(WBIR-Knox County) A decades-old cold case is one giant step closer to being solved after detectives with the Knox County Sheriff's Office Cold Case Unit identified persons of interest in a 1982 homicide, the same year Knoxville hosted the World's Fair.
Howard Hardin, who went by "Babe", was 32-years-old when he disappeared in 1981.
His body was discovered in January of 1982 in a wooded area in East Knox County off Arnold Lane, in the Mascot area.
"Obviously, in 30 years, nobody had come forward," said Amy Dobbs, with the Cold Case Unit.
Dobbs sent dental and skeletal records to the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. in January of 2013. Lab techs generated a regressed picture of what Hardin would have looked like as a younger teenager.
"The media put out that picture and that's when the family recognized him. Before that, he was an unidentified man," said Dobbs. "They are very happy over the identification, to know know that he didn't just walk away and leave them. However they are sad by what happened to him."
Dobbs was shot in the back of the head, execution style.
Now, with a positive identity of the victim, and new information in the books, Dobbs said KCSO has at least one person of interest in the case.
Hardin lived with his girlfriend of the time, Linda Cole, on Linden Avenue, behind the Pizza Palace on Magnolia Avenue. Dobbs asked anyone who knew Cole's friends or associates to contact the Cold Case Unit.
"We feel the persons of interest would have had a sense of knowledge of, and frequented, the Magnolia area. They also would have had a sense of knowledge of Arnold Lane," said Dobbs.
Arnold Lane was the only entrance at the time to the wooded area where Hardin's body was discovered.
"They would have had been able to navigate through the wooded area and make it back to a car or vehicle without getting lost."
Dobbs identified the two areas as key to the investigation, along with new evidence.
"We do have his clothing. We've sent it off to a private lab. We are testing it for DNA to see if it matches the persons of interest."
She said it's extremely rare to make huge strides in a cold case this dated.
"It's amazing that we have any leads," said Dobbs. "After 32 years people are deceased, people's memories are not always the best, and to have key people involved in it is extremely important."
Dobbs said she hopes anyone with information comes forward, since any information could have a huge impact on the case. She can be reached at 865-215-3705, which is a direct line to the Cold Case Unit, or at 865-215-2243, which is the general number for the KCSO.
"As long as it's an open investigation, it's our job to try and bring closure to the case for the family."