Police on Wednesday arrested a man in Washington state in connection with a 1988 sexual assault and murder of a Wisconsin woman that left her family searching for answers for decades until authorities identified a suspect last month using DNA evidence.
Authorities arrested Gene Meyer, 66, in connection with the murder of 60-year-old Betty Rolf, whose body was found under a bridge just outside the city of Appleton, Wisconsin, the Outagamie County Sheriff's Office said in a statement posted to Facebook.
Rolf had been sexually assaulted, beaten and strangled while walking to her job at a banquet hall less than a mile from her Appleton home, according to the criminal complaint, which notes that authorities discovered her body face down and covered in loose gravel on Nov. 7, 1988, a day after she failed to show up to work.
Authorities identified Meyer and his brother as possible suspects in the case after conducting a familial DNA search that began in 2019, according to the complaint. (DNA samples taken from the crime scene had been analyzed and entered into the FBI's Combined DNA Index System database in 2001, since authorities did not have the ability to conduct DNA testing on evidence at the time of the murder, the complaint states.)
Police interviewed Meyer's brother, who told them he believed his brother was dead, the complaint notes. The brother provided authorities with a DNA sample, and a subsequent analysis eliminated him as a suspect once it was analyzed, leaving Meyer as "the only possible contributor of the DNA" found at the crime scene, according to the complaint.
An investigator also spoke to Meyer's niece, who said that sometime after 1986, her mother told her that Meyer had called her and said "goodbye" and "thank you for everything," the complaint states. The niece "stated that she felt that something was bothering her mother after that phone call and that there was something that her mother was not tell [sic] her regarding the phone [call] from Gene," according to the document.
The niece also reported to the investigator that her mother told her, "I have a secret ... I have a secret ... and it's going to go in my grave," the complaint states.
The investigator then dug into Meyer's history and found that he had lived only a mile from the crime scene in Appleton in what was then a rooming or boarding house.
FBI officials conducted surveillance on Meyer at his most recent residence, in Eatonville, Washington, and obtained a DNA sample from him last month after swabbing the door handle of his Dodge Ram truck, according to the complaint. A little over a week later, an analysis of that swab showed that its DNA profile matched the one linked to the 1988 crime scene, the complaint states.
Meyer is currently awaiting extradition to Wisconsin, where he will face charges of first-degree intentional homicide and first-degree assault, according to the sheriff's office and the affidavit, which notes he faces life in prison if convicted.
An online jail record shows that Meyer is being held at Pierce County Corrections in Tacoma, Washington on a felony fugitive charge and $2 million bond.
His criminal history also includes being convicted of two third-degree burglary charges in Wisconsin, in 1974 and 1976, court documents show.
News of Rolf's murder came as a shock to her family, who described her as well-known and well-liked in the area, the Post-Crescent reported at the time. Thirty-four years later, they are in shock again, they told ABC affiliate WBAY of Green Bay, Wisconsin.
"I didn't know if we would ever see this day and I'm grateful he's still alive," Rolf's granddaughter, Sue Srnka, told the local outlet of Meyer's arrest.
"She was a beautiful lady. Good cook, great artist -- she was a mom," Rolf's daughter, Sheila Wurm, told WBAY of her late mother.
NBC News could not immediately reach Rolf's family members on Friday.
This article was originally published on NBCNews.com