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Man arrested more than 3 decades after Atlanta woman found raped and strangled in woods

Larry Padgett (Daviess County Sheriff's Office)

Larry Padgett (Daviess County Sheriff’s Office)

A 23-year-old woman who disappeared from a truck stop outside Atlanta in 1989 only to turn up dead two days later left investigators stumped for more than 30 years until now.

Authorities this week say they finally identified and arrested the man responsible.

Larry Padgett, 59, was taken into custody on Wednesday and charged in the cold-case murder of Mary Louicile Willfong, authorities announced.

On Nov. 21, 1989, deputies found the body of Willfong after deer hunters spotted her body off a road, according to a press release from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in Georgia. She had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

Investigators say they received multiple tips stating that witnesses had seen Willfong at the farmer’s market, where she got into a tractor-trailer with a man. Authorities sought several suspects, interviewing and taking DNA samples from multiple individuals, but said none matched the DNA from the victim.

As leads dried up, the case went cold and was eventually closed unsolved.

In March 2019, a detective reopened the case, and with the benefit of new DNA technology, the detective submitted the original evidence for analysis with a crime lab.

A genealogy trace was performed, and authorities were led to a man in Indiana.

Arrest warrants were issued, and detectives traveled to Indiana, where they assisted in taking Padgett into custody.

While there, investigators say they obtained additional evidence linking Padgett to the murder of Mary Willfong.

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.