SALISBURY, N.C. (WBTV) - At a news conference on Tuesday morning, police in Salisbury said they have closed a 35-year-old homicide case.
“I just want to say how thrilled me and my family are," said Jodie Laird, the sister of Reesa Trexler. "It’s been a long road, something that honestly for many many years we didn’t think would happen.”
The body of Reesa Dawn Trexler, 15-years-old at the time, was found on the floor of her bedroom in her house in the 700 block of N. Shaver Street in June, 1984. According to the warrant, Trexler had been stabbed several times.
Police now say that the suspect is a man who lived and worked in the area then, but died in California in 2004. The remains of Curtis Edward Blair, Sr., were brought back to Salisbury and he was buried in the City Memorial Park.
Police have not confirmed Blair’s name and did not mention it at the press conference, but a search warrant obtained by WBTV shows that the remains of Curtis Blair were exhumed in June and that DNA was collected.
Blair’s remains were transported to Lyerly Funeral Home in Salisbury for the evidence to be collected, then later re-interred at the cemetery.
Blair was employed at Frito-Lay in 1984 and that facility was within a few blocks of the Trexler home.
The warrant notes that at the time of the murder several witnesses told police that “they witnessed a black male running in the area of the crime scene at the time of the homicide.”
An autopsy was conducted two days after Trexler’s remains were found. Dr. John Butts collected fingerprints and a sexual assault kit, among other items.
Police submitted a DNA swab from the rape kit to be used for DNA testing. Investigators worked with Parabon Nanolabs to create a genetic genealogy report by extracting DNA. Based on genetic, genealogical and circumstantial evidence, the lab concluded that Blair was “a very strong candidate to be the unidentified male extracted DNA profile.”
Blair, who was 40 at the time of Trexler’s murder, died in August, 2004, of acute ventricular failure and congestive heart failure, according to the death certificate.
“The Salisbury Police Department and State Bureau of Investigation does consider this case solved and now closed," said SPD Sgt. Travis Shulenburger. “We would like to say that Jodie (Jodie Laird, Reesa’s sister) has been completely exonerated in this case and the suspect had no connection to the Trexler or Monroe family.”
Shulenburger gave a lot of credit to former Sgt. Jim Hurley and the investigators who worked the case in 1984. He said that their preservation of the crime scene and collection of evidence made today’s announcement possible.
“Those guys made all of this possible,” Shulenburger said. “It’s not going to bring Reesa back but it does provide some closure now.”
“35 years is a long time and we’re just as happy as we could possibly be," Laird added. “I know that we’ll never get all of the answers that we want, but at least we have the answers that we need.”
An appearance on the Dr. Phil Show created new interest in the case, and gave Laird a venue to state her innocence. Laird passed a polygraph test on the show.
“I think we can walk down the street and look at people a lot differently now, that makes a big difference," Laird said.
Reesa’s mother, sister, and father all attended the announcement. Afterwards they said they weren’t sure they were going to ever see the day that the case was closed.
“No, I did not, we did not. I did not think it would come," said Reesa’s mother Vickie Oakes. "I just lived with the fact that it was not going to be solved. So many nights laying ion the bed wondering and wondering and wondering and maybe now I can sleep.”
North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein also attended the press conference.
“I want to congratulate the Salisbury Police Department and the SBI for their efforts to close their cold case. I want to highlight and thank my scientists at the state crime lab for their important contributions to the criminal justice system and I want to thank the private lab as well for its sophisticated and dogged analysis," Stein said.