JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. – Police are hoping to close North Carolina’s oldest cold case after new DNA technology helped lead to the arrest of a homeless Florida man for the 1972 homicide of a woman found bound and shot beside her 4-month-old baby, authorities announced Tuesday.
Larry Joe Scott, 65, was arrested Monday in Bradenton, Fla., and charged with murder and kidnapping in the death of 33-year-old Bonnie Neighbors, said Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell.
“Today is a good day,” Sheriff Bizzell said during an afternoon press conference. “Today is a great day for the Neighbors family. … I was finally able to tell her son that we had found his mother’s murderer.”
Neighbors was reportedly kidnapped with her infant son almost 47 years ago. The woman was on her way to pick up her 7-year-old boy from school when she disappeared. Several days later her body was found in a migrant worker house near Benson, N.C., the Raleigh News & Observer reported.
Curled up next to his deceased mother was a 4-month-old child. Somehow the baby survived the cold December temperatures.
“I was finally able to tell her son that we had found his mother’s murderer.”
— Sheriff Steve Bizzell
Sheriff Bizzell was only a teenager at the time of the murder. Nevertheless, he recalled how the case still haunted him when it was reopened in 2007.
“In 1972, I was only 14 years old, but something about Bonnie Neighbors’ killing and about this case always bothered me,” Bizzell told the paper. “After I became sheriff in 2007, I was still haunted because her killer had not been found.”
Scott was a homeless man who frequented labor camps near the area where Neighbors lived, WRAL-TV reported. Authorities said he was also homeless at the time of his arrest in Florida.
Early DNA evidence hadn’t been able to produce any links to the murder, the News & Observer reported. But in 2017, the Crime Lab developed technology that produced a useable DNA profile, which subsequently led investigators to Scott.
While the cold case appears to have thawed, State Attorney General Josh Stein said they’re still conducting tests for total confirmation.
“This led to a profile and arrest,” Stein told the News & Observer. “The confirmatory testing is still in process. But now an extremely cold case is very warm.”
District Attorney Susan Doyle on Tuesday praised the tenacity of the sheriff and state crime lab workers.
“For almost 47 years, people thought this day would never come,” she said. “But this day has come.”
It was not immediately clear when he could be returned to Johnston County.