Skeletal remains that were found earlier this year near McCullough Creek in the southwest part of St. Johns County have been tentatively identified pending additional DNA testing, according to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office.
Those remains are believed to be those of a missing person out of Volusia County identified as Leigh Abel Jr., who was 78 at the time of his disappearance on Dec. 20, 2001. Foul play is suspected and his death is believed to be the result of a homicide, investigators said.
Abel had retired with his wife of 56 years, Margaret, to Orange City in 1989. On the day of his disappearance, he went fishing at the beach at the Canaveral National Seashore Park, which he had done many times before, investigators said.
Abel had disappeared without a trace, and his vehicle, a 1999 GMC Suburban SUV, was found a year later abandoned in Boca Raton. By the time authorities found his vehicle in South Florida, no evidence could be found and his location was still unknown.
At the time of Abel's disappearance, he was wearing a blue sweatshirt, blue shorts, a yellow gold wedding band, dentures, and a tan polo shirt. The clothing described in the Volusia case fits the clothing located with the remains earlier this year.
Also located with the remains was a GMC ignition key. The victim's actual vehicle was found in Miami Gardens earlier this year
and detectives successfully started the vehicle with the found key.
Based on the clothing match and vehicle key match, the victim was presumptively identified as Abel.
Abel was a World War II veteran, and he and his wife had previously lived in New York, Michigan and Wisconsin before retiring to Florida. His wife died in October, and a daughter, Diane, died in July 2011.
Another daughter, Linda Balch, lives in Edmore, Mich.
Investigators said they would like to locate two people who may have information concerning this investigation. Witnesses saw a man near Abel before he vanished. The man was described as white, clean-shaven and in his 20s. He was never identified. Investigators released a composite sketch of the man sought for questioning (pictured, right).
Another possible lead in the investigation comes from a Crime Stoppers tip that was received by the Volusia County Sheriff's Office in November 2003, apparently in response to flyers that were distributed in the area where Abel's vehicle had been located a year following his disappearance. The tip stated that a white man who goes by the nickname "Ziggy" has information regarding this investigation. The tipster further said that "Ziggy" lived by himself at a Fort Lauderdale second floor apartment.
"Ziggy" was described as being 5 feet 10 inches tall with a medium build, short, brown hair and brown eyes. The tipster and "Ziggy" have never been identified.
Anyone with any information concerning Abel's disappearance is asked to call Detective Eugene Tolbert at the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office at 904-209-3985. Callers can also remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a cash reward by calling Crime Stoppers of Northeast Florida at 888-277-TIPS (8477).