On Oct. 2, 1985, a 26-year-old Temple Hills woman was walking to a bus stop to ride to her D.C. government job when a man forced her into some woods, raped her, beat the back of her head, then cut her throat all the way to the spine.

The woman staggered to a nearby road and flagged down a motorist, who drove her to a convenience store and called 911. She pressed a palm to her wound.

She was determined to survive, and she did.

The horrific attack consumed Linda A. Dixon, a young Prince George's County police investigator. For months, Dixon checked leads, worked 20-hour days, seven days a week. The trail grew cold; other cases came along.

Dixon moved steadily up the career ladder, to sergeant, lieutenant, captain and finally major. She remained determined to find the Temple Hills attacker.

She did -- nearly two decades after the assault.

Dixon's persistence paid off last fall when the county police lab -- at her request -- checked DNA from the attacker against a statewide database of convicted felons. A match came up.

On May 27, Theodore R. Reed, 48, pleaded guilty in Prince George's Circuit Court to first-degree rape and attempted murder. Under the plea agreement, Reed is expected to be sentenced to 32 years in prison on July 22, prosecutors said.

"Outstanding police work," said State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey.

For Dixon, 49, the arrest and guilty plea were a satisfying coda to a brutal crime that burrowed itself deep into her psyche.

"It haunted me for years," said Dixon, director of the policy research, management and accreditation division and the highest-ranking woman in the department.

Dixon had said all along that if she ever solved the case, she would do a cartwheel. She was true to her word: After helping arrest Reed, "I did a cartwheel in front of the chief's office," she said.

According to Dixon, the victim was composed when she chose Reed's picture from a photo lineup but shook when she saw him in person as he pleaded guilty.

Through the state's attorney's office, the victim declined an interview request. The Washington Post generally does not identify victims of sexual assault.

When the crime occurred, Dixon was in her second year with the sexual assault unit. Policing is in her blood; her father retired as an assistant chief of the D.C. police department in 1986. Dixon joined the Prince George's police force in 1977 and had seen hundreds of victims of violent crime.

Still, the brutality of the attack on the Temple Hills woman shocked her and other officers, Dixon said.

Dixon described the reaction in a 31/2-page letter she wrote to Circuit Court Judge Graydon S. McKee III, who is scheduled to sentence Reed. The letter, in which Dixon urged McKee to mete out a severe sentence, marks the only time in her 28-year police career that Dixon has written to a judge.

"As the details of this heinous crime became known, the number of responding officers increased exponentially," Dixon wrote. "Within hours the number of officers who assisted in the investigation grew to over fifty."

Officers conducted roadblocks and took calls from thousands of tipsters. More than 150 possible suspects were looked at, Dixon said.

Months passed; leads dried up. Dixon said her supervisor was concerned that she was too involved in the Temple Hills case and assigned her to other investigations. Dixon moved on, but she copied the files on the Temple Hills attack, which filled two cardboard boxes.

Dixon carried the old files to each new assignment, kept in contact with the victim and periodically checked possible leads. The attack invaded her sleep; a little more than a year ago, she says, she awakened with a start, wondering whether she had run down a specific car tag number.

In late 2003, Dixon ran into an evidence technician who had worked on the Temple Hills case. The subject of DNA came up -- a tool not available in 1986. Dixon met with the victim in April 2004 and reopened the case. The county police lab ran a test on the rape evidence. In September, the lab came up with a hit: The attacker's DNA profile matched Reed's, which was in the statewide database.

Reed has spent the last 20 years in and out of incarceration. In Prince George's, he was convicted at least twice in the 1990s of trying to pass stolen checks. In Anne Arundel County, he pleaded guilty in the late 1990s to second-degree burglary and fourth-degree sex offense.

Last October, Dixon swore out a statement of charges against Reed. She joined a team of officers from the repeat offender unit when they arrested Reed at his Annapolis home Oct. 27.

Although she had not interviewed a suspect in a decade or so, Dixon interrogated Reed. A homicide detective joined her, because so many laws and rules have changed since Dixon was a detective.

Reed did not confess directly, but he did write a letter to the victim, saying: "I'm truely sorry for the pain I've put you through. . . . I am truely sorry for the misery in which you have endured."

Staff writer Eric Rich contributed to this report.

Maj. Linda A. Dixon of the Prince George's County police never gave up trying to find the man who raped and cut the throat of a Temple Hills woman in 1985.DNA led police to Theodore R. Reed, shown in 1985. He pleaded guilty.