Human remains found in 1977 matched to Lakeland man missing for 41 years

- It's been more than four decades. Now, Polk County investigators finally have answers in a mysterious cold case.

Mark Duane Woodard had been missing from Lakeland since 1975. With the help of new DNA technology, investigators matched Woodard with human remains found all the way back in 1977.

For all of these years, Diann Wells wondered where her brother went.

"It's like a big part of you is missing," Wells said. "And then you finally decide, 'OK, he's gone. I'm not going to find out. God doesn't want me to know.' And now, I have to change all that."

April 14, 1975, was the last time Woodard was seen in Lakeland. He was 19 years old, planning to travel to Texas with friends to buy marijuana. He had about $3,000 in his pockets.

"Diann told him this is not a good idea," said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. "He left with a fella. And we know who the fella is and the fella comes back and he didn't."

Woodard vanished without a trace. No one knew what happened or where he might be.

"We never close a missing person case or homicide case but this one had special interest because I personally knew the family," Judd said.

Year after year, Woodard's name appeared in newspaper headlines. His family offered reward money for answers. Sadly, his parents passed away before those answers came.

Forty years later, in 2015, the Polk County Sheriff's Office was reviewing missing persons cases. They decided to send DNA samples from Woodard's parents to the University of North Texas.
The lab confirmed it was a match with human remains found in 1977 in a wooded area of Marion County. It was a homicide case; the victim had been shot. But investigators were never able to identify who it was.

"It's amazing," Well said. "We could have found out two years later if we had the technology we have now, then."

The news brings closure.  But closure is sometimes bittersweet.

"I'm at a place now where whatever I find out, I'll find out," Well said. "And, whatever  I don't know or don't find out, it's OK."

"Will we solve it? Too early to tell," continued Judd. "Are we gonna try? Absolutely, we'll try. If the suspect's alive, still today, we want to hold him accountable."

Sheriff Judd said they're digging back into this case, having detectives work their way through the list of witnesses one more time, hoping that their responses, combined with this new information, will lead them to Woodard's killer.

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