JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Sherry Ross had just picked up her six-year-old daughter from kindergarten.
Young Graylyn wasn’t happy that her mom said she needed to help clean the house, so when they got home, Graylyn was sent to her room.
That punishment may have saved her life, because not long after, a stranger arrived.
Decades later, memories are what Graylyn Yantes holds onto when she thinks of her mother. Loving memories, like riding in their Corvette with the music blasting.
"This one song by Sinead O Connor, 'Nothing Compares to You' that’s like our song," tells Graylyn.
She and her mom were inseparable, but then came May 8, 1991.
Graylyn was in her room at their Thomas Street home in the Lackawanna neighborhood when she suddenly heard a man with a foreign accent yelling at her mother.
"He said, is there anyone else in the house and I remember her clearly saying no, just me. I remember him saying give me all your money and gold and pretty much after that I just remember screams," describes Graylyn.
At first, Graylyn hid under the bed, but then crawled into the nearby closet and closed the door, paralyzed by fear. When the screams finally stopped, she came out looking for her mother.
"I basically just followed the blood which went directly to my mom’s room and I found her halfway on the bed, half on and half off," tells Graylyn. "I remember seeing her face and trying to shake her and wake her up, I was like 'mom he’s gone, get up, get up' and she wasn’t moving."
She was dead, stabbed to death by a knife from her own kitchen. The attacker gone.
But Graylyn wasn't the only possible witness.
Investigators with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office interviewed a neighbor who said she saw a man near the house around the same time Ross and Graylyn got home. A composite sketch was put together in 1991 and the man was described the following way:
- White or Hispanic Male, possibly in his 20s
- Five feet and eight inches tall, around 135 pounds with no facial hair and shoulder-length hair
- Tan or olive complexion
Detective Ray Reeves with the Cold Case Unit at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office says it appears to be a robbery that went bad.
Graylyn says the man never used her mother’s name, so she doesn’t think he knew the family. Blood and fingerprints were found at the scene, and with new genetic genealogy, the cold case team is re-examining this case to uncover Ross’ murderer.
"Someone who would do this in broad daylight and the middle of the day in a house, there is no telling what they were capable of," tells Det. Reeves.
Though the decades have been difficult without her mother, Graylyn says she won’t stop searching for the killer.
"It is my job as her daughter to keep pushing forward and keep getting answers and asking the questions," tells Graylyn.
Det. Reeves says with the suspect in his 20s in 1991, there's a good chance he is still alive.
"We are hoping that putting this out with you all and with the community, somebody will remember back to this day and this time," tells Det. Reeves. "Somebody may have said something, talked about it, maybe they were out on Thomas Street and maybe they talked to investigators. It may be something that seems trivial, but it could be what we need to solve this case."
Giving Graylyn the chance to form a new memory. The day she got justice for her mother.
If you lived on Thomas Street in May 1991 and saw something or have any information about the murder of Sherry Ross, please contact the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office cold case team at 904-630-1157 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS (8477).
For more resources on cold cases or to search the Project: Cold Case database, visit www.ProjectColdCase.org