LEXINGTON, N.C. (WGHP) — Police think 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.

Davis’ family got word on Monday that breakthrough DNA evidence had led to an answer, nearly 36 years after her death and a few days before what would have been her 65th birthday.

Then, on Tuesday, authorities identified the suspect as Russell Grant Wood, who reportedly knew Davis and died in 2013.

Lexington Police Chief Robbie Rumage said DNA evidence was preserved for more than 35 years and that it was submitted to Othrum Labs for genome sequencing in 2022. Genealogy data led to Wood being identified as the suspect.

Rumage said the DNR evidence corroborates leads that police previously had found.

“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,” Davis’ niece, Lori Martin, said 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.”

Davis’s Lexington family received a call on May 30, 1987, that she hadn’t returned to work from a lunch break during her shift at Lanier’s Ace Hardware. The next day, Lexington police notified the family 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, Davis’ sister, Lisa Hinkle, wrote a reflection in The Dispatch, 24 years after her 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