LAWRENCEVILLE - Authorities in Columbia, Mo., had a feeling that the prime suspect in a 1976 murder investigation may have fallen off the face of the earth.
Gone. Out of the country. Dead, maybe.
Until a week ago, that is, when 65-year-old Johnny Wright - a wanted man for the last 24 years - unwittingly handed himself over to police.
Looking to gain employment as a driver, Wright walked into the Lawrenceville Police Department and requested a routine background check. When running his information through the database, dispatchers discovered second-degree murder warrants, issued in 1985.
When Wright returned the next day to get his paperwork, officers were waiting. He was arrested quickly and quietly.
Wright is accused of killing 23-year-old Becky Doisy, a waitress, fiction writer and on-and-off student at the University of Missouri. She disappeared the summer of 1976 and her body was never found.
Wright, then 32, was a part-time Columbia Public Works Department employee, according to reports, with a rap sheet. He disappeared, too, police said, but was soon discovered in St. Louis.
According to the Columbia (Mo.) Daily Tribune, Wright agreed to a polygraph test, which determined he was being "deceptive" in his answers. But with no physical evidence to tie him to the crime - or proof that a crime had even been committed - police released him after questioning.
At the time of Doisy's disappearance, co-workers reportedly told police that Wright was a regular at Ernie's Steakhouse, where Doisy worked. He would "pester" her, they said, asking for dates.
On Aug. 5, 1976, reports said, Doisy agreed to meet with Wright at her apartment. Witnesses reported spotting them drinking together at a local tavern that evening, the last time Doisy would be seen or heard from.
Doisy's sister reported her missing two days later, but it would be nine years before authorities would seek indictments in the case. According to a 1995 ABA Journal article, prosecutors wanted to file charges but were concerned with the lack of evidence.
But in 1985, when Wright's former roommate reportedly told police he had seen Doisy's "lifeless body" in Wright's blue Toyota and that Wright once admitted to killing Doisy, authorities began the search for their suspect.
Twenty-four years later, they are hoping to put the case to rest.
"There were no new leads, so this came to a surprise to us, a very welcome surprise," Columbia police Officer Jessie Haden told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Wright is being held at the Gwinnett County Jail. He has waived an extradition hearing and will soon be returned to Missouri.