Priscilla Strole's body, naked and beaten, was discovered by her 15-year-old son inside their Fairfield home the night of Aug. 31, 1983.
More than 30 years later, Fairfield police identified 48-year-old Robert Hathaway, of Fairfield, as a suspect in her murder, Sgt. Troy Oviatt said.
Hathaway committed suicide five days before the California Department of Justice's Bureau of Forensic Services matched DNA found at the scene of Strole's murder to his, Oviatt said. His body was found at his home, with a suicide note that read he "took the coward (sic) way out."
Strole, who was 40, had been raped and beaten to death. Her body was found on the living room floor with multiple injuries to her face and head from kitchen knives, a can opener and a piece of decorative wood – which were all found inside her home. Officers also found jewelry and other valuable items missing from the home.
Detectives said in 1983 that Strole likely let her killer into her home because there was no evidence of forced entry.
After collecting fingerprints and semen from the scene and running them through databases available in 1983, detectives ran into a dead end in the case.
Then in early 2012, Fairfield cold case detectives re-opened and reviewed the case.
"This case illustrates the importance of cold case detective's work, and their relentless investigation of cases," Oviatt said. "Regardless of how much time has passed, detectives still investigate these cases."
The detectives sent the DNA sample collected in 1983 to the DOJ. After creating a DNA profile, it was uploaded the nationwide DNA database, but no match was found. Detectives then ran the fingerprints through a fingerprint identification database and found a match – Hathaway.
Oviatt said in 1983, Hathaway's fingerprints were not in the system, but he was arrested in 1986 for burglary. His fingerprints were then added to the system.
"Cold case detectives constantly revisit cases and look for new information, as well as new ways of processing old information," Oviatt said. "Advancements in science and technology improve detectives' abilities to investigate cases."
Detectives went to Hathaway's home on Feb. 11 to interview him about Strole's murder and collect a DNA sample. He denied having any involvement in the crime.
Oviatt said Hathaway hung himself on Feb. 15.
At the time of Strole's murder, Hathaway was 17 years old and her son's friend.