Steven Andrew Watts, 53, was arrested Monday at his home near Osage on a warrant for first degree murder, according to a press release issued by the Carroll County Sheriff's Office.
Lee County, Ill. Sheriff John Varga said Watts was a suspect in the murder of Gary Dawson, whose body was found on Aug. 28, 1983, in a basement where hogs were kept in rural Franklin Grove, Ill. Varga said Dawson, 30 at the time, had died from blunt force trauma to the head.
The Dixon Telegraph reported Tuesday that Dawson had tape around his wrists, mouth and nose and scratches and cuts on his body.
According to the paper, officials determined he had been suffocated and beaten "by more than one person."
Dawson's family had reported him missing the prior day, when he was last seen working on his motorcycle in his garage.
A $100,000 warrant for obstructing justice was issued for Watts later that month, the paper reported.
Then-Sheriff Raymond Nehring declined to say whether Watts was a suspect, saying only that he had "valuable information" related to the murder.
Both Dawson and Watts were members of the same motorcycle club in Peoria, Ill., the Telegraph reported.
Watts was arrested, but never prosecuted.
Varga said the case had been revived recently by detectives in Lee County's cold case unit, who developed new information that led them back to Watt's door.
Wilburn Watts said Wednesday that his son had lived in Carroll County since 1997. He moved to the area from California, after separating from his wife, and subsequently started raising chickens with his father.
The pair's business folded a couple years ago, Watts said, and since then his son's back problems had kept him from working much. He was living with his father and "trying to put things together" when the police came.
Watts said his son had three children, all of whom attended Alpena High School, and he was well-respected in the community.
"Nine-tenths of the farmers in the county know Steve," he said. "They like him. They don't know how this came about."
John Howerton, who sits on the Carroll County Quorum Court and the County Committee of the Farm Service Agency, said he had been acquainted with Watts through his farming business.
"He was a helpful sort," Howerton said, "... always fair and honest."
Lt. Ralph Gordon, of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office, assisted in Monday's arrest.
He said Det. David Glessner, of the Lee County Sheriff's Department, had interviewed Watts at the Carroll County Detention Center, where Gordon said he confessed to the crime.
Watts waived extradition and was taken back to Dixon, Ill. on Tuesday.
He is being held there on $5 million bond, according to the Lee County Sheriff's Office.
Varga said the investigation was still ongoing, with more arrests possible in coming days.