COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — A 68-year-old man convicted of killing two women three decades ago, one of whom he raped, will serve a life sentence in prison without parole eligibility for 45 years, a Franklin County judge ruled Wednesday morning.

In July, a jury found Robert Edwards guilty of murdering Alma Lake, who was 30 when she died, in 1991 and then in 1996, murdering Michelle Dawson, who was 36 when she died.

Two bystanders found Lake’s body in June 1991 in the grassy area near the intersection of two streets in Urbancrest. Years later, Dawson’s body was found in a remote Granville area, after she had last been seen walking to a friend’s house in Franklin County.

The case turned cold, as Edwards “evaded law enforcement” for more than two dozen years, according to Attorney General Dave Yost.

“At the end of the day, there is no such thing as a cold case — just a case that we haven’t found the next lead,” Yost said in a news release following the sentencing.  

In 2020, DNA technology advances connected the cases after building a profile of a possible perpetrator in Lake’s case. That led investigators to someone within Edwards’ family, said Rick Minerd, chief of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office’s criminal investigations division. 

After investigators narrowed in on Edwards, Minerd said they were able to collect his DNA off an item he threw away in a trashcan outdoors — which could have been anything from a disposable fork to a plastic straw.

“We rushed that to BCI, and lo and behold, it matched,” Minerd said.

Then, they had to confirm that it matched with an actual mouth swab, which they were able to do once he was in custody. Authorities arrested Edwards one year before his sentencing, on Aug. 9, 2022. He faced aggravated murder, murder, and rape charges, and was later found guilty on all but one count of aggravated murder, according to court records.

Investigating death is the most challenging role for law enforcement officers, Minerd said. The cases don’t go away, he believes, until a family is brought closure.

“Today, when that sentence is handed out, and you know that you had some contribution to that, is by far the most rewarding and most fulfilling thing you can do in law enforcement,” Minerd said. “All of these crimes, although he thought he got away with it, for 30 years.”

The division is already thinking about other cold cases in their rolodex, he said, which may suddenly feel less cold if they are able to be reexamined with the newest forms of technology.