Convicted killer charged in 1982 slaying

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St. Johns County Sheriff's Office booking photo of William Browning

ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. - A 55-year old Duval County man who is serving prison time in a 1982 murder in Jacksonville was formally charged with the murder of a 38-year-old man found in St. Johns County more than 30 years ago.

William Browning was charged with murder in the death of Ralph Whittemore (pictured, below).

The arrest comes more than 31 years after the body of Whittemore was found in the mid-afternoon in a wooded area near the intersection of Solano Rd and TPC Boulevard in Ponte Vedra Beach by men cutting firewood.

The next day, an autopsy was performed by the District Medical Examiner, Dr. Bonifacio Floro, who determined that Whittemore died from blunt trauma and ruled his death a homicide. Two days later, Whittemore's vehicle was found abandoned in the 400 block of Atlantic Boulevard in Atlantic Beach.

St. Johns County detectives, with assistance from the state attorney's office, reopened the case in January and determined that potential DNA evidence could be sent for evaluation and testing. In May, the DNA testing lab stated that two male DNA profiles were developed from the victim's pants pocket. One of those profiles was the victim's and the other, confirmed in August by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, identified Browning, investigators said.

The positive testing results of this case are thanks to the Cold Case initiative through the National Institute of Justice Grant that was awarded to the St. Johns County Sheriff's Office in January, investigators said.

They said Browning was positively identified through the Convicted Offender DNA Index System. He was brought back to St. Johns County in December and was questioned by detectives. He was indicted by a grand jury and was formally charged with the murder of Whittemore on Thursday.

Browning was arrested in January 1982 in Neptune Beach and confessed to the beating and stabbing death of a male victim. He was sentenced to 150 years in prison on the second-degree murder charge in August 1982. According to the Department of Corrections website, Browning has a current release date of Sept. 9, 2026.

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