Dental hygienist tried in Florida for murder of Navy recruit in 1984


SANFORD, Fla .– A trial is underway for a 61-year-old man charged with first degree murder for the death of a US Navy recruit who was strangled and dumped in an overgrown field in downtown Florida 37 years ago.

Thomas Garner of Jacksonville has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Pamela Cahanes. He was arrested in March 2019 after investigators developed a DNA profile in the cold case, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Cahanes’ body was found on August 5, 1984, two days after graduating from training camp at the Orlando Naval Training Center, the newspaper reported. She was naked except for a pair of white underwear. When the case was reopened in the 1990s, tests revealed semen on the underwear.

Investigators developed a DNA profile of the suspect, and in 2018 they had the technology to build a “family tree” from that profile, the newspaper reported.

This led them to Garner, according to records prepared for the trial in Sanford.

While monitoring Garner in February 2019, the investigator saw him throw a bag of trash at his Jacksonville apartment. From this bag, they recovered a cigarette butt, a cotton swab and a piece of used dental floss. The DNA in those items matched semen found on Cahanes’ underwear, court records show.

Prosecutors said Garner, a dental hygienist, had been stationed at the Naval Training Center during the same time Cahanes was there.

Garner told investigators he didn’t remember Cahanes and wouldn’t hang out with a recruit like her or go out with her. “I have no idea what you are talking about,” he repeated when told that his DNA had been found on his body.

Last month, Garner also emerged as a preliminary DNA match in a September 1982 murder in Honolulu. Kathy Hicks, an employee of Delta Air Lines in Atlanta, disappeared during a visit to Hawaii. His body was found beaten and strangled near a ravine, according to records.

Similar to the Cahanes case, investigators compared the DNA found on Hicks’ underwear to Garner, who was stationed in Hawaii from April 1980 to October 1982.


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