BEHIND THE SUSPECT: From church counselor to accused murderer

"This is a reminder that justice has no expiration date." - State Attorney Melissa Nelson after the arrest of Ronnie Hyde, the man accused of murdering 16-year-old Fred Laster in 1994.

THE CRIME

A TORSO DISCOVERED IN LAKE CITY

On June 5, 1994, a passerby came across a dumpster at the BP Gas Station on the north side of Interstate 10 and U.S. 441 in Lake City. Behind it, she found a bloodless torso.

The Columbia County Sheriff's Office believed the torso had been in a black garbage bag found inside the dumpster. They thought the torso had perhaps been too heavy to toss inside the dumpster, and slid out of the bag before someone simply dragged it around the back of the container.

Other items found at the scene: A blood-soaked mattress cover believed to have been used in a bathtub while the suspect dismembered his victim, kitchen knives, blood-stained latex gloves and a red flannel shirt.

The body had been decapitated. It was missing hands, legs and buttocks. Investigators said it was clean, as if it had been washed. At the time, the body could not be positively identified.

In 1994, 16-year-old Fred Laster from Nassau County disappeared. His family tried to report him missing with two different law enforcement agencies, according to a summary of a missing person investigation from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. They tried reporting his disappearance in Nassau County where they lived and in Duval County where they believed he had been.

A 2017 warrant noted that they "were unable to report him missing" in 1994. However, a second attempt in January 2015 was successful - to a point. JSO compiled a missing person report, however, it does not appear they followed-up on the family's one lead: They believed Laster was with his youth pastor, Ronnie Hyde. "There is no indication of any law enforcement contact with Hyde regarding [Laster]," the 2017 warrant stated.

Laster was considered missing until 2015 when a family member spotted a flyer from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children about an unsolved Lake City murder. A DNA test was conducted February 2015 with Laster's twin sister, confirming that the torso was his. Authorities received a tip that Hyde may have been involved. They gathered Hyde's trash and they were able to tie his DNA to the flannel shirt found with Laster's torso back in 1994.

On March 7, the FBI executed a search warrant and secured Hyde's two properties: A residence in Jacksonville Beach and one on Thelma Street just minutes from downtown Jacksonville.

Authorities arrested him that day and charged him with the 1994 murder.

READ MORE: Jax Beach man arrested for dismemberment, murder of 16-year-old boy in 1994

Team coverage. 3/7/2017

In the search warrant, Laster's sister said the two met Hyde when he was working as a youth pastor at Strength for Living Church in Jacksonville. She told detectives that she and her brother stayed over at Hyde's Jacksonville Beach home and that her brother played in a church band together with Hyde. Documents also reveal that Laster's family suspected Hyde as the likely suspect for he was the last person Laster had seen.

Laster's family declined to comment, but released the following statement:

"Although some extended family has chosen to make statements to the media, we, his father and siblings, decline to be interviewed at this time."

READ MORE: 'Cold Case' family suspected accused killer 22 years ago

A MYSTERIOUS MAN

TO NEIGHBORS, HYDE WAS DISTANT, SILENT, ALOOF

Families who live around Hyde's Jacksonville Beach property say they rarely saw him outside. When they did see him, he would usually keep to himself, but occasionally offer a friendly wave to neighbors.

"He walks his dogs and that was basically the only time I'd see him," said Brian Heafer, Hyde's neighbor.

To his neighbors, he was distant, silent, aloof; an all around mystery man inside a mystery home. What was known about him, however, was that he was a licensed mental health counselor and he claimed he was a Christian counselor at the Crosswater Community Church in Ponte Vedra.

First Coast News reached out to the church and Pastor Millwood stressed he was not a paid staff member. He could not clarify what Hyde did there.

"I personally am not aware of any victims of Ron Hyde that involve anyone associated with Crosswater Community Church," Pastor Millwood said.

Despite Hyde's list of community involvement, no one in the community seemed to know him.

INTO THE PSYCHE OF RONNIE HYDE

PSYCHOLOGIST TALKS HYDE'S FACEBOOK POSTS

New details in background of murder suspect Ron Hyde

From his church involvement to social media posts, several experts have been trying to understand Hyde's pattern of behavior.

A local psychologist looking into his psyche believes he may have been a counselor to connect with people who are vulnerable.

"Being able to detect what someone else needs and capitalize on that... that's when they can manipulate," said Dr. Tracy Alloway, a University of North Florida psychologist and researcher.

On Hyde's Facebook page, we found posts about "feeling grateful" working as a Christian counselor. Posts against child abuse, domestic violence and suicide dominate his feed.

"For him, Facebook may present an avenue for him to present his ideal self; the self he'd like to be," Alloway said.

READ MORE: Psychologist looks into psyche of man accused of dismembering teen

At one point, the mother of Shelby Farah, the Metro PCS worker who was shot to death during a robbery in 2013, said Hyde had contacted her on Facebook.

"Hyde was telling me he was sorry for my loss in some of the messages, but he kept insisting on meeting us," Darlene Farah said. "He was like, I can help you with your son... It makes me feel like he was trying to target us."

READ MORE: Mother of slain Metro PCS employee says she was contacted by Ronnie Hyde

"We can't take this minority report perspective where anyone who fits this mold is going to commit a crime, because that's not the case at all," Alloway added.

Alloway believes the FBI is checking his Facebook  to look for patterns.

A "POWER KILLER?"

FORMER FBI AGENT WEIGHS IN ON THE KILLING

Shelby Danielsen reports. 3/10/2017

On Friday, March 10, the FBI search at Hyde's property concluded -- 22 years after Laster's body was found dismembered in a Lake City dumpster.

To former Jacksonville Beach FBI agent, Dr. Ellen Glasser, who is also a current UNF criminology professor, this killing strikes her as odd.

"The way the body was disposed of, or dumped, the fact that it was left as a torso, but it wasn't really concealed, people found it... It's good for police that bad guys make mistakes," Glasser said.

But why was Laster's body dismembered after his death? Glasser said there's no telling what goes through a killer's mind.

"Typically killings like this fall in a category of being a power killer, where the killer is trying to exert control over his victim," she noted.

READ MORE: Former FBI agent weighs in on the 1994 killing of Nassau County teen

MAKING A STRONG CONNECTION

HOW DNA EVIDENCE COULD IMPACT THE CASE

While it's been more than two decades since Laster's death, investigators working the case now have a critical advantage: DNA.

In 2016, Hyde's DNA was matched with the DNA found on a flannel shirt in the dumpster Laster's torso was disposed of.

"Once they tested his DNA, you have a really strong connection," said Dr. Ellen Glasser, former Jacksonville Beach FBI agent and current UNF criminology professor.

"DNA technology has advanced so much that back in 1994, it wasn't something that was used a lot, even though it was very compelling evidence, it wasn't used lot," Glasser said. "Nowadays, we can go back and look at closed cases and look at DNA and solve cases that we didn't even dream of being able to solve back then."

Glasser said this is the beginning of the case. The FBI will bring a lot more evidence to help shed light on what happened 22 years ago.

"There is a lot left to be done," she said. A connection has been made, now authorities are going to try and strengthen that connection, she added.

Hyde remains at the Duval County Jail on no bond and he's facing murder charges. At this time, the FBI is asking for the community to come forward if they know any information about Hyde.

READ MORE: Ron Hyde's first court appearance: Former client said he is a "different person"

READ MORE: Code enforcement pursuing case against 1994 cold case murder suspect's unstable home

 

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