After 40 years, Suwannee County has suspect in missing persons case

Deputies now suspect her then-boyfriend, who is serving life sentence

By Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

Live Oak High School yearbook photo of Debora Howard and Florida Department of Corrections photo of George McCraney

Forty years ago Monday, a 20-year-old Live Oak woman disappeared without a trace. Decades after Debora Howard went missing, the Suwannee County Sheriff's Office has reopened the case and identified a suspect, although they don't have enough evidence to charge him in the case.

Howard, known to her family and friends as Debbie, went missing two years after she graduated from Live Oak High School.

"On September 24th, 1976, she went to Lake City to a bar with her boyfriend and some friends of theirs," Suwannee County Deputy Jake Brooks told WCJB-TV in Gainesville

The boyfriend that she was living with, George McCraney, told investigators at the time that she packed and left their home the next day without saying anything to anyone.

"The next morning the boyfriend told her momma she had packed up all her stuff and left town he didn't know where she went, which is totally unlike her because she was very close with her mother -- called her every day," Brooks told the TV station.

Four years after Howard disappeared, McCraney was arrested on an aggravated battery charge in Flagler County. Over the next 20 years, he was charged and convicted of sexual battery, attempted murder, armed robbery and other crimes in Leon County. McCraney, now 66, is serving a life sentence in prison.

Brooks confirmed to News4Jax that McCraney was the last person to see Howard alive, but that's all they have on him.

"We've spoken with him," Brooks told News4Jax. "He denies knowing anything about her whereabouts."

While the Sheriff's Office considers Brooks is considered a suspect they need much more before they can connect him to her disappearance.

"It's leaning towards a possible homicide for the young lady and, naturally, if it was my family member or anybody's family member that may have been killed intentionally and we don't know anything about it, I'd like to go forward with it, no matter how long it has been," Suwannee County Sheriff Sam St. John said.

Copyright 2018 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.