Victim's family reacts to arrest in 1984 cold case

In 1984, a young U.S. Navy recruit was found dead on the side of a road. Her killer walked free, until now.

New technology helped authorities make an arrest 34 years later. The keys to solving this case: DNA, patience and the suspect’s family.   Thomas Garner, 59, was arrested in Jacksonville, Florida on Wednesday for the 1984 slaying of Pamela Cahanes, 25.  On Thursday morning, in Minnesota, the family of Cahanes learned of the developments.

“Joyed, overwhelmed, glad it’s done," said the victim's sister, Eileen Bergmann.  “I hope she’s looking down at us clapping and saying ‘Good, you got the guy!’” 

Cahanes had just graduated from the Navy Training Center in Orlando when investigators say she was found beaten and strangled near an empty house in Sanford. DNA evidence never led anywhere until now.

“We were able to take advantage of evolving technology to see who’s responsible for this murder,” said Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma.

Investigators used genealogy to help build a family tree that led to Garner. He appeared in court Thursday to face charges. Now a dental hygienist, investigators said Garner did his training with Cahanes.

“I always believed it was someone in the military in my heart,” said Bergmann, who called investigators for years for updates. “She told me back in January and February that she just wanted to meet us, so she never let on that it was this close to getting the person.”

When investigators met with Bergmann and four of her siblings Thursday morning, it gave them “just the closure that maybe somebody’s not going to get away with this and maybe sending a message to others that now with this tech, you better be careful.

Garner is locked up in Seminole County.