PBSO: DNA helped crack 36-year-old cold case

Posted at 6:49 PM, Apr 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-23 18:51:37-04

LAKE WORTH, Fla.  — Mildred Matheny was 78-years-old and had dementia in 1985 when she left her home on Crestwood Boulevard in Lake Worth for the last time.

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputies say a man kidnapped, sexually assaulted, and beat the woman, then left along the side of a dirt road in Jupiter.

She died of those injuries 11 days later and it took almost 36 years for deputies to come up with a suspect.

“It actually brings home the fact that it does take a law enforcement judicial village for this to happen,” said Dr. Cecilia Crouse, a retired DNA expert who worked for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

DNA matters because in the days and early years after the murder, detectives had little to go on.

RELATED: Boynton Beach man arrested for 1985 murder, kidnapping, sexual assault

No one from Mildred Matheny’s neighborhood saw her disappear.

A half-mile away, there were witnesses along Dixie Highway in Lake Worth Beach who told police they saw her get into a car, driven by a man who said the woman was from his neighborhood and he was bringing her home.

A composite sketch of the alleged kidnapper never led to an arrest.

But samples taken from the woman at the hospital were kept.

In March, a forensic scientist at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office sent a sample to the Florida State DNA database hoping for a breakthrough.

“It could hit on an individual in the database,” said Dr. Crouse. “And so it’s my understanding that that’s what happened in this case.”

That “hit” led to the arrest of Richard Lange who was just 25 at the time of the murder and told Deputies he wasn’t aware of the crime.

The home where Mildred Matheny last lived is now vacant and most neighbors moved in years after the crime and knew nothing about it.

Matheny’s one son died in January, three months before deputies arrested the man charged with her murder.