For 36 years, the person responsible for the vicious rape and murder of a 78-year-old woman with dementia in Palm Beach County, Florida, has eluded authorities.
That all changed this week with the Friday arrest of Richard Lange, 61, who now faces first-degree murder, kidnapping, and sexual arrest charges for the elderly woman’s slaying in April 1985, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said. While officials have not released the victim’s name, previous news reports and police reports have identified her as Mildred Matheny, who was found nude and severely beaten along a dirt road seven hours after she disappeared. Matheny was pronounced dead 11 days later.
“After 36 long years, we finally found the suspected killer of a 78-year-old woman who was brutally murdered,” police said in a statement. During a Friday hearing, Lange was denied bail.
Police said Matheny was first reported missing at 4:30 p.m. on April 27, 1985. The elderly woman suffered from dementia and had recently moved to Lake Worth, Florida, from Arkansas to live with her sister. She was reportedly not allowed outside out of fear that she may wander away, but she left the home on April 27 after a family mix-up, according to the Palm Beach Post and authorities.
In a sheriff’s video from 2019 that laid out the case, authorities said neighbors at the time saw Matheny walking down the street in her “orange blouse over her pink pajamas,” which were ultimately found near her body. The video adds that Matheny, who was a retired nurse, may have gotten into a car with a younger man outside a Burger King after saying he was “her neighbor and was going to give her a ride home.”
Several hours later, around 10 p.m., a resident driving down Old Indiantown Road in Jupiter, Florida, “discovered the victim lying naked and motionless on the desolate dirt roadway.” “She was unconscious and her clothing was strewn on the dirt roadway near her body along with her blood-stained dentures,” police said, adding that she was “bleeding profusely from blunt force like injuries to her head and face.”
“It’s pretty bad when a grandmother goes outside for a walk and winds up knocked out on some dirt road,” Lake Worth police Lt. Marty Kerner said in 1985.
Matheny was taken to a local hospital and died 11 days later. The Martin County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide caused by cardiac arrhythmia, a skull fracture, and internal bleeding.
Court records show that at that time, Lange was 25-years-old and living in Palm Beach County with a 1983 aggravated assault conviction already under his belt. In 1993, Lange was again convicted of aggravated assault. Both times he only received probation. Lange also was convicted on weapons charges in 2006 and 2012 and was briefly jailed, county and state records show.
All the while, Matheny’s murder case ran cold—until last month. In March, a detective at the Cold Case Homicide Unit submitted DNA from Matheny’s case into the state’s database—and Lange popped up. Because the final step of the confirmation process requires a DNA saliva sample directly from the source, authorities had to secure a warrant for Lange, who was finally tested on Thursday at his Boynton Beach home about 10 minutes from where Matheny was allegedly kidnapped.
“Lange denied knowing or any involvement in the murder of the victim,” police said, noting his sample “confirmed the DNA association match between the vaginal swabs of the victim and Richard Lange’s DNA.”