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‘It's Nice To Have A Name’: DNA Leads To Woman’s Suspected Killer In Unsolved 1984 Slaying

“The pros and cons of time are that cases usually don’t get better... but fortunately, science does,” an offical said of the recently solved cold-case involving Virginia Hannon.

By Dorian Geiger
Virginia Hannon Pd

The 1984 death of a Massachusetts woman whose murder baffled investigators for nearly four decades has now been solved via a tip about a possible confession and DNA evidence, officials announced last week.

Virginia Hannon’s badly beaten body was found in Pembroke, Massachusetts on Feb. 13, 1984. The 59-year-old had been stabbed and strangled at her home, according to prosecutors.

After years, the investigation into her death went cold. But on Thursday, prosecutors named Jesse Aylward, a now-dead handyman, as her suspected killer.

“It’s certainly been a long process, a lot of work over the years has gone into this,” Tim Cruz, Plymouth County District Attorney, told Oxygen.com. "This event happened in 1984 — people have been looking at it for a really long time. The pros and cons of time are that cases usually don’t get better... but fortunately, science does.” 

Cruz credited the investigative efforts of state and local police, who he said used DNA technology to solve Hannon’s murder.

“We were fortunate that the investigating offices back in the 1980s actually collected physical evidence because at that time nobody knew of the possibilities of DNA,” he said. “I think we’re fortunate they collected the right things at the time of the event.”

Investigators were “relentless,” he said, in seeking justice for Hannon, who was “needlessly and viciously” murdered.  

In 2018, prosecutors began working with forensic scientists and chemists from the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab to re-run tests on possible evidence collected from the crime scene. Investigators learned DNA found on items in Hannon’s kitchen, including bloody paper towels, contained the genetic material of an unknown male.

However, the case hit a brick wall again after that DNA evidence didn’t turn up any matches after genetic genealogical testing.

Jesse Aylward

In February 2020, Pembroke police were tipped off that a man named Jesse Aylward had confessed to Hannon’s murder. The tipster explained that Aylward had died the day before. 

“He made statements a year prior to his death that he had killed somebody in Pembroke,” Cruz said. “The day after he passed away, we were able to get the appropriate legal paperwork and search warrants to get his DNA.”

Authorities, who managed to obtain a DNA swab from Aylward’s body, later matched it to the forensic evidence found at the crime scene.

“They were very incriminating pieces of evidence,” Cruz explained. “All of the evidence points in Aylward’s direction.”

Additional DNA testing identified no other potential suspects, officials said.

“My condolences go out once again to the Hannon family for their loss,” Cruz said in a statement. “I am hopeful that they finally find some peace and closure with this news.”

Hannon’s family welcomed news of the arrest.

"It's nice to have a name, to see the effort that they put in wasn't wasted," her nephew, Richard Hannon, said during a press conference. "Maybe it will jar someone's memory, come forward and say something."

Family and friends described Hannon as a “happy” person who was “fun to be around.” 

"She was my friend," Judy, the wife of Hannon’s nephew, told The Patriot Ledger. "I'm so glad they finally have someone. Would I like to see him taken away in handcuffs? Yes. Because that's what he deserves.”

Officials said Aylward had a criminal record. His obituary described him as a “skilled handyman.”

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