MIDDLEBURG, Fla. – 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.
Orcutt's body was found off South Lee Drive near Black Creek on January 28 by Sandy Trueblood's sons.
"The children came back to us on our three wheeler saying there was a dead body that was no more than 500-600 feet from our home," recounts Trueblood, who says she will never forget that day and the fear she and her family felt for months after the discovery. "They thought someone was going to come back for them. I was afraid too. I wouldn't even check my mail at night, at our house, only in the daytime. At that time, I kept a loaded gun under my bed and they (her sons) were both afraid,"
Trueblood says her son, "took a hammer, I believe it was, and hid it in the woods before he caught his bus because he was afraid too."
"I loved her, I didn't get to tell her that," says Cheryl Orcutt about her sister. She says she promised their mother on her death bed that she would never stop pushing for justice in her baby sister's murder.
I asked her if there is anything she would say to her sister's killer.
"Only thing I want to know from that person is why? I don't want to know what you did, how you did it, or anything. I want to know why her?" Cheryl Orcutt responded, sobbing. "Detective Padgett says they investigated Teryl's friends, co-workers, boyfriend, family and none of them are considered suspects in the case."
"Teryl had no dealings with law enforcement whatsoever. She had a very upstanding job. She lived with her mother and they took good care of each other," says Padgett.
She says she worries that whomever killed Teryl has committed murder before or could do it again.
That is Cheryl Orcutt's fear, too.
"He's done it before, because you can't go 23 years unless you're a devil, without doing it. That's my biggest fear is that he's killed somebody else," she says.
Detective Padgett says new DNA technology has helped them piece together some of the puzzles in this murder mystery, but says they need more information to put the entire puzzle together and solve this crime.
The Sheriff's Office asks anyone with information about Teryl Orcutt's disappearance and murder to call 904-264-6512, or to remain anonymous, Crime Stoppers at 800-222-8477.
Capt. Gann aslo asks for specific information from the public. If you or someone you know was driving in Clay, Duval, St. Johns or Putnam counties between December 1989 and January 1990 and someone tried to pull you over, please call the detective and report this information. If you were working in law enforcement at the time and remember investigating a complaint of someone trying to pull over another driver, Clay county detectives would like to hear from you as well.