CHARLOTTE COUNTY — Detectives with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office say they’ve identified the remains from a 27-year-old cold case as Gerald Lombard, and they now believe he was murdered by a serial killer.
Back in 1994, Wyandotte Avenue was known as the "Hog Trail." That’s where Gerald Lombard’s body was found by two hunters, but the remains couldn’t be identified without modern DNA technology. So it took until this year to finally bring his family closure.
Gerald Lombard’s sister, Carole Lombard Dufresne, said after all this time she and her husband Bob didn’t think they would ever know what happened to her brother.
"The last I spoke with him was in 1991," said Dufresne.
Detectives Kurt Mehl and Mike Vogel said, after 27 years, Dufresne didn’t believe them at first when they called.
"She was real hesitant to talk to me, because here’s some guy calling out of the blue saying do you have a family member that’s missing?” said Vogel.
"I called the Sheriff’s Department just to confirm that Mike Vogel was actually a detective," said Bob Dufresne.
The Dufresnes quickly learned how much work it had taken to get to that phone call. Detectives took a tooth from Lombard’s remains recovered from the woods, and researchers were able to get a DNA profile. They then matched that with DNA Dufresne’s sister had submitted to Ancestry.com.
"That DNA she had submitted matched up to the DNA genealogy research that the FBI did," said Vogel.
Detectives also matched a picture developed from Lombard’s skull to a real picture of him, and they could tell it was the same person, but now they also think they know how he died: at the hands of Daniel Conahan.
Conahan is currently on death row for a separate killing in the same area in 1996 where he lured a victim into the woods.
"He would subsequently take the males and tie them to a tree, take his pictures, and then kill them by the rope," said Mehl.
"Something you see out of a horror movie. It’s, it’s crazy," said Dufresne.
Dufresne said her parents died without learning what happened to Lombard, but she’s glad the rest of the family now has closure.
“We’re happy that we now know what happened to him, but it’s sad," said Dufresne.
The family now has the option of burying Lombard’s remains, or donating them to researchers to possibly help in other cases.
Meanwhile, detectives still have to prove their theory that Conahan is behind Lombard’s death. They’re asking the public to call the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office if they know anything about Lombard.
That number is 941-639-2101.