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DNA leads to arrest in 1984 Columbia rape, attempted murder


North Carolina authorities and Columbia police arrested a man Thursday who is suspected in a 1984 rape and attempted murder.

James F. Wilson, 59, of Mooresville, North Carolina, was arrested in connection with the March 1984 rape and assault of a woman in the 4000 block of Wellington Drive in northeast Columbia. Wilson lived in Columbia at the time and graduated high school here, police said.

Wilson is charged with rape and first-degree assault. Charges were filed Tuesday and unsealed Thursday, according to court records.

A Columbia Police Department spokeswoman said during a news conference Thursday that Wilson was arrested at his home. CPD Chief Geoff Jones said officers notified the victim Thursday, as well.

Jones said police are seeking more information about Wilson's activities in Columbia.

“Mr. Wilson won’t victimize anyone else anymore," Jones said. "But we don’t know yet how expansive his reign of terror was.”

Jones also praised the victim's strength.

"We use the term victim in reports but the truth is, she is a survivor," Jones said.

In addition to her rape, CPD Assistant Chief Jeremiah Hunter said Wilson also cut her throat. Jones said the woman had been "severely injured."

A recent break in the case came when DNA from the crime scene was matched with Wilson's DNA, police say.

Wilson remained in North Carolina on Thursday but will be extradited.

A probable cause statement said the victim had notified police after the incident happened on March 24, 1984. The victim said she encountered Wilson while she was walking to work.

Wilson allegedly grabbed the victim, wielded a pocket knife and forced her to his car that was parked nearby and forced her into the passenger seat. Wilson allegedly drove the car to another location and tried to remove the victim's clothing.

Wilson had trouble removing her clothing and forced the victim to remove it, according to the probable cause statement. Wilson then allegedly raped the victim outside of his car.

Afterward, Wilson brought the victim to a grassy area off the roadway and pushed her to the ground. He then took the knife and slashed her throat, which caused significant injury, according to the statement.

Wilson then allegedly pushed the victim into a creek, and she stayed there until she heard his vehicle leave.

The alleged victim then went to an area hospital and was treated for multiple lacerations, which required surgery. She was also examined for sexual assault.

The description of the suspect was: White male, around 18-19 years old, 5-feet-9-inches tall and weighed about 190-200 pounds.

A Columbia Missourian article from 1984 details the attack, and says the victim managed to walk to a residence, where she notified police.

The case was reopened in 2020 for further investigation and the sexual assault kit was sent for DNA testing. CPD notified a possible family match to the suspect, where the suspect pool was narrowed down and was determined that Wilson lived in Columbia at the time of the incident.

"In March of 2020, the case was assigned to detective Renae Wilbarger. Through advancements in DNA technology, detective Wilbarger identified James Frederick Wilson as a potential suspect," CPD spokesperson Toni Messina said.

A 1981 year book photo showed Wilson looked like a sketch of the subject.

"There were some advancements in technology that were not available in 1984," Jeremiah Hunter, CPD Assistant Chief said.

The North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation became involved after it was learned that's where Wilson lives. The bureau grabbed some of his trash and found a disposable razor with hair in the blades.

The razor and other items were sent to CPD. The razor was then sent for DNA analysis, where it then matched the profile from the rape kit.

This was a cold case that has been on the department's mind for years, and at the news conference Jones had some words for the victim.

"We want you to know if you're listening, we're here to stand with you and we're here to stand by you," Jones said.

Police established a tipline at 573-874-7400 for anyone with information about Wilson.

Article Topic Follows: Crime

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Matthew Sanders

Matthew Sanders is the digital content director at ABC 17 News.


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