Warning: This story has graphic details that were released with the family’s permission.

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Polk County Sheriff’s Office said it has solved the 1986 murder of a Lakeland nurse after nearly 37 years of investigation.

On Oct. 27, 1986, the mother of Teresa Lee Scalf, Betty Scalf, found her daughter dead in her home.

The victim’s family said her mother had to break into the residence with a credit card after the hospital told her Teresa didn’t show up for work.

Teresa Scalf (Photo provided by Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

“I think she was killed around 3:30 in the afternoon, and by the time I got there at 8 or 9 o’clock at night, all the evidence had been washed away by the rain,” Betty Scalf said.

Authorities said Teresa Scalf’s throat had been slit and she had “defensive wounds” on her hands. Detective Matt Newbold said there was no sign of forced entry before the victim’s mother got there.

“He cut her head almost off,” Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Donald Douglas, the man who deputies say murdered Teresa Scalf (Photo provided by Polk County Sheriff’s Office)

After years of investigation, detectives identified the murder suspect as Donald Douglas, who lived behind Scalf at the time of her murder. They said the murder was sexually motivated.

The 29-year-old nurse, who worked at what is now Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, lived alone with her 8-year-old son at her apartment. However, the child was at his grandmother’s home at the time, deputies said.

Scalf’s family described her as a loving. kind person.

“She used to cry when she had to stick babies for blood, and she cried when the teenagers came in in car wrecks,” Teresa’s sister Lynne Scalf said. “She liked working ICU because she provided comfort

Her sister Pam Shade, who is also a nurse, said it was her who got her family into healthcare.

Sadly, Teresa Scalf herself had only become a registered nurse one month before her murder, according to her sister.

“Our family didn’t deserve this,” Shade said. “My mother had just lost my brother of 23 years old a year and a half before she found my sister’s body in that condition. Could you even imagine what that would be? But she held it together.

“She made it to the phone, because we didn’t have cells back then, found the number my sister had hanging there for her 8-year-old son, and was able to get the police there. My mother did that. I don’t know how many people would have that much strength to do what she did.”

Betty Scalf, mother of Teresa Scalf

Detectives found two blood samples, one of them belonging to Scalf, but without the proper technology, there was no way to identify who murdered her.

“When this occurred in 1986, there was no DNA; there was no DNA genealogy,” Judd said.

The sheriff said in the 2000s, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office put the unknown blood sample into CODIS, but there was no result.

“Detectives talked to Donald at the time of the event as they were doing neighborhood canvases, but there was nothing at all out of the ordinary,” he said.

Douglas was 33 at the time of the murder but died at the age of 54 of natural causes in 2008, the sheriff’s office said. Detectives said Douglas’ body was cremated, which added further difficulties in getting DNA evidence from the suspect.

Judd said Douglas was identified thanks to genealogical DNA from 1949, when the killer’s third cousin had a child from an “illicit affair.”

“When we were able to work the genealogy up into the modern era, Matt met with Donald Douglas’ son and said, ‘We’d like a blood sample; we’re working a murder investigation,'” Judd said. “The son, to Donald Douglas, was totally cooperative and was in horrible shock. His dad, and here’s the key to it, had never ever ever been arrested. Ever.”

The sheriff said Douglas’ son never thought his father would ever murder anyone. However, his DNA did match the blood sample found at the scene.

According to Lynne Scalf, Teresa told her sisters that a creepy neighbor who was “stalker-ish” but never described him.

“If you are getting a creepy vibe, don’t just tell your sisters this creepy neighbor is doing weird things,” she said. “Give a description. If we had had that description the sheriff just showed you, that would have narrowed it right down. Large man, scruffy, 30-ish? Think of what that would have done to the potential pool of suspects.”

Teresa Scalf’s family thanked law enforcement for their dedication to solving her murder.

“I’m 84 years old,” Betty Scalf said. “I lived to see this done. I think that’s why I lived so long.”