DNA helps lead to arrest of Loogootee man in 33-year-old cold case

Mar. 3—Editor's Note: Please be mindful of your comments and remember, the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Not only does the victim have a family but so does the accused. Please be respectful. This story will be updated as more information becomes available.

Mary Louicile Willfong was 23 when she disappeared from a truck stop near the Atlanta, Georgia, farmer's market along Interstate 75 on Nov. 19, 1989. Two days later, her lifeless body was found by deer hunters in the woods about 45 feet off the same interstate near Johnstonville Road in Monroe County, Georgia.

At the time, there were few leads in the case. DNA was collected at the scene but no matches were found. Now, some 33 years later, an arrest has been made in the Willfong case. That arrest happened in Daviess County Wednesday when Monroe County Sheriff's Department Investigator Marc Mansfield and Sergeant Kemeyan Colvard came to Washington to arrest Larry Padgett, 59, of Loogootee.

Monroe County Sheriff Brad Freeman said during a phone call to the Times Herald Thursday it was DNA technology that help close the case.

"Using DNA and genealogy, we were able to find him," said Freeman who said Mansfield took the original evidence found at the scene and resubmitted it to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations and then to DNA International in Miami, Florida where a genealogy trace was completed with DNA from Willfong, who had been sexually assaulted and strangled.

When the DNA results were returned, Mansfield reached out Special Agent Tim Burke with the FBI in Atlanta for assistance and a match was found in Indiana just shy of four years from the day Freeman asked Mansfield to re-open Willfong's case.

The FBI Evidence Recovery Team along with investigators with the Washington Police Department were able to locate Padgett and retrieve additional evidence.

The Washington Police Department said in a statement it began assisting with the investigation in August of 2022.

A release from the Monroe County Sheriff's Department states DNA evidence was once again sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigations crime lab for testing where it was determined Padgett was a match to the DNA found on Willfong.

According to an April 10, 2019, article on reopening the cold case appearing in the Monroe County (Georgia) Reporter, Willfong was from Wisconsin. She liked to hitchhike, often rode with truck drivers and was living in Gainesville, Georgia, at the time of her death.

In that article, Mansfield told the Monroe County Reporter he had reached out to Willfong's mother who was 84 at the time and living in Wisconsin to let her know her daughter's case had been re-opened.

The mother had mentioned, "she had a dream that her daughter was getting into a tractor trailer with a truck driver who killed her." Willfong was also described in the article as being, "a troubled soul." She had three children at the time of her death and her mother described her as a "base-hopper," one who liked military bases and the men found on them. Regardless of her lifestyle, Mansfield continued to search for justice for Willfong and her family.

According to a social media profile, Padgett did drive tractor trailers and according to search of court records, he had not encountered other trouble with the law.

Padgett will remain in Indiana until a waiver of extradition is signed. He will then be brought to Georgia where he will face murder charges.

This story will be updated as more information becomes available. All are considered innocent until proven guilty.