Deborah Dalzell was sexually assaulted and then strangled with a T-shirt in March 1999. Though DNA was recovered from the crime scene, the case went cold.
But investigators never gave up. They worked with Parabon NanoLabs for years before the company eventually found a partial match to the DNA recovered by comparing it to samples voluntarily submitted to genealogy databases.
Upon further investigation, police say they were able to match Luke Fleming's DNA to the a sample at the crime scene.
Fleming, 39, was arrested Wednesday and charged with murder and sexual battery. He lived less than a mile from Dalzell at the time of the murder.
The news came as a relief for Dalzell's grieving family, who praised the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office for their work.
“On March 29, 1999, this evil person turned her paradise into a nightmare,” Peggy Thistle, Dalzell’s sister, said, speaking on behalf of the family. “As a family, we have dreamed of the day that we would get the news that they caught their killer. We now have a face and name for this monster.
"Happy birthday, Deborah," she added. Dalzell's birthday would have been Friday.
Fleming did not enter a plea at his court appearance and is being held on more than $1 million bail.