The dismembered torso at the center of a two-decade-old missing person case itself went missing, possibly for years.
Nearly half of Fred Laster’s skeletal remains were misplaced by the local Medical Examiner’s Office, according to documents made available by the State Attorney’s Office.
That information is just the latest revelation in the thousands of pages of investigative reports released in the first-degree murder case against Ronnie Hyde. A former youth pastor and counselor, Hyde has been in the Duval County Jail since March 2017, charged with killing and dismembering 16-year-old Laster in 1994. Hyde is also charged with a dozen counts of child pornography. He has pleaded not guilty.
Laster’s headless, handless, legless torso was discovered next to a gas station dumpster in Lake City on June 5, 1994. The identity of the remains was unknown until 2015, when cold case detectives and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children jointly connected DNA dots and identified the body. Hyde was arrested after DNA found with the body was linked to him.
Because the case stretches across two decades and through Hyde’s two hoarder-style homes in Jacksonville, a mountain of evidence has been collected. All of it must be cataloged and disclosed to Hyde’s defense team as part of the discovery process, at which point it becomes public record.
First Coast News has continued to dig through the material since it became available Friday evening.
As we first reported Saturday, the documents include several surprising bits of information, including the fact that Hyde was a foster dad to Laster and his two siblings – all three of whom were listed dependents in Hyde’s IRS filings. We also previously reported that Hyde, an apparently devoted nudist, worked at a teen nudist camp in Central Florida. According to sworn statements, he spoke to campers about protecting themselves from pedophiles.
Our ongoing review of the document dump revealed several new pieces of information:
- When investigators went to pull his remains from the Office of the Medical Examiner in Jacksonville for fresh review in 2016, significant “portions of the child victim were missing.” The missing parts included all of his ribs and most of his right side and much of his spine. A search of the Medical Examiner’s Office turned up nothing. The bones were found about a month later in a bag labeled “Unknown.” There is no explanation in the file about what happened to the bones. First Coast News contacted Medical Examiner Dr. Valerie Rao, but she said she was “too busy” to answer questions.
- Paul Laster’s original missing person alert was canceled in 1998. According to an investigative summary of the case, the missing person report was purged from the National Crime Information Center Database, or NCIC. This means that not only was the case “cold,” it was essentially invisible to investigators.
- Investigators weighed whether to designate Hyde a serial killer, but decided against it for lack of evidence. Family members of the alleged victim told police another teen known to hang with Hyde also went “missing.” (That teen is not identified in the reports.) And the Columbia County Sheriff supported the serial killer designation, noting that Laster’s “dismemberment was carried out in a manner that indicates either skill or experience on the part of the suspect.” The Sheriff also noted that Hyde had abundant access to at-risk youth through his counseling work. However, investigators said because only one victim has been linked to Hyde, he does not meet the statutory definition for a serial killer, known as a 306 classification. That designation allows for greater agency resources to investigate and prosecute a case
- At least two inmates Hyde counseled at Florida State Prison tell investigators that Hyde engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior with them in their private sessions. One says he was raped by Hyde when he was a teen at a home for troubled youth, and re-victimized as an adult in prison. The other says Hyde covertly masturbated during their counseling sessions.
Hyde was initially named by family members as a suspect in Laster’s disappearance but was never questioned by police. That fact seemed in keeping with a certain lack of urgency that seemed to dog the initial investigation.
According to police reports and FBI documents, the family attempted to report Laster missing in June 1994, in both Nassau County, where the family lived, and in Duval County. However, they “were unable to report him missing,” according to the current investigative summary. “There is no record of their contact with law enforcement in July 1994.”
The family went back to police in February 1995, and a missing person report was generated. But Hyde was never interviewed or contacted by detectives.
Hyde isn’t due back in court until August. No trial date has been set.