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Investigators closing in on suspect in Moore County cold case, they say

MOORE COUNTY, N.C. (WNCN) -- For nearly three decades, the community has wondered who could have killed a 72-year-old grandmother and gotten away with it.

Evelyn Williams died in 1989.

Investigators have never charged anyone with her murder, but three decades later that may finally be about to change.

Just a glance around the idyllic neighborhood along Pinehurst's course No. 6, you can see why Robert and Evelyn Williams would want to make it their home in retirement.

"She was always a really active person, a very social person," said her daughter, Susan Burgette, who lives in New York.

Burgette said that was due in part to surviving tuberculosis as a teenager. It left her determined.

"I think she decided if she got well, she was going to make the most of any time that she had," said Burgette.

After her husband passed away, Evelyn continued to live in Moore County, taking classes, playing golf and making friends.

"She enjoyed so many different activities, and she contributed so much to her community, to her family and to her own personal enjoyment of life," said Burgette. "She was an amazing woman and someone I think a lot of women should aspire to emulate."

On Jan. 30, 1989, Moore County sheriff's deputies made a discovery they're still working to understand today.

Neighbors noticed the garage door at Williams's home had been left open, which was unusual. They contacted the Sheriff's Office about it. Deputies investigated and found Burgette's body.

Moore County Sheriff Neil Godfrey worked for the State Bureau of Investigation at the time. He lived nearby and rushed over.

"It was a shocking thing for the community to have something like this happen in Pinehurst," said Godfrey.

Williams's autopsy shows someone had cut her throat.

Susan Burgette said the only thing missing from the home was her mom's pocketbook.

Her children had recently convinced her to hire a crew to take care of her lawn.

"Because the primary suspect in the case at that time was an individual that was on the maintenance crew, my oldest brother felt a lot of responsibility for what had happened to her," Burgette said.

Godfrey said, "We did about everything we could do as far as interviewing witnesses, identifying a potential suspect, but just didn't have sufficient evidence to make an arrest in the case."

As time went on, Godfrey said it became an issue of resources too.

At the end of 2016, someone came forward who had the expertise to take on the challenge. Importantly, he also had the time.

J. Lynn Cooper is a retired Army investigator who attended a citizen's academy, which is for community members who want to learn more about enforcement.

He connected with Godfrey and informed him of his extensive background in investigations, offering his help for free.

He now volunteers with the sheriff's office, focusing on cold cases.

"It's like a giant puzzle, and there's many pieces to this puzzle," he said. "It's very challenging. And, it requires a lot of patience in order to keep at it and not give up."

When asked what about this case stood out to him, he said, "The fact that this was not a random act of violence."

Cooper has spent months reviewing evidence, taking advantage of improved DNA testing and tracking down all the witnesses he can. He says some have provided new information.

CBS North Carolina asked him, "How reliable is that so many years later?" He said, "Interestingly enough, it is extremely reliable in certain cases."

He said this is one of those cases.

"We think we have it down to several individuals, predominately one person," said Cooper. He says he's "99 percent" sure of the motive as well.

CBS North Carolina asked Godfrey, "Do you think whoever did this is still out there? Do you think potentially they were arrested for something else?"

He said, "We have a strong person of interest, and he is serving time for another case, very similar case."

Cooper said he's confident he'll close the case this year.

"Absolutely gonna do it. We're gonna do it," he said. "We're gonna close this case and put the citizens of Moore County at rest about this."

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