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DNA leads to arrest in 20-year-old cold case murder of Deborah Dalzell, who was raped, beaten, gagged and strangled in her own home

Florida authorities say DNA helped them to solve a 1999 cold case murder in which a woman was brutally battered, raped and then strangled.

Deborah Dalzell, of Sarasota, was discovered dead in her Sarasota home on March 29, 1999, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports. Officials say she was viciously beaten and gagged with a sock before being raped and strangled with a t-shirt. She was 47-years-old at the time of her tragic death.

Luke Fleming, 39, of St. Petersburg, was charged with murder and sexual battery in connection with the case, Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight and Captain John Walsh announced at a press conference Wednesday.

According to authorities, Fleming, who lived less than a mile from Dalzell at the time of her murder, broke into the woman’s home in order to commit the heinous crimes.

Investigators reportedly collected semen at the crime scene, and police say that DNA connected them to the suspected rapist and killer.

“His arrest didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t easy tracking him down,” Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight stated, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“But thanks to DNA evidence, coupled with ancestry and genealogy, we have finally connected the dots that detectives have been working on for almost two decades.”

Family members expressed relief regarding the arrest to the Sarasota Herald.

“On March 29, 1999, this evil person turned her paradise into a nightmare,” Peggy Thistle, Dalzell’s sister, told the newspaper.

“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,” Thistle added, as the woman’s birthday was on Friday.

[Feature photo: Deborah Dalzell/Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office]