During the investigation, officials used evidence collected from the scene, to create a Forensic Composite Drawing of what the suspect in Brittany’s murder may have looked like, according to NBC’s KJRH.
"We know his hair color, his eye color, his skin complexion, where he is originally from as far as his family," said Tulsa Police Detective Eddie Majors told KJRH in 2018.
Maggie told Dateline the news gave her hope. But that hope didn’t last long.
"With the DNA evidence investigators were able to obtain a Forensic Composite Drawing of what the suspect would have looked like,” Tulsa Police said in a statement. “With that information and further investigation, we were able to identify a subject. Through further investigation, it was determined that the subject was not involved in the death of Brittany Phillips. Based on this new development the Forensic Composite drawing does not portray what the suspect looks like.”
Tulsa Police Sergeant Brandon Watkins confirmed to Dateline that the man was interviewed and through the information from him and corroboration for his story, authorities said they were no longer looking for a suspect matching the forensic composite drawing.
“Hearing that… it was like, as bad as when I was told Britty was murdered,” Maggie said.
Maggie said she hopes that with this new development, Tulsa Police will re-examine the case with fresh eyes.
“This is just another piece of the puzzle,” Sgt. Watkins told Dateline. “We’re still investigating and we’ll continue to follow leads and tips as we get them.”
As the 15th anniversary of Brittany’s murder nears, her mother vows to do what she started out on this journey to do -- catch her daughter’s killer.