GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In the fall of 1996, a task force investigating the murders of a dozen women in and around Grand Rapids received a tip about a truck driver who’d done time for sexual assault.
According to a newly unsealed search warrant, “TIP128” was submitted on Oct. 23, 1996, three weeks after the brutalized body of a 29-year-old mother of two was found in a ditch off 76th Street, west of Kraft, in southern Kent County.
Sharon Kay Hammack had been raped, strangled, stabbed, bound and wrapped in an electric blanket.
Nearly 26 years after Hammack’s murder, on Aug. 22, 2022, the Kent County Sheriff’s Department announced it had solved the case with the arrest of Garry Dean Artman, a Florida-based long-haul trucker who’d lived in West Michigan at the time of Hammack’s killing.
But detectives did not stop there.
In an effort to pinpoint Artman’s whereabouts over time, investigators in August filed a search warrant in Kent County’s 63rd District court.
They were seeking records from trucking companies that had employed Artman.
But the now-public search warrant also outlined evidence against the over-the-road trucker.
Among that evidence, a 1996 tip submitted by a Michigan State Police detective.
He was relaying information about a former inmate at a Michigan prison: Garry Dean Artman.
“Woman at the (prison) were scared of him. He made claims that the only reason he got convicted (was) because he left his victims alive. He like (sic) to do it in the car. Used knife. Exhibits anti-social personality. No morals. No remorse,” a Kent County sheriff’s detective wrote in the search warrant, quoting notes written up on the tip in 1996.
11 YEARS IN PRISON, THREE SEPARATE SEX ASSAULTS
Beginning in his early twenties, Artman served 11 years in a Michigan prison after sexually assaulting women in three separate attacks.
According to the 2022 search warrant, Artman was charged with the 1979 sexual assault of a woman at knifepoint in his hometown of Port Huron after she accepted a ride from him.
The warrant filed in 63rd District Court also noted Artman was charged in October 1980, with the rape of two teenage girls in Port Huron.
In December 1980, Artman was charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old girl while out on bond in one of the other cases.
Artman was released from prison in June of 1992 after serving his maximum sentence.
The Michigan Department of Corrections had kept him as long as it could. That meant the state could not monitor him through parole.
In June 1992, Artman — now a free man — settled in Grand Rapids.
From March 1994 to July 1997, the bodies of 13 women, many of them skeletal remains, were discovered in and around Grand Rapids.
Members of the task force that investigated the series of murders have said they do not believe all 13 were connected.
Instead, they think the murders were committed by at least two or three different killers.
ADMITTED USING SEX WORKERS, VIEWING “GIRLS AS OBJECTS”
On March 3, 1997, five months after the Artman tip was submitted, a member of the task force investigating the string of murders interviewed the truck driver at his home on 54th Street between Claudia and Pinebrook avenues in Kentwood.
“Garry Artman admitted … that he had (a) prior problem looking at girls as objects for his pleasure,” the detective wrote in the search warrant filed Aug. 25, 2022, quoting notes from the 1997 interview.
“Artman admitted to using prostitutes for sex from June of 1992 through November of 1996. Artman was shown pictures of the deceased women working as prostitutes in the Grand Rapids area and denied recognizing them or harming any of them. Artman stated in October of 1996 he was employed at Skyrunners, at 4323 Patterson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, Michigan as a long-distance trucker.”
Skyrunners was located four miles from the ditch where Hammack’s body had been discovered, off 76th Street west of Kraft Avenue.
Hammack had been last seen on foot near Burton Street and Division Avenue SE, five miles from Artman’s 54th Street home.
“(The MSP detective who interviewed Artman) noted that he believed based on Garry Artman’s past that he had a high potential for sexual assaults,” wrote the Kent County sheriff’s detective in the 2022 warrant.
26 YEARS LATER, AN ARREST
It would be another 26 years before Artman was arrested for the rape and murder of Sharon Kay Hammack.
On Aug. 16, 2022, highway patrol officers, working with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department, pulled Artman over as he drove a tractor trailer in Forrest County, Mississippi.
The arrest came nearly a year after Kent County detectives submitted DNA from the Hammack crime scene to Identifinders, International, a firm that specializes in forensic genetic genealogy.
FGG is a discipline that analyzes DNA, comparing it against samples submitted to public ancestry databases.
“The DNA sample provided to Identifinders International was obtained from a cutting from a semen sample on the electric blanket Sharon Hammack was found wrapped in,” wrote a detective in the 2022 warrant.
“On July 29th, 2022, Linda Doyle, a Forensic Genealogist with Identifinders International … indicated that she had identified a family that could be linked to DNA matches from the perpetrator, both to his paternal and maternal family lines. Doyle indicated that her findings were that the perpetrator could only be a biological son of (Wilfred and Donna Artman).”
The Artmans had four sons, only one of whom had ties to Grand Rapids.
In 2008, long before Artman was identified, the FBI’s DNA database revealed a match between DNA from the Hammack crime scene and DNA from the 2006 murder of a 24-year-old Arizona woman named Dusty Shuck.
Her body had been found near a truck stop 40 miles northwest of Washington, D.C., beaten and stabbed multiple times.
On September 19 2022, Maryland State Police announced charges had been filed against Artman in Shuck’s murder.
Garry Dean Artman remains in the Kent County Correctional Facility pending trial on charges of felony murder and 1st degree criminal sexual conduct in the killing of Sharon Hammack. He also faces first- and second-degree murder and second-degree assault charges out of Maryland for Shuck’s death.
RETIRED DETECTIVE: I’M SORRY I COULDN’T GET ENOUGH
Target 8 contacted the retired detective sergeant who interviewed Artman in March 1997.
He had no recollection of talking to Artman, though he had a vague memory of a tip submitted by an MSP detective.
“There are some interviews I remember, but that’s not one of them,” he said, noting he does not know why some interviews stick with him while others don’t.
The retired detective, now 70, confirmed he was a member of the task force that investigated the string of mid-90s murders.
Artman’s 2022 arrest was the first in the series of killings that terrorized the streets of Grand Rapids.
The 1996 tip was no doubt one of many, and the retired detective said it’s likely he could not pin it down with enough evidence at the time.
“If I dropped the ball, I feel terribly about that. I’m sorry I didn’t get enough from him. We don’t always have much to go on. But I’m so happy they got him,” he said.