Clay County deputies investigate human remains found by hunters

Hunters make discovery in Jennings State Forest near where Hal Warth disappeared

By Jenese Harris - Reporter/anchor, Stacey Readout - Assistant News Director

MIDDLEBURG, Fla. - Clay County detectives on Monday continued to investigate a scene in Jennings State Forest, where human remains were found Sunday by squirrel hunters. 

In August, Hal Warth, 79, disappeared near that area. Despite a multi-day search of 1,000 acres, he was never found.

Hattie Nolan Road, near a section of the state forest, was blocked off until 4:30 p.m. Monday while a team of 10 to 12 homicide detectives and crime scene technicians gathered evidence for the second day. 

"It's a slow, methodical process because we don't want to leave anything. So we want to gather every possible thing that we can and we want to feel comfortable that by the time we close the scene, or release that scene, we've got everything that we need," said Lt. Jason Bennett of the Clay County Sheriff's Office.

Investigators said they have not yet been able to identify the remains because the body was badly decomposed and will need to be identified by DNA. 

"We sent the remains to the medical examiner's office and they will work from there and attempt to ID," Bennett said.

According to the Sheriff's Office, it could be days, if not weeks, before the body is identified.

Jennings State Forest is massive, about 10,000 acres. However, deputies said, it's rare for someone to disappear in the forest.

"We don't have a lot of people missing, maybe a hunter. But with the advent of cellphones, it cuts down on it a lot because people are calling," Bennett said. 

Residents who live nearby said the discovery is unsettling. Debbie Rosamonda said the news that a body had been found made her think back nearly five months, when Warth disappeared from his Middleburg home. 

"They looked everywhere. It just seemed strange that it's so close and that they didn't find him. It's weird," Rosamonda said. "My first thought (was) it was probably Hal."

Hal Warth’s son told News4Jax that he is aware of the discovery, but he did not want to comment unless the Sheriff’s Office tells him that it is his father. 

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