It took Polk County Sheriff’s detectives 37 years and the development of DNA technology to finally solve the murder of 29-year-old registered nurse Teresa Lee Scalf, who was repeatedly stabbed by her assailant on the afternoon of Oct. 27, 1986.
“This is who murdered Teresa — Donald Douglas. He was 33 at the time of the murder,” Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd announced at a morning press conference Monday, holding Douglas’ photo beside Scalf’s. “He’s dead. He died of natural causes when he was 54-years-old. He and his brother owned D and D Electric. His brother is also deceased. As it turns out, Donald lived behind Teresa.”
Judd said detectives had talked to Douglas at the time of the murder as they made their way through the neighborhood to interview everyone who lived on or near Fairway Drive, just off of Skyview Drive. But, Judd said, there was nothing out of the ordinary about him — he had all the right answers to their questions and no visible wounds. He was never on their radar.
But Douglas, who was 33 at the time, was wounded somewhere because he left behind blood at the scene and Det. Richard Putnel worked with crime scene investigators to make sure it was preserved. It was that forensic evidence that lead Det. Matt Newbold on a long, winding DNA path in the last year that started with a third cousin born out of wedlock in 1949 and eventually branched to Douglas. A test of Douglas’ son on Aug. 3 showed his father was 100% the murderer. That result came back on Aug. 31.
Judd said they suspect that Douglas became enraged when Scalf turned down his advances.
“We think he had some interest in her sexually and obviously she didn’t have any,” Judd said. “She never had a relationship with him. So we believe that he was angry and upset because she wouldn’t have a relationship with him.”
Lynne Scalf, 57, said someone in Teresa’s new neighborhood, where she hadn’t lived for very long, approached her and gave her an uneasy feeling. Teresa told her sister that the man had shown up at her duplex with a flower that seemed to have been ripped from the ground and slapped into a small pot.
“He was sort of stalkerish. She told us about him, but she’d never described him,” Lynne Scalf said. “She didn’t know him. She didn’t know his name. If we had had that description of who the sheriff just showed you, that would’ve nailed it right down — large man, scruffy.”
Her family had previously described Teresa as the kind of person who took in stray animals and stray people. She would befriend the friendless, even once bringing home a man — a complete stranger — to her mother’s home to feed him because he was hungry.
But this man, she told her sisters, gave her the creeps.
Oct. 27, 1986
It was a rainy Monday in Lakeland on Oct. 27, 1986. A month earlier, Teresa had earned her white cap as a registered nurse, an achievement for which she had worked hard and was extremely proud. She had climbed her way up at the hospital, starting at 18-years-old as a nursing assistant. At 21 or 22, she was a phlebotomist, drawing blood. She went to respiratory school, then nursing school. She had even convinced her sister, Pam Shade, to go to nursing school after she left the military.
“She used to cry when she had to stick babies for blood and she cried when the teenagers came in after car wrecks,” Shade, 61, said Monday. “She liked working in ICU because she provided comfort to those suffering, to their families.”
That morning, she went to breakfast with several nursing coworkers after they got off work. At breakfast, her mother said, she spilled tea on herself. And so when she got home at about 11 a.m., she took off her nursing uniform and changed into a long housecoat. At about 2:30 that afternoon, she called her mother and asked her to pick her up 8-year-old son, Craig, from school. It wasn’t unusual for her to sleep in the afternoons before her 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. shift started. It was the last time her mother would speak to her daughter.
Detectives had to piece together what happened after that.
Her mother, Betty Scalf, said Teresa would have never opened the door to a stranger wearing that housecoat and she always used the latch on her door. She speculated that Donald Douglas was probably waiting inside the duplex for his moment to strike.
“Whenever he got in, he got in … probably through the glass sliding doors in the back,” said her mother, now 84-years-old. “But he was inside that house waiting for her when she got home — that much I know.”
Judd said Douglas attacked Teresa in her living room, repeatedly stabbing her and cutting her throat, nearly decapitating the petite dirty blonde. Judd said she had defensive wounds on her hands, showing she tried to protect herself from the barrage. He said there was no forensic evidence to indicate a sexual assault.
At about 8 p.m., when Teresa didn’t show up for her shift, the hospital called her mother and she drove to her daughter’s brown brick duplex. She used a credit card to jimmy open the lock on the front door, where a paper skeleton hung for the coming holiday.
