JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – On Friday evening, the FBI search at Ronnie Hyde’s property concluded. He remains in the Duval County Jail on a murder charge for the death of 16-year-old Fred Laster whose remains were discovered in 1994.
The cold case only came back to life when the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children posted the unsolved case to their website. A family member of the victim noticed it, then contacted the Columbia county sheriff’s office.
It’s the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office that set new eyes on this case and requested the search warrant. One of their investigators details the disturbing findings of Laster’s body in the search warrant:
According to the report:
- A human torso was found lying behind the dumpster where a blood stain made it look like it fell out.
- Blood stained plastic bags were found in front of the dumpster.
- A blood stained flannel shirt was also recovered.
- In a plastic bag that was found inside the dumpster, investigators found parts of a blood soaked mattress topper, knives, orange kitchen gloves turned inside out and remnants of hair and bone tissue.
- In 2015, the DNA from Fred Laster’s twin sister confirmed the body was his.
- In 2016, the DNA from Ronnie Hyde was matched with the DNA on the flannel shirt in the same dumpster.
One of the biggest questions in the case remains: Why did it take 22 years to connect the dots?
Former Jacksonville Beach FBI Agent and current UNF criminology professor, Dr. Ellen Glasser, says it’s easy to criticize in hindsight. She specialized in cold case homicides.
“I’m not going to say they missed it, you get a lot of leads and you have to determine which ones you’re going to attach priority to,” Glasser said.
According to the victim’s sister, the last person Laster was with was Ronnie Hyde, but law enforcement never questioned him.
“I’m hesitant to be critical of the officers who worked the crime at the time just because I’ve worked a lot of runaway cases too because often times these kids will leave and come back later" she said.
While it’s been more than two decades, investigators working the case now do have a crucial advantage: DNA.
“Once they tested his DNA, you have a really strong connection, a really strong connection,” Glasser said.
She says it could make or break the case and possibly break others too.
“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 a lot. 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" she said.
Glasser says there are aspects of this killing that strike 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," she said.
She says there was a clear trail of evidence left behind.
“The knives are great evidence because in terms of doing forensic analysis to determine whether those tools were used in the killing or in other cases, that enables investigators to put the puzzle together" Glasser added.
Why was Laster’s body dismembered after his death? Where are the other parts? Glasser says there is no telling what goes through a killer’s mind.
“Typically killings like this typically fall in a category of being a power killer, where the killer is trying to exert control over his victim," she noted.
She says this is just the beginning of this case. The FBI raid will bring in a lot of evidence that will shed light on what occurred 22 years ago. She says they already have a lot of evidence to go on, but they are searching for any other cold cases that may also be involved too.
“What I understand is that they were able to make a connection between the victim and the suspect and that is a super powerful connection, that is just part of the investigation," she said. "There is a lot left to be done, but by making that connection that is a huge step.”
Glasser says it’s not a matter of proof beyond a reasonable doubt at this point. The case is not there yet, but a connection has been made, and she says that’s what investigators are trying to compile here now: evidence to try and strengthen that connection.
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