MONROE COUNTY, Ga. — The Monroe County Sheriff's Office announced the arrest the alleged suspect in a case gone cold from November 1989.
A young woman was found strangled to death and left off interstate 75 where deer hunters found her body back in the woods.
The victim was 23-year-old Mary Willfong, according to Monroe County Sheriff Brad Freeman. He says both the suspect and the victim were not from Monroe County.
John Cary Bittick was the county's Sheriff back in 1989.
"Over the years, in the late 70's and the early 80's, on occasion we would get a body dumped off the interstate," Bittck said.
Bittick says Monroe County didn't have a lot of homicides during that time period.
"I was sheriff 35 and a half years. So, that happened over the years off and on. The interstate brings good stuff and it brings bad stuff too," Bittick said.
In 1989, the DNA samples taken from possible suspects didn't match DNA taken from Willfong's body. With nothing to go on they closed the case.
"This case was reopened in 2019. It took us four years to actually get where we are today," Freeman said.
On Wednesday investigators made an arrest.
Now, 59-year-old Larry Padgett from Indiana is charged with Willfong's murder. Freeman says Padgett is a truck driver who they believe picked up Mary Wilfong, sexually assaulted her, then strangled her to death.
So how did they they connect him to the crime?
"We had to do genealogy DNA which was very time consuming," Freeman said.
Sheriff Freeman says they resubmitted DNA evidence and got a hit.
It wasn't a direct match though, it ended up being Padgett's distant cousin. But investigators knew they were looking in the right place, and so they kept looking.
"We came up with three brothers and through there I guess you could say we got lucky and guessed the right brother. We were able to get a DNA sample from him," Freeman said.
They submitted that DNA to the GBI crime lab and it came up as a match for Larry Padgett.
While in Indiana, investigators gathered more evidence linking Padgett Willfong's murder.
Padgett is set to arrive in Monroe County in the next few hours. He has waived extradition and is on the way to the jail.