Cold case murder: Key detective's tie to child trafficking cases

I-TEAM: Child sex trafficking growing problem in Duval County

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Since Ronnie Hyde's arrest in the death and dismemberment of a Nassau County teenage boy, the I-TEAM continues to piece together the scope of the investigation against the murder suspect.

Hyde, 60, was arrested Tuesday in Jacksonville Beach on a murder charge in the death of 16-year-old Fred Laster, who investigators believe Hyde befriended while a youth pastor in the 1980s.

The I-TEAM has learned investigators had been watching Hyde's activity and potential travel for at least a year. 

The arrest affidavit reveals that the main investigator laying out the case against Hyde is a deputy sheriff with Columbia County, where Laster's body was found. The I-TEAM found that the same investigator is also a deputy Marshal assigned to the FBI office in Jacksonville to investigate crimes against children, including child sexual exploitation and sex trafficking of minors, which is on the rise in Florida. 

With searches at Hyde's two Duval County properties, and a rented U-Haul truck to house evidence, federal and local investigators are trying to answer how sinister their murder suspect really is. 

"In the course of this homicide investigation, we determined that Hyde was the main subject in a previous international child exploitation case. We also learned that throughout his various positions and jobs in the Jacksonville area, he had the potential for childhood victims he had access. He had access to children in multiple position he held throughout the area," said FBI Special Agent Charles Spencer. 

Spencer is one of several agents looking at Hyde's connection to child exploitation in Jacksonville and beyond, saying Hyde traveled "extensively" and had "extensive access" to children through his travels, as well as through his job locally as a mental health counselor.

The federal government considers child exploitation to include child pornography, child sexual abuse and the prostitution of children. 

The I-TEAM discovered that child sex trafficking is a growing problem in the Northeast Florida area.

According to the Department of Children and Families, Duval County is one of the top five counties for potential child trafficking in the state -- along with Hillsborough, Broward, Pinellas and Miami-Dade.

Additionally, DCF reports a 54 percent increase in human trafficking in Florida in 2016 compared to 2015 -- and sexual traffickers lure vulnerable youth with physical and psychological manipulations. 

FBI poster

Child welfare experts said DCF is smart to stay involved because, nationally, roughly three out of every four cases of child sex trafficking involve victims who were once in the care of social services or foster care.

Victims are more likely to be young girls then boys, according to the United Nations.

The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children reports one in every five runaways in the United States were likely sex trafficking victims. 

The FBI is currently looking into the warnings signs. 

One of Laster's siblings told authorities that Hyde "always wanted to take up his time with young male boys with problems," the arrest affidavit said. On Wednesday, a man came forward to tell News4Jax reporter Erik Avanier that he was the in area's child welfare system and facing homelessness when he was targeted by Hyde, saying he feels Hyde targeted other homeless youth in the area. 

The FBI has asked for anyone who might have been victimized by Hyde to call 904-248-7000.

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