ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC)- A man serving life behind bars for the brutal kidnapping, rape, and murder of an Abilene elementary school girl in the 1970s has died in prison.

The Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirms James Duke Creel died in-custody Friday after battling a long-term illness. He was 83-years-old.

Creel first became a TDCJ prisoner in May 1973, when he began serving his life sentence for the murder of 10-year-old Tona Worthington in 1971.

Court documents filed in the case say Tona went missing from Reagan Elementary School March 15, 1971, and her body was found stuffed into a culvert the next day, with evidence she had been raped and strangled to death.

Investigators identified Creel as a suspect after multiple children and adults reported seeing him driving his unique-looking red Volo around campus, talking to students around the time of Tona’s disappearance.

Creel repeatedly faced the possibility of parole or early release but the request was always denied due to extensive petitioning by the friends and family of Tona.