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UNSOLVED: The 1987 murder of Melissa Ellison

In 1987, Melissa "Missy" Ellison was found beaten to death with a charred log from the fireplace in her home. Investigators don't believe this was a random attack. They believe someone she knew murdered her more than 30 years ago.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The grief of losing a loved one so violently is something that continually ripples through the lives of family members.

"I know it was 31 years ago, but at the same time, it feels like it was 31 minutes ago," tells Sissy Bennett.

Melissa Ellison, called Missy, was just 20-years-old. She was a bubbly and happy young mother who loved music by her favorite artist, Prince. Her younger sisters, Sissy Bennett and Glenda Blandford say Missy saw the good in people.  

They remember how Missy had worked so hard on her daughter Casie's first birthday. 

"It is tough looking back on all those memories," Bennett said.

"Little did we know that would be the only birthday party she had," Blandford said.

It was Dec. 28, 1987. Missy was living in mobile home off Coljean Road in Taylor's Trailer Park, which was owned by her parents. She had recently separated from her husband and had invited a friend and the friend's boyfriend to move in with her to help with the bills.  

Around 11:30 p.m., Missy spoke to her mother on the phone. According to old newspaper reports about the murder, Missy told her mother she was scared, but she wouldn't say why. 

By 4 a.m., Missy was found dead. She was beaten to death with a charred log taken from the fireplace, which was then left by the front door. 

Detective Glenn Warkentien with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Cold Case Unit is investigating Missy's case. He says Missy's roommate told officers she woke up because she heard Missy's baby, Casie, crying.

"She [the roommate] gets up out of her room goes in and finds the baby on the couch in the living room," Warkentien said. "So she takes care of the baby, feeds the baby and falls asleep on the couch. Then woke up to some noise, like a slamming of door or something like that, and she goes back and find Mrs. Ellison in the bedroom."

Why was little Casie on the couch? Whose vehicle had left tire tracks outside the home? There were so many questions investigators worked to find answers to.

There is another strange thing stands out to Missy's family. They say when they were asked to look at the scene and see if anything was out of place, they noticed two pictures from her mantle were missing. Both were pictures of Missy at the beach. Warkentien says its unclear what happened to the pictures, if they were taken by her killer or if they were taken by an investigator back in 1987. 

Maybe the biggest clue of all was a 911 call. Newspaper reports say a man called and referred to Missy's murder and said "I'm sorry… I had to do it." 

"To know somebody just deliberately planned to go into her home in the middle of the night and do what they did to her, is the hardest thing to ever understand," Blandford said.

It left 13-month-old Casie to grow up without her mother. Now 32 years old and a mother herself, Casie says it is hard to hear about her mother because she never got the chance to know her.

"Because her place wasn't to be taken, she wasn't meant to leave that early," she said. "Because obviously she was meant to make an impact on this world and that is why I am making an impact in her place."

Casie says she is trying to represent her mother's memory as best she can.

"You didn't kill her, she is not dead," she said. "Her essence is still very much alive. It wasn't meant to go as early as it did, especially the way it was taken."

For her, she says justice can never be served, but she wants closure. She wants to know who killed her mother and why.

Warkentien says no one has ever been arrested for Missy's murder, but his gut feeling is that this was not a random attack. He thinks it was someone that knew her, which means there is likely someone that knows more than what they told police 31 years ago.

"There's got to be someone out there that saw something or heard something throughout the years," he said. "Like I said, this happened in 1987. Throughout the years, someone might have said something about what they heard. Call us and let us follow up on that."

That's all Missy's sisters and Casie want as well. No matter how small a piece of information may seem, they want someone to come forward to police.

"It could be the missing puzzle piece we need to break this case and make sure that she rests in peace," Casie said. "We just want the peace and closure for our family and she deserves it. She deserves to rest in peace."

If you know anything about the death of Missy Ellison, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office 904-630-0500 or Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS. There is a reward of up to $3,000 for information in this case.   For a look at the Project: Cold Case database, click here.