DNA testing has determined that a man who died more than five years ago killed and sexually assaulted two young Decatur girls on Halloween night in 1984, police said Wednesday.

Genetic material taken from 12-year-old Sherry Gordon's pants matched a sample from Melvin Johnson that was held in a national database, Decatur Deputy Police Chief Todd Walker said at a news conference. Johnson died of stomach cancer in Texas in October 2003, he said.

The strangling deaths of Sherry and her 9-year-old cousin, Theresa Hall, haunted the community for more than two decades, and police never gave up trying to solve the crime, Walker said.

"This community has some closure and the scar that we've had for the last 24 years can now start to heal," he said.

Johnson had a history of crimes against children, Walker said.

He was convicted in 1978 of taking indecent liberties with a child and sentenced to six years in prison. He was out of prison and living in Decatur when the girls were killed, Walker said.

Theresa and Sherry were last seen by their parents around 8 p.m. on Oct. 31, 1984, before the girls went trick or treating with Theresa's sister, 7-year-old Patricia Hall.

Construction workers found the girls' bodies two days later in a vacant apartment at the public housing project where Johnson lived. Patricia was alive and in a closet, while the other girls had been strangled, one with a piece of clothing and the other with an electrical cord.

There was no DNA testing in 1984, but Walker said samples taken from the girls and their clothes were preserved and, last summer, matched with Johnson's DNA by the Illinois State Police Laboratory.