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Skeletal remains identified as missing man from 2001

1:01 PM, Aug 22, 2012   |    comments
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ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- Skeletal remains found earlier this year near McCullough Creek in Southwest St. Johns County have been tentatively identified as those of a man missing since December 2001.

The remains have been identified pending further DNA testing as Leigh Hobart Abel Jr., according to a news release from St. Johns County Sheriff's Office Media Relations Officer Kevin Kelshaw. Abel was 78 at the time of his disappearance on December 20, 2001.

Kelshaw said foul play is suspected in Abel's death and it is believed to be a homicide.

SLIDESHOW: SJSO Releases Photos of Items Found Near Skeletal Remains

In 1989, Abel and his wife of 56 years Margaret moved to Orange City, Florida.

The day Abel was reported missing, he went fishing at the Canaveral National Seashore Park, a place he frequented many times before, Kelshaw said.

Abel never returned from the fishing trip and no sign of him surfaced until a year after his disappearance when his 1999 GMC Suburban was found in Boca Raton.

When authorities got to the abandoned SUV, there was no evidence left for them to collect, Kelshaw said.

When he disappeared, Abel was wearing a blue sweatshirt, blue shorts, a yellow gold colored wedding band, dentures and a tan polo shirt. The clothing description matches the clothing located with the remains found in St. Johns County.

Also found with the remains, Kelshaw said, was a GMC ignition key.

Detectives located Abel's SUV in Miami Gardens earlier in 2012 and used the key that was found to successfully start the vehicle, Kelshaw said.

Kelshaw said based on the clothing match and the vehicle key match, the remains have been tentatively identified as being Abel.

Abel was a World War II veteran. Prior to living in Florida, he and his wife lived in New York, Michigan and Wisconsin. Abel's wife passed away in October of last year and a daughter died in July 2011.  Another daughter currently lives in Edmore, Michigan.

Detectives with the Robbery/Homicide Division at the SJSO are looking for two people who may have information about Abel's disappearance. Witnesses have told police they observed a male subject near the victim before he vanished, Kelshaw said.

The man is described as a clean-shaven Caucasian male in his twenties. A composite sketch of the man can be viewed in the photo gallery associated with this story. The man has never been identified.

Kelshaw said another lead in Abel's disappearance comes from a tip to the Volusia County Crime Stoppers hotline. The tip came in 2003 in response to flyers distributed near where Abel's vehicle was found after his disappearance.

The tip, Kelshaw said, was that a white male known as "Ziggy" has information regarding the investigation. The tipster also said "Ziggy" lived in a second floor apartment in Ft. Lauderdale by himself.  "Ziggy" has been described as being 5'10" tall, medium build, short brown hair and brown eyes.  Neither the tipster nor "Ziggy" have been identified.

Anyone with information concerning the disappearance of Leigh Abel is asked to call Detective Eugene Tolbert with the St. Johns County Sheriff's office at 904-209-3985.

To remain anonymous, and potentially receive a cash reward, you may contact Crime Stoppers of N.E. Florida at 1-888-277-TIPS.

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