After 37 Years, The Cold Case Murder Of Florida Nurse Teresa Lee Scalf Is Finally Solved
After nearly four decades, blood found at the 1986 murder scene has helped investigators positively identify Teresa Lee Scalf's killer.
On Oct. 27, 1986, Teresa Lee Scalf was a victim of a sexually motivated attack that ended in her murder. When she didn’t show up at the hospital for work, her mother broke into her Lakeland, Florida home with a credit card and found 29-year-old Teresa’s dead body.
“I think she was killed around 3:30 in the afternoon, and by the time I got there at 8 or 9 o’clock at night, all the evidence had been washed away by the rain,” Betty Scalf, the victim’s mother, said, reported WFLA.
Teresa’s neck had been severely cut nearly to the point of decapitation, and she had defensive wounds on her hands from apparently trying to fight off her attacker.
According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the man who “brutally murdered” Teresa has finally been identified as Donald Douglas. He was Teresa’s 33-year-old neighbor who lived directly behind her at the time of the attack. However, he won’t face charges since he died of natural causes at 54 back in 2008.
Investigators on the scene in 1986 collected evidence that included blood that didn’t belong to Teresa. It was entered into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), a database for the DNA profiles from crime scenes and convicted offenders. The blood was also preserved as evidence.
Challenges to the initial investigators included the fact that Douglas didn’t have a criminal history, so he wasn’t in the system. Also, he was cremated when he died, and his DNA had never been gathered and put into a database for comparisons.
So, despite an extensive initial investigation, the case went cold for over three and a half decades. Then, in 2022, the sheriff’s office partnered with Othram, Inc., a private lab that specializes in forensic genetic genealogy, to analyze the blood sample, according to CBS News.
With the blood evidence from the crime scene, Othram was able to narrow the investigation to distant relatives of the not-yet-known suspect. The investigation finally led to the Douglas’s family. Douglas’s son gave a blood sample that was used to positively identify Douglas as the killer, PEOPLE explained.
Teresa’s family takes comfort in the identification of her killer. “All I want to say is, I'm 84 years old,” Teresa’s mother Betty said in a press conference. “I lived to see this done. I think that’s why I lived so long.”
USA Today reported that Teresa’s sister, Pam Shade, shared, “I hope it gives everybody comfort to know that we now know who did this. We also would like to offer encouragement to other homicide victims: Don't give up. They [law enforcement] don't give up. And, as long as they don't give up, you don't give up.”