John Ernest Walsh arrested for Stefanie Watson murder

Stefanie Watson went missing in 1982.

Stefanie Watson was 27 years old when she vanished in July 1982. She was seen leaving her Laurel apartment on 8th Street and then driving away in her 1981 Chevy Chevette. But she never showed up for her night shift as an intake clerk at what was then Laurel Beltsville Hospital.

The next day, a cousin reported her missing. Two days after that police found Watson's car in this apartment parking lot. Then-Laurel Police spokesman Jim Collins remembers it well.

“It was horrible,” Collins says. “It was from the front deck to the back deck the headliner all the door panels were covered with heavy blood.”

31 years later, authorities think they have their man. John Ernest Walsh, a 68-year-old convicted rapist, has been charged with the brutal crime.

Collins and the police plastered the town with fliers. And then, a month and a half later, a teenager spotted a man wearing dish gloves dumping a bag in a wooded area.

In that bag, police found a portion of Watson's head. Her body has never been found and for more than three decades the case went nowhere.

“All the leads they had all the information there was hundred and thousands of leads just never panned out,” Collins says.

Prince George's County cold case detective Richard Fulginiti has worked the case on and off for years. Three months ago, counting on improvements in technology, he submitted 31-year-old blood samples to the Prince George's County Police lab. The sample was worked up and then compared with the state-maintained data base.

The DNA came back with a positive hit.

Walsh is now charged with the murder. He is a convicted rapist first sentenced to life in 1969. But from 1980 to 1989, he was out on parole and police say he murdered Watson.

“It’s a real satisfaction obviously to be able to call a family after 31 years and say we've solved this case,” Fulginiti says.