ODESSA, TX (KWES) - A police captain who assisted in a 1989 murder investigation spoke out Monday about the relief of gaining closure 26 years later.
Odessa Police Capt. Jesse Duarte was assigned to the Narcotic/Vice Division in February 1989 when 15-year-old Wendy Burdette was found dead in a field behind Permian Metals on West 2nd Street.
The Odessa High School student was raped, brutally beaten, stabbed multiple times and had her throat cut, according to investigators.
"The scene wasn't all that good," Duarte recalled.
He turned to informants for any possible clues, while detectives heading the case worked day and night for months.
"They were trying to follow up on all leads, but they just weren't [leading] to anything," Duarte told NewsWest 9.
Their lucky break came more than two decades later, when the state began enforcing a sex offender registration law in 2013.
"Basically, Texas state law requires all sex offenders to submit DNA samples," explained Odessa Police spokesman Cpl. Steve LeSueur. "[The Department of Public Safety] found out Thompson Stricklen's DNA matched evidence found at the scene [of Wendy Burdette's murder] and alerted us."
Thompson Ward Stricklen Jr., 52, had previously been questioned as a suspect in Burdette's stabbing death. However, police never had probable cause to arrest him, LeSueur said.
That changed on July 16, when the DNA match reported by DPS was confirmed with evidence from Burdette's autopsy.
Stricklen was arrested in Rusk County and is being held at the Ector County Detention Center on bonds totaling $350,000, according to a news release from Odessa Police. He has previously served prison sentences for indecency with a child, solicitation of murder and retaliation, officials said, and has been convicted of having sex with a mentally disabled sister-in-law.