Cold case success: 22-year-old rape solved by persistent Fayette deputies

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Joe L. Arnold. Photo/Fayette County Jail.
Joe L. Arnold. Photo/Fayette County Jail.

The investigation of a cold case from 1998 involving the rape and brutal beating of a Fayette County woman led to the Nov. 18 arrest of a Henry County man.

Joe Louis Arnold, 45, of McDonough, is being charged with rape, two counts of aggravated assault, false imprisonment and burglary, according to Sheriff Barry Babb.

Arrested on Nov. 18, Babb said Arnold was originally from Fayetteville but now resides in Henry County.

Commenting on the investigation and subsequent arrest, Babb laid out the timeline that led to the charges against Arnold for committing the crime.

Babb said on March 24, 1998 at approximately 4 p.m., the Fayette County 911 Center received a frantic call from a female in a residential area in the northwestern part of unincorporated Fayette County.

“As the first deputies arrived, they located the victim and secured the home,” Babb said. “Investigators arrived shortly after to process and document the crime scene. The victim was sexually assaulted and brutally beaten by an unknown lone assailant.”

Babb was a patrol sergeant at the time, whose shift was off duty when the rape occurred. Like others who were with the sheriff’s office in 1998, Babb said, “I won’t forget the call. It shook the county and us.”

Babb said the victim submitted to a sexual assault exam and evidence collection at the Fayette Community Hospital, in operation at that time for approximately one year.

Numerous man hours were put into solving this case, he added. After canvassing the neighborhoods, traffic checkpoints and multiple interviews, the leads were exhausted. The case went cold.

“We always knew the answer to solving this would lie in the DNA collected during the sexual assault exam and other variables relating to the case. In late 2019, newly promoted Chief Investigator Major Ethon Harper reopened the case,” said Babb. “Maj. Harper spoke with the victim, and with her permission, began an almost-year-long look back into time. The investigation developed enough probable cause for an arrest. Detectives met with District Attorney Marie Broder, who has cold case prosecution experience. With D.A. Broder’s support, detectives moved forward with arresting the suspect.”

Arnold is currently housed at the Fayette County Jail without a bond pending a hearing at a date to be determined in Fayette County Superior Court.

Babb said Harper was working as a patrolman the day the incident occurred 22 years ago, and never stopped thinking about solving this case after he became an investigator.

“When I promoted him to Chief Investigator, he stated he wanted to look back into some of our cold cases,” Babb noted. “I don’t think I have ever met anyone that works any harder for justice for victims. He is a true credit to his calling.”

Commenting on the case and giving credit to so many others, Harper said, “After an initial case review and strategy session I handed the developing investigation over to one of our best and most experienced major case detectives, Sgt. Clint Patton. He has done an amazing job picking up where the team in 1998 left off.

“None of this could have been accomplished without the effort put in 22 years ago,” Harper continued. “Lastly, there are no words to describe how it feels to break the news of an arrest to the victim and her husband. What an amazing story of strength, survival and devotion to one another.”

Pertaining to the arrest and the case, Babb said, “Due to the delicate nature of this case and to protect the integrity of the prosecution, no further details will be released by our agency. Any further inquiries should be directed to the Office of the District Attorney of the Griffin Judicial Circuit.”

Babb said special appreciation goes to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation Crime Lab, the Federal Bureau of Investigation Atlanta Field Office and members of the U.S. Marshal Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force. All have made contributions to the case.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hi Henry….thanks for your conditional approval. lol

    I had an idea the other day…maybe we all meet at the pavilion at Drake Field and have a civil debate on any subject that seems topical.
    I figure it would be very interesting.

  2. I might have reputation for disliking cops, but I gotta say they did a good job in this case. Would have been even better if they could have solved it 10 or 15 years ago, but we all can be better. Speck in your eye, log in mine and all that.

    • Henry V,
      Would have been even better if they could have solved it 10 or 15 years ago,…

      It takes considerable resources to run-down these cold cases. I’m sure the defunding crowd completely understands this. (eyes rolling)