By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
Carol Lynn Sullivan moved quietly to Osteen from Longwood in July 1978. Then she mysteriously disappeared from her school-bus stop about two months later. Carol Lynn was a small girl, an inch shy of five feet tall. The Deltona Junior High eighth grader was only 80 pounds and she hadn't had much time to make friends at her new school.
As the 34th anniversary of her disappearance on Sept. 20, 1978, passed, Volusia County Sheriff's Investigator Chuck Lee, was still working on Carol Lynn's case. One of several for which he and volunteers have been putting information about on the Internet.
In Carol Lynn's case, it's a murder he's investigating, not a missing person.
The grisly discovery of a skull in a rusted paint can about three miles from Carol Lynn's home crushed hopes that she was alive. That was on Oct. 2, 1978, less than a month after the girl's disappearance. At the time, it didn't seem the skull could be Carol Lynn's. But, on Nov. 9, 1978, area newspapers reported then Volusia County Sheriff Ed Duff announced it was.
Investigator Lee doesn't care that 34 years have passed. He has an 8 by 10 photograph of Carol Lynn's skull - probably the last picture of the young girl. Her empty sockets look forward demanding justice.
"Any time a human life is taken off this earth, it's a tragedy to every family member and friend they had," he said.
Investigator Lee works in a time warp, in a world where people had never heard of smart phones, or the Internet. It's a world where folks listened to records or cassette players, and cops knew nothing about getting DNA samples. He's the Sheriff's Office's new fulltime cold case investigator, and spends his days going behind a heavy wooden door into a large storage room at the back of another storage room. There's one key in the world to open that door and he keeps it close to his chest.
Inside that special evidence room, behind a plastic shroud, are shelves of mostly uniform cardboard boxes. Inside them are the results of investigations that haven't ended in prosecutions - yet. Before Investigator Lee, so-called cold cases easily slid to the background as new murders that required thousands of investigators' hours came up. In March, Sgt. Patrick Thoman, major case supervisor, asked Investigator Lee to dive into the about 40 unsolved missing persons and murder cases.
"Historically these cases get pushed aside," the sergeant said. "We've assigned one investigator. His primary assignment is to work cold cases."
Investigator Lee gets the help of two volunteers. Both are retired Volusia County Sheriff's investigators. Sgt. Thoman said one worked Carol Lynn's case back in the '70s.
The sergeant has his own experience with an unsolved murder. He was one of the first two deputies to see Laralee Spear after her murder on April 25, 1994
When the 15-year-old DeLand High student got off the school bus that Monday afternoon, she joined the sad union of youthful murder victims whose killers have gone unprosecuted. When she didn't get home at her usual time, Laralee's mother, Barbara Spear, quickly called 911. Deputies found her daughter about 90 minutes after the call. Her bullet-riddled body was heart-wrenchingly close to home.
The killing rocked Volusia County. Laralee's murder epitomized random and senseless crime. By all accounts, Laralee was a kindly and popular girl. She didn't use drugs or alcohol. She wasn't a runaway. Laralee wasn't rebellious. She studied hard and sang at church. Laralee was the all-American girl who had watched "The Sound of Music" with her sister, Virginia, the day before she was killed.
The quick find of the crime scene seemed to ensure Laralee's killer wouldn't escape.
"I think modern technology will help us in this case." Sgt. Thoman said. "If this case is solved before the end of my career, I'll be a happy man."
Carol Lynn's bus stop was at the corner of Doyle Road and Courtland Boulevard, about 100 yards from the family's home. There were no other students at that stop.
At about 7 a.m. the day she disappeared, Carol Lynn left for school without her mother, Joanne Sullivan. Her mom told police she wanted to go with her and wait for the bus as she did every other morning. However, the mother told police and press, Carol Lynn talked her out of it with the words, "Mom, I'm growing up. Nothing's going to bother me."
The year before Carol Lynn's murder, Angela Ramsey went missing in DeLand. The 17-year-old ran away from her South Carolina home and befriended a worker at the Boulevard Motel. With his help, she stayed there for a couple days, then disappeared. All of her belongings were left in the motel room. The Sheriff's Office is still trying to find her.
The Sheriff's Office recently got a DNA sample from Angela's mother to add to a database at the National Center of Missing and Exploited Children. The department, like thousands of others, submits samples of unidentified bodies to the University of North Texas, which has created a database of their DNA.
Volusia has seven open investigations of unidentified murder victims.
Investigator Lee said unsolved cases all have something in common. They all have witnesses.
"People know what has happened," he said. "Everybody knows something. It can be a morsel or the whole big story of what occurred."
The investigator and volunteers are meticulously turning old pieces of browning case notes into modern electronic files. Soon, he said, dozens of the unsolved cases will be added to others already on the Volusia County Sheriff's website: volusia.org/sheriff.
Investigator Lee expects some will come off the site within a few years as the Sheriff's Office names suspects and prosecutions begin. After all, someone recently shared new information with law enforcement about the murders of Harold and Bonnie Butler, a Daytona Beach couple killed in 1957. The Sheriff's Office is investigating.
Anyone with information about these or other unsolved crimes, can call Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida at (888) 277-8477.