Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout with additional details provided by the Williamson County Sheriff's Office.
Williamson County sheriff's investigators have arrested Steven Alan Thomas, 53, in the 1980 murder of Mildred McKinney, the agency announced Tuesday.
McKinney was 73 when her daughter found her dead in her Williamson County duplex, where she lived alone. She had been beaten, strangled and raped. The murderer stacked a recliner, end table and vacuum cleaner on her head and chest.
The sheriff's office learned that DNA from the nearly 32-year-old murder scene matched Thomas on June 27, and additional testing of DNA collected from Thomas on July 5 also matched the DNA found at the murder scene. Analysis of a fingerprint from the scene of the murder also belonged to Thomas.
Detectives met with Thomas twice in Dallas and in Austin. He said he did not know McKinney and denied sexually assaulting and murdering her. Thomas was arrested Monday in Austin.
A search of public records shows Thomas was arrested at least six times between 1993 and 2000 for charges including drug possession and carrying an unlawful weapon.
McKinney's grandson, Bob Stapleton, said in a statement that the family was sad that news of the arrest came after the death of his mother, Patricia Stapleton, who had long sought her mother's killer. But he said the family appreciated the dedicated efforts of police to solve the crime.
"She was a glorious woman who my family and I love and cherish and who will continue to live on in our fondest memories," Stapleton said of his grandmother.
Henry Lee Lucas, confessed to killing McKinney in the 1980’s, but DNA evidence later proved he was not the killer.
Some had long suspected a link between McKinney's murder and the 1986 murder of Christine Morton. The two women lived less than a mile apart, both were beaten to death, and items were stacked on their bodies.
After Christine Morton's husband, Michael Morton, spent nearly 25 years in prison for her murder, authorities linked DNA found near the scene of her killing to 58-year-old Bastrop dishwasher Mark Norwood. Morton was released from prison in October after Norwood's DNA was also linked to the 1988 murder of Debra Jan Baker.
Morton had sought DNA comparison between evidence at his wife's murder scene and evidence from the McKinney murder scene in 2005. And Patricia Stapleton had sued Williamson County officials in 2008, along with attorneys for Morton, seeking DNA testing to determine whether the two murders were related.
In January, the Williamson County Sheriff's Office reported that DNA from the McKinney murder did not match with Norwood, who is awaiting trial now in Christine Morton's murder.
"Pat Stapleton strove valiantly to focus law enforcement on her mother's murder," said John Raley, Morton's pro bono lawyer at the Houston law firm Raley & Bowick. "I hope this news will provide comfort to her family."
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