Lake Worth, FL

DNA Match Solves 1985 Rape and Murder of Grandmother.

Wess Haubrich

If you take anything away from this tragic story, please remember to check on your elders often.
Mildred Lee Matheny tombstone.Sun Sentinel.

Mildred Lee Matheny was living out her golden years with her sister, Gladys Knowlen, in sunny Lake Worth, FL – just north of Boynton Beach, Boca Raton, and a little over an hour from Miami on the Atlantic coast.

The move from Arkansas to Palm Beach County was a tough one. The retired nurse and widow had given so much of herself in service to others that she understandably was finding it hard to take it easy and enjoy some well-earned rest and relaxation. She deserved the Florida move and so much more. Besides, the grandkids were looking forward to making the trip down to see her.

So, with the blessing, convincing, and help of her children and grandchildren, she made the move to Lake Worth to be with Gladys.

The only problem? She did not know the area well and was suffering from the effects of dementia. It is for this reason that she would not go out without a trusted escort.

The Crime

Mildred nonetheless got out unescorted that April 27, 1985.

A passerby found her naked, bruised, and bloodied – her clothes strewn around her and dentures bloodied – on the side of a road that same night. Mildred was found about 30 miles away from where she lived with Gladys in Lake Worth.
The road where Mildred was left clinging to

After a nearly 11-day fight to stay alive in the local hospital, Mildred Lee Matheny succumbed to the blunt force injuries she sustained during the assault.

The Investigation

Without witnesses or a weapon, there was little for investigators to go on considering the state of forensic science in 1985. The case ultimately went cold.

Until now.

A Suspect

Richard Curtis Lange, Sr. – age 61, but age 25 when he allegedly committed the crime – was arrested last Thursday in Boynton Beach, Florida after a DNA match from the 1985 Matheny crime scene hit on his DNA.

He is charged with kidnapping, rape, and murder. He is being held in the Palm Beach County Jail without bond.

Lange lived in nearby Boynton Beach since 1986. He has no listed occupation, only “disabled”. He is a felon who has a specimen in a DNA offender database after a 2012 weapon’s charge.

Investigators have been quiet about other cards they may be holding during this investigation. More will undoubtedly come out when the case heads to trial – if it does at all.

Lange vociferously denies any involvement.

For the Defense

“Mr. Lange vehemently denies the allegations brought today by the Palm Beach County State’s Attorney’s Office, and we look forward to aggressively challenging the forensic evidence attributed to Mr. Lange,” one of Lange’s lawyers Scott Skier said in a statement, also noting that they “look forward to aggressively challenging the forensic evidence attributed to Mr. Lange.”

Skier elaborated, “Nothing in Mr. Lange’s past indicates a propensity for such abhorrent behavior, and given his age and health, we will argue that he should be released to home detention as we prepare for trial.”

This is a common battle tactic for the defense when DNA evidence is the biggest adversary in the prosecution’s corner. The whole process and chain of custody for that evidence as both were in 1985 must be undermined to get what they are looking for: reasonable doubt.

What Remains

Gary Matheny was 52 when his mother was brutally killed. The now-88-year-old told the Sun Sentinel from his Arkansas home that he’d given up hope.

“I am joyful they finally have the culprit,” he said.

Journalist and dogged student of all things related to crime, Wess Haubrich, examines the nitty, gritty details you didn’t know about famous (and not so famous but equally weird) crimes and their unseen motivations. Thanks for reading!

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Former editor, now dogged-maverick journalist and researcher covering the crime beat. I examine the weird, absurd, and downright infamous in American crime both here and at Real Monsters podcast. Contact:


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