Inside, Betty Scalf — who had lost one of her sons in an accident on the Itchetucknee River a year and a half before — found her daughter’s badly mutilated and lifeless body on the living room floor. She went to the phone in the kitchen and found a magnet on the refrigerator with the sheriff’s department number and managed to call for help.
Outside, the rain was washing away evidence — any dropped blood or footprints leading to Douglas’ duplex.
Detectives fanned through the neighborhood and collected evidence from Teresa’s apartment. Initially, they focused on one of Teresa’s brothers, a cousin, and looked hard at her ex-boyfriends. But they were all dismissed as suspects because there was simply no evidence.
Inside the duplex, among all that blood, the PCSO forensics team found that several samples did not come from Teresa Scalf — they came from her killer. And for 37 years, they sat tucked away in the PCSO evidence room, keeping their owner’s identity locked inside.
After Putnel, Det. Tommy Van Sciver took over. In 2000, the murderer’s blood sample from the interior side of the front door, near the door handle, was placed in a national database known as CODIS, short for “Combined DNA Index System.” It is a computer software program that keeps local, state, and national databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime scene evidence, and missing persons.
But there were no matches to the killer. Douglas had never been arrested and never had his DNA taken.
In early 2015, Detectives Newbold and Jason McPherson began working on the case. Newbold placed Teresa’s picture at his desk and vowed not to retire until he found her killer.
He sent the killer’s DNA profile to a Texas lab called Othram, which helps law enforcement refine its search for murderers and rapists. Its website states that “Othram is revolutionizing how forensic cases are solved, justice is served, and families are mended.”
Othram’s Law Enforcement Liaison David Nutting, a former Orange County detective, appeared at Monday’s press conference and said the company is grateful that it is trusted to provide investigative leads to law enforcement to help with unresolved investigations.
“It’s important to note that no case is solved by Othram — the cases are resolved, as the sheriff said, by the hard work of law enforcement,” Nutting said. “Teresa’s family now has answers. The resolution of Teresa’s murder continues to create awareness of the thousands of other unresolved homicides throughout the United States.”
He said according to the Murder Accountability Project, between 1965 and 2021, there were more than 330,000 unresolved murders in the United States.
“Whenever there is any DNA available to potentially resolve cases — no matter how little or how bad the condition of the DNA is — there is always a potential for case resolution,” Nutting said.
“It took about six months for the genealogists at Othram to develop the closest relatives that could be found,” Newbold told LkldNow.
Then Newbold got to work, using geneaology websites like Ancestry and 23andMe, and their publicly available and allowable DNA profiles to build the family tree, which eventually led to Douglas. That took about two to three months.
When the branch was winnowed down to a twig that pointed to Douglas, they realized they could not exhume his body for a sample because he had been cremated when he died in 2008. Newbold asked Douglas’ son, whom he did not identify, if they could have a sample of his DNA. It is a test called KinSNP. Within a month, they knew they had their killer. Newbold called it a painstaking and complicated process.
“He was just mortified. Just mortified,” Judd said about the son. “His dad had never been arrested, never had any trouble. And here we’re telling him his dad, he didn’t just murder somebody — it wasn’t like he had a fight in a bar and hit somebody — he stabbed and cut, and mutilated this lady.”
At the time of the murder, Douglas wasn’t married. And it turned out, he had literally been in Teresa Scalf’s backyard — he was living in the duplex behind hers.
The Scalf family and Judd publicly thanked the son on Monday and asked that he be respected. They said he helped them when he didn’t have to.
Scalf’s son Craig has grown up to have two daughters of his own. One was at the press conference Monday. Teresa Wooters, 25, is named for her grandmother.
Teresa’s sister Pamela Shade said she hopes finding Teresa’s killer gives hope to other people with unresolved murder cases.
“We also would like to offer encouragement to other homicide victims’ (families),” Shade said. “Don’t give up. Don’t give up and as long as (detectives) don’t give up, you don’t give up.”
In 2003, Betty Scalf told The Ledger that she hoped her daughter’s killer would be found in her lifetime.
“I’m 84 years old,” she told the assembled media on Monday. “I lived to see this done. I think that’s why I lived so long.”
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