DOBSON — A man arrested in the rape and murder of a 14-year old girl from Rural Hall had been questioned several times over the course of the nearly 40 year-investigation, law enforcement officials from the Surry County Sheriff’s Office said at a news conference on Wednesday.

Robert James Adkins, 62, of Dobson was arrested Friday on charges of raping and murdering Ronda Blaylock, whose body was found in Surry County on Aug. 29, 1980, three days after she and a friend voluntarily got into a truck for a ride.

Capt. Scott Hudson of the sheriff’s office declined to say how long Adkins had been a suspect and what led to his arrest on Friday.

“He was spoken to numerous times throughout the investigation,” he said.

The case has bedeviled law enforcement for decades, spanning five different sheriff administrations in Surry County. After the trail went cold in 1982, different sheriffs reopened the case in 2003, 2010 and 2013, exploring new leads before changing its status back to inactive, Sheriff Steve C. Hiatt said.

“Unfortunately, sometimes, we don’t get enough leads, we don’t discover enough evidence for an investigation to remain active,” Hiatt said.

In 2015, then-Sheriff Graham Atkinson formed a task force to revisit the case and investigate new leads. That investigation ultimately led law enforcement to a quiet stretch of Fisher Valley Road where Adkins has lived for several years.

“He was surprised we had shown up,” Hudson said of Adkins, who is now in custody at the Surry County Jail.

Hiatt and Hudson provided few specifics of the investigation. No new piece of information led to Adkins, Hudson said.

“It was the totality of the whole investigation,” he said, noting the hundreds of interviews, evidence from 1980 and forensic results that pointed to Adkins.

The trail took investigators to Ohio and Myrtle Beach to interview witnesses.

“These investigators developed a possible person of interest,” Hudson said. “And that person would later be identified as Robert James Adkins.”

Made up of the State Bureau of Investigation, the sheriffs offices in Surry, Stokes and Forsyth counties, and the S.C. Law Enforcement Division, the task force sorted through reams of material and re-interviewed everyone still living that was interviewed in 1980, Hudson said.

“We pretty much started the case back over and tried to get a point of view and information as well as new witnesses,” he said.

Hiatt and Hudson praised the team of investigators for their diligence through the years.

“No case that any law enforcement agency gets is closed; they are always reviewed, always looked into. Sometimes, it takes different eyes to look at it,” Hudson said.

Adkins has lived on Fisher Valley Road in Dobson for several years. Before that, he lived in Carolina Beach, on Baux Mountain Road in Winston-Salem and in Stokes County. In the 1980s, he was on probation two different times for driving while under the influence, according to the N.C. Department of Public Safety.

Over the years, police had released little information about the case.

A ninth-grade student at Atkins High School, Blaylock and a friend had voluntarily gotten into a truck driven by a man who called himself Jimmy on Aug. 26, 1980.

Jimmy told the girls that everyone called him “Butch.” He was described as a man in either his late teens or early 20s. He was tall, weighed about 165 pounds and had straight brownish hair feathered on the side and light facial hair. He listened to rock stations, smoked cigarettes and drove a 1970s model truck that witnesses said was immaculate.

The word “Chevrolet” was on the steering wheel, authorities have said.

He dropped off Blaylock’s friend and left with Blaylock in the passenger seat.

Her parents, Charles and Lynne Blaylock, reported their daughter missing on the same day. Her partially clothed body was found in the woods off Secrest Loop Road in Surry County, a few yards from the Stokes County line and 18 miles from where she was last seen in Rural Hall. A medical examiner said she died from multiple stab wounds.

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