For nearly 24 years, a Clay County family has fought for justice in the murder Teryl Orcutt.
The woman driving home to Middleburg from her boyfriend's house in Jacksonville when she disappeared. Her red Thunderbird was found by Clay County deputies along County Road 218 in the early hours of Sunday, Jan. 21, 1990. Her purse was still in the car and the keys were still in the ignition.
Orcutt's body was found seven days later in a wooded area 4 miles from where her car was found.
The 26-year-old worked as a bank manager and had no arrest record.
"Never been in trouble a day in her life. As far as I know, had no enemies," says the victim's sister, Cheryl Orcutt (pictured, below). She tearfully told me, "It's almost 24 years and I still cry over it."
Orcutt had been stabbed several times and was found wearing only underpants, socks and shoes -- details that come to us from Detective Katie Padgett, the lead detective investigating the cold case for the Clay County Sheriff's Office.
"One thing about the car that stood out to us was that it was parked so close to the roadway," says Padgett. "It was running when it was found. Her purse being in the passenger seat, just another thing that's not normal."
Investigators noted one other thing that struck them as out of the ordinary.
"The car was parked very close to the edge of the road leading some to assume that a law enforcement officer had pulled her over," says Padgett.
That rumor was fueled even further by something a witness told deputies she heard the night Orcutt disappeared. Padgett says the witness, who lived very close to where the car was found, reported to them that she was awakened by a woman screaming, "I didn't do anything. I didn't do anything."
"It's caused some people familiar with the case to believe that there was a law enforcement officer involved," Padgett said.
For the first time, the Clay County Sheriff's Office released pictures of Orcutt's car to Channel 4. Padgett showed me a picture that shows the red Thunderbird's left front and back tires on the edge of the road. These two pieces of evidence, at the time, created a persistent rumor during the initial investigation that a cop must have killed the woman.
Even now, when the Cold Case Unit calls witnesses interviewed in 1990 about the case, investigators say there is an impression that the murder was committed by a cop.
"Back in the 1990s, the community perception was that it was law-enforcement related, based on how the vehicle was found on the side of the road," Capt. Ronnie Gann said. "No one would stop and leave the engine running unless they were stopped by a law enforcement officer. There's been hundreds of people who have been interviewed over the last 23 years, and just recently -- last week -- I interviewed someone who lives now in another county and she said,'Isn't that the young woman that they thought was killed by a cop?'"
Gann says every deputy working the night Orcutt disappeared was accounted for; their whereabouts were verified.
"In my heart I don't believe it was a cop and I don't want to believe it was any of the guys that were working that night," says Gann. "I know every one of them personally, some have retired from here. They're good men. They were great cops. I don't think they had murder in them, I can tell you that." i
He says no one ever reported seeing flashing lights or hearing a siren the night Orcutt was kidnapped. That's why Capt. Gann says he thinks the killer was impersonating a law enforcement officer.
"Back during that period (1990), it was very easy to get your hands on a blue light, and it was pretty simple to get your hands on a badge," says Gann.
He also says he thinks Orcutt's killer was not alone.
"I believe that it was more than one person, based on it would be very difficult to pull that person over, get them into a vehicle, and leave with them by yourself. With them putting up a fight, I believe it was more than one person," says Gann.