A 59-year-old Massachusetts widow was stabbed and strangled to death at home in 1984, and police were stumped. They conducted 50-plus interviews. Virginia Hannon's family suspected it perhaps had to do with a $380,000 inheritance she had recently received, money that led her to retire from her job as an elementary-school lunch lady, the Patriot Ledger reports. Police in 2019 resurrected the evidence and determined the DNA was consistent with one man, but he wasn't in any database and attempts at forensic genealogy using two companies went nowhere, according to a press release. But that DNA ultimately did allow them to solve the crime. The New York Times reports that's thanks to a tipster who phoned police in February 2020 to say that a man named Jesse Aylward who had died the day prior had in 2019 confessed to killing someone in Pembroke decades ago.
The recency of Aylward's death allowed DNA samples to be taken from his body. Last week the authorities confirmed it was a match to the DNA evidence left on broken glass, nylon stockings, and bloodied paper towels. The whodunnit is now solved, but the motive may never be. Aylward, who died at age 58, spent his childhood in Pembroke, some 30 miles south of Boston, and did live near Hannon. But NBC Boston reports police never considered Aylward to be the killer. It's not known if he knew Hannon—the Ledger reports there was no obvious connection—or what his motive was. "DNA gets us to the people, but it doesn’t necessarily get us to what exactly happened," says Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz. Her nephew, Rick Hannon, hopes someone who knew Aylward might be aware of a connection or motive and call police with that info. (Read more cold cases stories.)