MIDDLETOWN, N.Y. (PIX11) – An arrest has been made in the cold case killing of college student Megan McDonald, the 20-year-old daughter of a retired NYPD detective who was found bludgeoned to death on a dirt path in Wallkill in 2003, state police announced on Thursday.

Edward Holley, who’s been paralyzed from the waist down since a 2007 auto accident, was charged with second-degree murder in connection with McDonald’s death after an exhaustive investigation by New York State Police. He is now 42 years old.

“We have a clear motive in this case,” said Major Crimes Investigator Brad Natalizio, who worked tirelessly on the investigation. “This was an ‘intimate partner’ homicide.”

For his part, Holley spoke from his wheelchair as he was led out of the Troop F State Police Headquarters on his way to face a judge on Thursday afternoon.

“You know I’m not guilty,” he said, as about a dozen reporters and photographers stood by. “They’re parading me like I’m some freakin’ monkey here, but it’s all good,” he said.

Two young women who were with another woman who identified herself as Holley’s wife shouted at him, “We love you, Daddy,” as he was being led to the state trooper vehicle in custody.

“I’m definitely not guilty,” Holley said, before being taken away to court. “I loved Megan with all my heart.”

McDonald’s mother, sister, brothers and brother-in-law joined investigators from the State Police, FBI and local police departments at a news conference in front of headquarters, minutes after Holley was taken off to court.

“He is in jail where he belongs,” said Karen Whalen, McDonald’s sister. Holley had been in custody since 2021 on an unrelated charge, according to State Police investigators.

James Whalen, McDonald’s brother-in-law, spoke further about the family’s feelings toward Holley. He did not mince words.

“This is a vile human being,” he said at the news conference, “who’s been using every effort to keep his part in this heinous crime a secret for 20 years.”

In an interview, Natalizio, the investigator, told PIX11 News that solving the case was like “putting together a million pieces to a puzzle.” DNA and cyber evidence, along with new people coming forward, were critical to making the arrest, he said.

The criminal complaint against Holley showed that evidence against him kept mounting, which led to his arrest.

That evidence included statements by witnesses saying that they’d seen Holley’s distinctive purple Honda Civic hatchback “with a loud sound system,” for which Holley had a reputation, follow McDonald into Holley’s apartment complex in the early morning hours of March 14, 2003. It was the last time she was known to be alive.

The DNA and forensic evidence, according to the complaint, showed that Holley eventually moved into McDonald’s car the morning of her murder, along with an accomplice, who has since passed away. Holley was in the back seat of McDonald’s car at the time, investigators concluded, and from there bludgeoned her to death, while the accomplice sat in the passenger’s seat.

McDonald was a student at SUNY Orange – working her way through college – and had just started a new job at the American Cafe in the Galleria Mall in March 2003 when she was killed.

Her father, retired NYPD Detective Dennis McDonald, had died suddenly of a heart attack the year before her death. Dennis McDonald investigated the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993.

State police said their investigation revealed that Megan McDonald had been dating Holley, an alleged marijuana dealer, in early 2003 – and even loaned him money to help him buy a car. But the two had argued and broke up, authorities said. 

McDonald began dating someone new and police found a voicemail on her phone indicating Holley left her a message shortly before her death. The man on the message said he had driven by McDonald’s house and saw her new boyfriend’s car, officials said.

On the night McDonald was killed, she had finished work and went to visit friends. A witness police found in the last two years said a Honda Civic-style hatchback vehicle followed McDonald’s white Mercury Sable to a parking lot near Kensington Manor apartments. Two men got into McDonald’s car and drove away, authorities said.

McDonald’s killer hit her from behind as she sat in the driver’s seat of her car. Police said the killer was sitting in the back seat and hit her with a blunt object in a fit of rage.

McDonald’s body was dumped on a dirt path in a remote section of Wallkill. Holley lived close by, police said.

For many years, Holley was not a suspect and police extensively questioned another of McDonald’s ex-boyfriends. But that man was cleared of wrongdoing.

When Paul DiGiacaomo, president of the NYPD Detective’s Endowment Association, heard about the Orange County cold case in 2022, his group offered a $10,000 reward for information that would lead to an arrest and conviction. The FBI also offered a $10,000 reward.

“We put the full weight of the union behind the diligence of the New York State Police to ensure the arrest of Megan McDonald’s killer. Megan would have been 40 years old this year, but when her loved ones close their eyes they see a 20-year-old woman whose potential was limitless. Now, because of the relentless New York State Police investigators, Megan’s family can rest knowing justice was served,” DiGiacomo told PIX11 News in a statement on Thursday.

Megan McDonald’s sister, Karen, issued an additional statement through family attorney, John Beatty:

“Megan’s family would like to extend its heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to the men and women of the NYS Police for the arrest of the coward who killed our beloved Megan,” the sister said.

The statement continued, “While we understand that there are challenging days ahead, today’s arrest helps to begin to provide closure for our family. We want to thank the community for its continued support as we continue to seek Justice for Megan.”

The family attorney said he would be watching how the office of Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler handles the case.

“Our eyes are now on the District Attorney, and we expect the same level of maximum effort and integrity as has been shown by the state police, the NYPD Detective’s Endowment Association, and other law enforcement officials,” John Beatty said.