Nearly 37 years after the brutal murder of Teresa Lee Scalf in her Lakeland, Florida, home, authorities have identified her killer through advanced DNA analysis techniques. On Oct. 27, 1986, Scalf was found dead with severe injuries, including a deeply cut neck and defensive wounds. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office, upon investigating the crime, determined it was sexually motivated.
Despite evidence like blood samples found at the scene that did not match Scalf’s DNA, detectives had no solid leads for over three decades. The blood sample remained unmatched in the Combined DNA Index System, a consortium of DNA profiles from various sources, including unsolved crimes.
In a breakthrough, the sheriff’s office partnered with Othram, Inc. in 2022. Specializing in forensic genetic genealogy, the company traced the sample to distant relatives of the potential suspect. This led detectives to Donald Douglas, Scalf’s neighbor at the time of the murder. Though he had been interviewed in the initial 1986 investigation, there was no concrete evidence linking him to the crime. Douglas had no criminal record, ensuring his DNA was never in any enforcement database.
A DNA sample from one of Douglas’ sons confirmed the match. The analysis revealed a 100% confidence in a parent-child biological relationship, verifying that the blood at the murder scene belonged to Douglas. Donald Douglas died in 2008 at the age of 54. He was 33 when Scalf was murdered. With this revelation, the case has been officially closed.
Sheriff Grady Judd expressed his gratitude to Othram, Inc. for their pivotal role in the investigation. “Our detectives were able to negotiate through a family tree that led to the identity of Teresa Scalf’s killer,” he said. Douglas’ son’s cooperation was also crucial to this conclusion, Judd noted, which brought “long-awaited closure to Theresa Scalf’s devastated family.”
At a news conference, Scalf’s mother, Betty, commended the sheriff’s office’s dedication to the case, saying, “I’m 84 years old, I lived to see this done. I think that’s why I lived so long.”