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DELRAY BEACH — After 38 years of waiting for an answer, the family of 21-year-old Carla Lowe now has a name for her accused killer.
Ralph Williams, 59, was arrested Monday in Jacksonville and faces a murder charge in Lowe’s death, Delray Beach Police announced Tuesday.
On the last day of her life, Lowe sat at a train station on a Sunday morning in 1983, waiting for an Amtrak to arrive, reports from then said. Police found the Pompano Beach woman’s body, beaten and run over, lying on an isolated road near the Delray Beach train station that same day, and the search for her killer began.
Detectives said at the time that they searched the road for hours but could not find anyone who heard or saw what happened.
But on Nov. 13, 1983, the day Lowe’s body was found, Delray Beach police arrested Williams on two charges of grand theft auto and burglary of an unoccupied structure or conveyance, according to FDLE records. Williams was sentenced in 1986 to one year and one day in prison for those offenses.
Ted White, a spokesperson for Delray Beach Police Department, said it was not Lowe’s car that Williams was accused of stealing at that time.
Police “had long suspected” Williams as a person of interest, though, White said.
Williams’ criminal history is lengthy, FDLE records show, with over 20 arrests across the state on charges including burglary, resisting an officer with violence, robbery with a gun or deadly weapon, selling, manufacturing or delivery of heroin and marijuana and possession of burglary tools.
On Tuesday, a small group of Lowe’s family members sat together, some with tear-filled and tired eyes. Her sister Jackie Lowe-Repass said the family is “forever indebted” to Lt. Mark Woods and Detective Todd Clancy.
The moment she learned of Williams’ arrest was “surreal,” she said.
“I played this in my head a thousand times,” Lowe-Repass said. “I never thought this day would come. There’s a name now to who did this to my sister.”
When the investigation began those decades ago, Clancy said there was not enough evidence for probable cause to make an arrest.
A fingerprint found on a piece of evidence left behind at the scene is what led detectives to Williams, who lived in Jacksonville and was originally from South Florida, Clancy said. Detectives would not say what the piece of evidence was.
Clancy said Tuesday that there was no suspicious activity from Lowe that day while she waited for the train.
“It appeared Lowe had traveled to this location with two black male subjects for the purpose of using narcotics. During the course of this encounter, Lowe was fatally beaten,” the Delray Beach website says.
New fingerprinting technology from a company based in the U.K. called Foster + Freeman allowed detectives to identify a latent fingerprint from evidence left at the scene as Williams’, Sgt. Luis Skeberis said. Clancy described the new process they used as allowing them “to retrieve a fingerprint that we were not able to retrieve through traditional ways.”
Woods was the lead detective on Lowe’s case until he retired in 2009. Detectives attempted to reopen the case several times before his retirement, Woods said, as advances in DNA and fingerprint technology were still a work in progress. He worked with Clancy and Skeberis, who revisited the evidence to determine if the pieces could be tested in new ways, Woods said.
“I know sometimes you think that everything is organized and clean cut. With cold cases they aren’t,” Skeberis said. “We had boxes and items loosely kept in a room, stored. Some things were damaged. Some things were lost. There are case files that are just on film that can’t be searched via text, you have to go page by page. We then began to prioritize cases, whether they were solvable or not. We began with the most solvable cases and we looked into the Carla Lowe case.”
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A few of her belongings were stolen, but police never found a motive for Lowe’s murder, Clancy said.
“There was no connection to the victim. There was zero connection to the victim,” Clancy said. “She was found in the middle of the roadway, brutally beaten and run over. At that point, the investigation started. We had to attempt to identify her at first and then go along with the case.”
Delray Police Chief Javaro Sims created a position for a detective dedicated to working on cold cases in January. In February, Clancy reopened the case. Lowe’s case was the first one the department picked, believing it was solvable with new technology, and is the first case to be solved since Clancy filled the new cold case role.
“This is the exact reason why the cold case position was initiated earlier this year, to help bring some level of closure to the families who have lost any hope of justice for their losses,” Sims said.
Clancy will prioritize other cases that detectives believe are likely to be solved based on factors like advanced DNA and fingerprint technology and re-interviewing witnesses.
Williams, who was arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office SWAT team, Delray Beach police and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, is currently being held in the Duval County jail without bond. He faces a charge of first-degree murder with a weapon.