A person mowing grass one August afternoon 23 years ago found the skeletal remains of a woman dumped off a road in Spartanburg County, S.C.
Her head, a hand and feet were missing.
Authorities suspected the victim had been stabbed to death but had no clues. Over the years, they tried unsuccessfully to find out who she was. Recent advances in DNA comparison techniques finally helped them solve that part of the mystery.
At a Thursday news conference, Spartanburg County Coroner Rusty Clevenger announced his office had made a positive identification from a DNA sample entered on a national database.
He said the victim was Madelyn Cox Thomas, 32, missing from Gastonia since July 1990. Authorities in Spartanburg and Gaston counties are now teaming up in a homicide investigation.
Calling it an unbelievably heinous crime, Clevenger said Thomas mother and two children were appreciative someone didnt let up (on the investigation) and this has given them some closure.
Sgt. Myron Shelor with the Gaston County Police said Thomas lifestyle included prostitution and drugs, and she was known to leave her Gastonia home for long periods of time.
On July 23, 1990, when shed been away from home for five days, Thomas husband reported her missing, Shelor said. The following day, a Gaston County Police officer spotted Thomas possibly getting into a car at the intersection of U.S. 321 and Interstate 85 in Gastonia, Shelor said.
Authorities investigated the case but found no leads, he said. The case went cold.
In 2007, police got a DNA sample from Thomas mother to compare with unidentified remains found in California. But that effort didnt pan out, Shelor said.
Meanwhile, Shelor said Gaston authorities kept in touch with Spartanburg County officers after the unidentified remains were found there. They considered such factors as the victims possible age and height. Thomas had no known ties to the Spartanburg County area and authorities couldnt say the remains were hers without proof.
Clevenger said the attempt to identify the remains found Aug. 24, 1990, were unbelievably intensive over the years.
When he became coroner in 2009, he ordered a forensic review of the case and sought help from two forensic anthropologists. Also, Clevenger brought in an investigator to do nothing but these unidentified persons investigations.
A break in the 1990 case came in April when Clevengers office was able to extract a more complete DNA sample from the bones and upload it onto the national database.
It didnt stay there 30 days until he had a hit, he said.
Allan Wood, senior cold case investigator with the Spartanburg County Sheriffs Office, said identifying the victim gives us a place to start.
While dismemberment was an obvious attempt to prevent authorities from making an ID, Wood called the choice for a place to dispose of the body as high risk.
Businesses and a major plant are nearby, and there are probably 500 cars a day there, he said.
He (the killer) didnt want her to be identified, but its like he didnt mind if she was found, Wood said. Its like he had a little bit of feeling toward her and wanted her to be found.
Wood thinks the murder took place in North Carolina. Authorities in both states are trying to solve the case.
It will be difficult, Wood said. But sometimes people talk. Relationships change. Someone who was your best friend years ago can become your worst enemy.
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