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Cold Case Spotlight

Friends, family desperate to solve 2010 murder of 57-year-old Amber Jackson

Southern-California raised Amber Jackson, 57, had a free spirit and a huge heart, her friend Teri Celpo told Dateline.

“She was a sweet, generous, beautiful person,” Teri said.

For many of her friends, Amber was a source of stability.

Amber Jackson and Ann Spaulding Ann Spaulding

“She was kind of my go-to person,” Amber’s friend Ann Spaulding told Dateline. The two met in Fairfax, California in the 1970s, when they were in their twenties. They became fast friends, eventually moving in together.

A few years later, Amber moved to northern California and then on to Washington. In 2000, she moved from the mainland to the Hawaiian island of Kauai.

“She had been there to visit,” close friend Nancy Murphy told Dateline. “She fell in love with the island. She loved exploring and going to new places.”

Amber bought a house, renovated it, and lived there with her two small dogs.

Amber Jackson Ann Spaulding

“She would walk them on the beach all the time and spoil them,” Nancy said.

Even though she was far from the mainland, Amber’s friends say they visited her at her island paradise multiple times a year. And Amber had no trouble making new friends in Kauai. Amber met Teri in Kauai and helped remodel Teri’s home.

“She had a keen eye and lots of fun shopping at garage sales and thrift shops,” Teri recalled.

Amber spent her time working at the Hawaii State Teacher’s Association, but also bought and remodeled property on the island. Friends say she had bought four different homes by 2010. Teri and her husband helped Amber redecorate them.

“They all turned out beautiful,” Teri told Dateline. “She was so talented.”

Amber had been living in Kauai for nearly a decade when June 2010 came around. On the 24th of that month, Teri and Amber had dinner plans together. Teri said she called Amber in the morning to ask if other friends could come and join them, but never heard back. That night, all the friends met at a restaurant around 5:00 p.m.

“Amber was always prompt. And when she didn’t show, we started leaving voicemails on her phone and called the office where she worked,” Teri told Dateline. Everyone became increasingly concerned, and by 6:30 p.m., they began calling hospitals to see if Amber had gotten into an accident.

Teri and her husband went to Amber’s house to see if she was there. There was no sign of her.

After searching Amber’s property, Teri called the Kauai Police Department, which surveyed the scene.

“It looked suspicious. Something seemed off — her car was still at home, some of her personal items were still in her car -- it just seemed strange,” Kauai Police Department Assistant Chief of Police Bryson Ponce told Dateline.

The following day, search dogs surveyed Amber’s house, Asst. Chief Ponce told Dateline. He said Kauai police also conducted aerial searches of the area.

After hearing about Amber’s disappearance, her nephew Matt Alexander flew from his home in Atlanta, Georgia to Kauai to help search.

“I rented a plane and looked around the island,” Matt told Dateline, adding that he and Amber had been very close. He had visited her just six months prior, in fact, and was extremely alarmed when he heard she was missing.

“We thought maybe she had gone hiking and fallen somewhere,” he said.

Nine days after Amber failed to show up for that dinner with her friends, on the morning of July 3, 2010, a hunter and his dog confirmed Amber’s friends and family’s fears. They found Amber’s body in a remote wooded area in Kealia. But the cause of death wasn’t something they ever would have expected.

“She died from injuries as a result of an assault,” Asst. Chief Ponce told Dateline, adding that her injuries were so obvious that the investigation immediately turned into a homicide investigation. “From there we classified it as a murder,” Asst. Chief Ponce told Dateline.

The news devastated Amber’s friends in Kauai and on the mainland.

“I just remember getting a phone call,” Amber’s former roommate Ann told Dateline. “It was awful. I just collapsed.”

Eight years later, no arrests have been made in connection with Amber’s murder. Kauai police told Dateline they have identified a person or persons of interest, but have not publicly released any names.

Kauai police said they are working the case regularly, and have received help from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Honolulu.

“This is a very open case. It's not one of those cases sitting on the shelf collecting dust,” Asst. Chief Ponce told Dateline. “We just are committed and want to find justice.”

Police would not release any additional information to protect the integrity of the case.

Amber's friends at a celebration of her life in 2011. Nancy Murphy holds the photo of Amber. Ann Spaulding

Amber’s friends say finding justice for her is a large part of their lives.

“I can’t not get involved,” Ann said. “I haven’t stopped working on this case since the day her body was found.”

“[We want] justice for Amber, but also to make the people who did this senseless, brutal thing pay for it,” Nancy told Dateline.

But as time passes, they’re beginning to lose hope.

“At first I had hope, but that all vanishes after four, five, six years pass,” Amber’s nephew Matt told Dateline. “I feel that if we don't keep poking, her case is going to fade to black.”

If you have any information on the circumstances surrounding Amber’s death, please contact the Kauai Police Department at (808) 241-1683 or via email at coldcase@kauai.gov.