LEXINGTON, N.C. (WGHP) — Police believe they have identified the culprit behind the strangulation of 29-year-old Mary Mathis Davis, a homicide that has gone unsolved for more than three decades.

On Monday, Feb. 6, 2023, nearly 36 years after her death and a few days before what would have been her 65th birthday, the family got closure in the decades-long cold case that had haunted their family, saying that a breakthrough in DNA had led to an answer.

On Tuesday, officers identified the suspect as Russell Grant Wood. Wood reportedly died in 2013.

Lexington Police Chief Robbie Rumage said the DNA evidence was preserved for more than 35 years but much of it was not viable until now. The DNA evidence was submitted to Othrum Labs for genome sequencing in 2022. Genealogy data led to the identity.

Rumage says this corroborates investigative leads that police previously found. The suspect reportedly knew the victim.

“For the last 36 years, we have all wondered what kind of motive someone could have to commit such a heinous act of violence and have all been left with many questions,” said the victim’s niece, Lori Martin, during a news conference. “Our family never gave up on our search for answers, and we prayed that one day we would find the person who violently murdered our beloved Mary. We now have some answers, and although that won’t bring Mary back, it does give us a sense of closure.”

On May 30, 1987, Davis’s Lexington family received a call that she hadn’t returned to work from a lunch break during her shift at Lanier’s Ace Hardware. The next day, Lexington Police Department came to the family’s home to tell them that Mary had been found strangled to death.

A detective who worked on the case at the time recalled how hard investigators worked to find the killer. They believed they had a suspect at one time, but things didn’t pan out.

In 2011, her sister, Lisa Hinkle, wrote a reflection in The Dispatch, 24 years after Mathis’s death.

The aftermath of our sister’s death caused devastation of the heart and the psyche, destruction that rippled out and touched hundreds of lives. We all were in shock. I lost my sister and my friend. It was as if someone had torn my heart out of my chest.

Lisa Hinkle, The Dispatch