Arrest made in 2001 strangling

Authorities have charged a Louisiana man in the 2001 killing of a Connecticut woman whose body was found in western Iredell County, Sheriff Phil Redmond said this morning.

Thilbert Wayne Hager, 37, was charged Saturday with murder in the death of Celeste Fowler, 29, of Clinton, Conn. Investigators arrested him without incident at a home in Pearl River, La.

Hager was being held without bond in the St. Tammany (La.) Parish Detention Center pending an extradition hearing sometime this week, Redmond said in a news release.

Fowler's younger brother, Matt Sexton, said he last spoke to his sister two days before she disappeared.

“I've been waiting years for this,” Sexton, 35, said. “This really was a relief, I'll tell you. It's good to know people haven't forgotten her.”

A man discovered Fowler's body while picking flowers in some woods on March 16, 2001. Police said at the time that Fowler had been visiting friends in North Carolina for about three weeks. Authorities said she had been strangled.

She remained unidentified until local media showed a tattoo on her wrist. Acquaintances then came forward, police said. Her identification was confirmed through fingerprints. Authorities conducted interviews but never had the evidence to charge anyone, Redmond said. Investigators exhausted all leads, and the case went cold, the sheriff said.

After reopening the case and gathering more information, sheriff' Capt. Darren Campbell and Lt. Andy Poteat learned in March that Hager knew Fowler at the time of her death, Redmond said.

Hager and Fowler lived in the same Iredell County home at the time, Campbell told the Observer. But he would not give any more details, including a motive, for the murder.