‘Every single day': Family of Brittany Zimmerman looks for answers 10 years after unsolved murder

MADISON, Wis. (WISC) -- In downtown Madison, time goes on. Students and young professionals come and go from apartments on Doty Street every year. The green house with #517 stands marked by mystery while new faces pass the building not knowing what took place inside.

But miles away in Marshfield, time stopped on April 2, 2008.

“It’s quite unbelievable that it’s 10 years already,” says Jean Zimmermann, perched solemnly on a couch under a frame full of photos of a smiling young woman.

For 10 years, Kevin and Jean Zimmermann have lived surrounded by memories of their 21-year-old daughter, Brittany. When asked how often the day crosses their minds Kevin responds quickly in hushed tones.

“Every day,” he says quietly. “Every. Single. Day.”

Brittany Zimmermann was a promising UW-Madison student in 2008, engaged to be married to her high school sweetheart.

Her fiancé was the one who found her brutally murdered in their apartment on April 2, sending police to knock on the door of a brick home in Marshfield.

“We thought it was going to be solved right away,” Jean said. “We didn’t even consider that we would be here 10 years later.”

Weeks after Brittany’s death came a stunning revelation: she called 911 and no one came. A dispatcher said she didn't hear signs of a struggle and hung up. Police and the Zimmermann family say screams could be heard on the tape.

For years after the murder, police have told the family and reporters on the solemn anniversary that their detectives are still following active leads and the case has not gone cold.

The Zimmermanns say they shed tears of joy a few years ago, when they thought there was a break in the case.

“Chief Koval came to our door on my husband’s birthday and said ‘We think we have the person responsible for killing your daughter,’” Jean said.

That was because of a DNA "hit" on a man named David Kahl, the same man neighbors said the week of the murder they'd seen going door-to-door asking for money.

A friend of Kahl's in prison, Andrew Scoles, told investigators Kahl had confessed to him. Scoles asked prosecutors for a deal in exchange for information, then he died in a motorcycle crash last year.

Madison Police Chief Mike Koval has been asked about the evidence over the last few years.

“If I had the probable cause based on the totality of the evidence I had, don’t you think I would have made an arrest?” Koval said in an interview.

Koval says the Zimmermann case has prompted change in investigations, after he watched the longtime sole detective on the case break down in his office.

“In 30 minutes this man, this hulking shadow of a man, was reduced to tears,” Koval said. “He was convulsing at one point, and then I was convulsing. And I realized we can’t continue to assign cases this way.”

Now a team of detectives work the case, holding full workdays to follow up on leads, including one in the last month.

“This is not what I would consider to be relegated to a cold case,” Koval said. “This still has active leads that are worthy.”

That includes a new resubmission of DNA to the state crime lab, a number of new tips following Scoles death, and the hope that a death gives the case new life.

“I’m still honestly, with Scoles out of the picture, the old-school cop in me hopes that loose lips will sink ships,” Koval said. “Someone is going to say something to somebody about this case in a bar or overheard and I think someone will seize upon it and give us another lead. Those are the things you cling to.”

While Koval says his detectives are committed to solving the crime, he understands that the Zimmermann family is frustrated.

“I understand, there will never ever be peace for some of these families,” Koval said. “We will never be able to turn the page until they can turn the page.”

The Zimmermanns are clear they haven’t been able to do that.

“That’s all we have is hope,” Kevin said. “We can hope, but realistically I’m not real sure that they’re ever going to solve this, at least not the way it’s being handled right now. I just don’t believe it.”

The family says they'd like to bring in their own investigators, but say they can’t access case files if the case isn’t considered “cold.”

Koval says the family is not legally prohibited from pursuing a private investigation, but in order to “preserve and protect the integrity of the case file for purposes of prosecuting the case” his department wouldn’t share investigative files.

Still, they are looking for a lead in finding the killer of their little girl, a decade after they lost her.

“If it was your child you’d want everybody in the world to wrack their brains for you,” Kevin said. “Put yourself in our shoes, just for a second. Knowing this little girl meant everything to us and she was never there to hurt anybody. She was always there to help people.”

While life goes on in other parts of Madison and Marshfield, the Zimmermanns instead mark time by imagining what the last 10 years might have looked like.

“She would be a doctor right now,” Kevin said. “We would be proud of her and we could go visit her on her animal farm and everything she wanted because she loved animals. That’s what we wish, that she could live her life the way she wanted to.”

If you have any information on the Zimmermann homicide or have any information you feel could be important, you can call Madison Crimestoppers at 608-266-6014. There is still a $40,000 reward fund for answers leading to an arrest.

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