“It’s run for the roses
as fast as you can.
Your fate is delivered;
your moment’s at hand.”
The evening of October 4th, 2019 was a breezy day with highs in the sixties. The sun was setting slowly through the trees in southern Tulsa as four people trudged up a slight hill in Memorial Park Cemetery. Directly to the right of the entrance in the Jewish section was a jet black headstone with the name BRITTANY PHILLIPS, a silver angel draped in agony across the front.
THO MY TEARS ECHO THE ENDLESS PAIN OF YOUR PASSING,
IN PRIDE I WATCH YOUR SILENCED VOICE FILL FIELDS OF CHANGE
SAVING OTHER DAUGHTERS.
These words were etched into the darkness of the marker, hovering over the grave of an eighteen-year-old girl. She’d been resting there peacefully for the past fifteen years.
Flowers were ceremoniously placed around the grave. Pink roses and daisies were put on a matching black bench at the foot of the grave, and red roses were laid down in front of the headstone along with bright yellow sunflowers. A small woman in a long brown skirt and cowboy boots crouched over the grave, and a bearded man in glasses and a blue button-down knelt beside her, holding her shoulder. They took turns touching the angel and comforting each other in the quiet of the cemetery. The man blinked tears away, rubbing his eyes underneath his glasses.
This autumn day was also Brittany’s birthday. She should be turning thirty-four, had her life not been atrociously ripped away by an unknown killer.
Now, fifteen years later, people from across the country would come together to remember the life of the young lady whose dream was to cure cancer, whose long blonde curls framed her beautiful face, who left behind family and friends alike with hearts split in two.
“It’s the chance of a lifetime
in a lifetime of chance
and it’s high time
you joined in the dance.”
– “Run for the Roses” by Dan Fogelberg
While all of Brittany’s angelversaries are difficult, this year’s was particularly heartbreaking for her family. Only a few months prior, Tulsa detectives had released to the public the shocking fact that the DNA found at the crime scene was NOT the killer’s.
“Fifteen years in one direction, now back to ground zero,” Brittany’s mother, Dr. Maggie Zingman, says inauspiciously. “Can I survive another fifteen years?”
The DNA left in Brittany Phillips’ apartment after she was raped and murdered was seemingly the only evidence to the crime. She had been attacked in the middle of the night in the hours between September 27th and 28th of 2004. There were no witnesses, and it wasn’t known whether the killer had broken in after Brittany returned home that night or if he had been lying in wait.
The DNA found on the bed sheets had been tested and entered into CODIS, the nationwide FBI database for DNA. It has been tested against countless entries without a match. In January of 2018, a phenotype composite was released by Parabon Snapshot of what the person behind the DNA looks like. The picture – a blank-faced man with blue eyes and blonde hair – was plastered across the news, on billboards, and on the hood of Maggie’s car. Her 2016 Nissan Rogue was wrapped by Midwest Wraps, who lovingly donated the design on her car for her to spread awareness on her daughter’s murder. She has driven over 200,000 miles cross-country, visiting forty-eight states and handing out pamphlets to passersby across the nation.
Now, the face of the DNA profile is worthless.
According to Maggie, her daughter would sometimes allow friends to spend the night in her bed while she slept on the couch. They were young and didn’t have many places to be intimate, so she let them stay over and gave them privacy. The DNA left behind was from one of these friends, who the police say has a rock-solid alibi from that September night.
“This information made me feel almost as intense as when I was told she was murdered,” Maggie describes in an interview with Fox 23 News.
Tips are needed now more than ever as the police are back to square one.
To honor both Brittany’s birthday and the fifteenth year of the cold case, Maggie organized a day called the 1st Annual Cold Case Day of Caring. Her goals with this project are to create a network among families of cold case victims, as well as start a support group with the OSBI.
People from all over gathered at LaFortune Park in Tulsa underneath a pavilion on the afternoon of the 5th. Pink rubber bracelets were strewn across the picnic table for people to take – “What if she was your daughter?” they read – along with purple ribbons and stapled papers listing off all of Tulsa’s cold cases. Approximately 270 names are on the list, including Brittany’s. Maggie’s artwork and the quote “The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them” hung on a banner. Attendees mingled as Maggie interviewed for three different news stations.
“This wasn’t just for Brittany,” Maggie says.
The grieving mother hopes to connect with other families whose loved ones are victims of cold case homicides. While all homicides are traumatic and horrific, there needs to be a place for those whose cases have gone unsolved for years to come together.
Along with Maggie was Brittany’s older brother by fifteen months – her “Irish twin,” Josh. Their close proximity in age allowed them to have the same social circles, although their personalities were complete opposites.
“She was more brains and I was more artistic, but we shared interests in each other’s hobbies,” Josh remembers. “We fought probably as much as we didn’t; however, we truly loved each other and always did our best to be there for the other.”
October is always a difficult month for Josh as is with Maggie as the celebration of Brittany’s life is juxtaposed with the tragedy of her death. He marks each year by doing something positive in his sister’s memory such as planting a tree, and plans to open up an animal rescue with his significant other, Lacy, in the near future.
“I hope the Annual Cold Case Day of Caring can become a support network for families and others affected by the major number of cold case files in Tulsa; such support systems are absolutely necessary to help allow people to cope with their emotions and move forward,” he says.
Living in Florida, Josh hasn’t been able to visit his sister’s grave as much as he’d like. As painful as it is, he says being there helps him feel closer to Brittany.
When asked what he would say to his baby sister if he could, Josh replies, “I would just want to tell her that I love her. I hope she is proud of me.”
“Life is but a momentary touch found when taking a chance,” Maggie adds. “It is the back and forth dance of both gift and loss, joy and sorrow. But because of those met in the ebb and flow, I dance stronger and awhile longer.”