Gone Cold: Taking a look back at Tampa Bay’s cold cases through the years

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Mysteries, cold cases, and unsolved murders capture the minds of many. As we head into 2023, take a look back at some of Tampa Bay’s cold cases, solved, or still waiting for justice.

Date: Feb. 17

Original author: Dylan Abad

Lora Ann Huizar, 11, was sexually assaulted and murdered on Nov. 6, 1983 in St. Lucie County. Decades after her death, the sheriff’s office announced a former deputy with ties to Tampa Bay was the only probably suspect in her abduction, assault, and death.

Former deputy James Howard Harrison was a deputy for the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office at the time of Huizar’s murder, but before that he had been employed by multiple other law enforcement agencies, including the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office. Huizar was found in Harrison’s assigned patrol zone, according to St. Lucie deputies.

According to officials, Harrison had “exhibited a pattern of inappropriate behavior” toward young females. In 2008, detectives recovered unknown DNA from Huizar’s rape kit.

Due to degradation, it was unable to compare the genetic material to Harrison’s body after his death. Despite the DNA evidence, deputies said they were able to establish probable cause due to witness testimony placing him near the scene before Huizar’s body was found.

Harrison, deceased, reportedly worked for 10 different agencies in Florida since the 1960s.

Date: Feb. 7

Original author: Melanie Michael

A Clearwater woman has spent the decades searching for answers in her husband’s death. In February 2002, Clarence Bolden was killed by a masked gunman during a game of poker. Police told WFLA that a gunman charged inside the home located in the 1700 block of Fulton Street in Clearwater, demanding money on the poker table.

Clarence was a family man, he and his wife had a daughter, Tyra. His wife, Andrea has spent years seeking justice for his death and hoping for new details to emerge that will help catch his killer.

“I’m still standing. You’re not going to get away with it. It was my husband, my daughter’s father. I’m standing strong, and I’m going to fight for justice, 20 years and I want you,” Andrea Bolden told 8 On Your Side in February.

The Bolden family is still waiting for someone with information to give the Clearwater Police Department a tip to help solve Clarence’s murder, even 20 years later.

Daniel Conahan Jr. listens to assistant State Attorney Bob Lee question him as he testifies during his trial, Tuesday, Aug. 17, 1999, at the Charlotte County Justice Center in Punta Gorda, Fla. Conahan, who waived his right to a jury trial, was convicted of first-degree murder and kidnapping Tuesday in the 1996 killing and mutilation of a transient whose body was found in the woods. (AP Photo/Michael Barrientos, Pool)

Date: Sept. 6

Original author: Nathaniel Rodriguez, citing WBBH

Daniel Conahan was convicted of kidnapping, killing, and raping at least eight men in the Fort Myers area in the late 1990s. The remains of eight men were found in a wooded area near Fort Myers in 2007, and a fourth victim was identified in 2022.

Conahan, known as the “Hog Trail Killer,” is suspected of committing murders from 1993 to 1996, when he was apprehended. Not all of the victims have been identified in the “Hog Trail Killings.” Conahan is incarcerated at Union Correctional Institution in Raiford, Fla. He is an inmate on Florida’s death row.

Date: Feb. 4

Original author: Dylan Abad

A 14-year-old trailer park murder of a woman in Thonotosassa was solved by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in February. In July 2007, a woman, who deputies said was dependent on a walker and wheelchair was found with upper body trauma at Nature’s Trail Mobile Home Park.

Jonathan Burns initially avoided charges due to a lack of evidence, even though he’d reportedly called 911 the night of the crime and said he’d been in a fight with a woman around 1 a.m.

After reopening the case in 2022, the HCSO Cold Case Unit was able to solve the case, leading to Burns facing a felony first degree murder charge.

Date: June 28

Original author: Daisy Ruth

The Manatee Homicide Unit announced in June that they’d closed the book on a 7-year-old murder, dating back to December 2014. Samuel Conde was killed on Dec. 20, 2014, during an alleged gang-related fight in Bradenton, according to detectives.

The Manatee County Sheriff’s Office said the area where Conde was killed, on 9th Street East, was known for illegal beer buying when bars closed down for the night. MCSO said Conde was “known to law enforcement as a SUR 13 member.”

While drinking in the area, Conde reportedly got involved in an altercation with rival gang members. In June, detectives found probably cause to charge Pedro “Pedico” Garcia with Conde’s murder. An exact reason was never given for the murder.

“Due to the nature of the murder, witnesses remained tight lipped as to what occurred, and never did provide information about why Conde was shot,” the sheriff’s office said in a statement when announcing the charges against Garcia.

Date: Feb. 16

Original author: SNNTV

On Labor Day 2017, 14-year-old Jabez Spann disappeared. In 2019, Spann’s skeletal remains were found in a rural part of Manatee County, near I-75 and he was laid to rest.

His family still doesn’t know who killed him, or why. Spann’s aunt, Latohya Jakes told WFLA in February that the family has been changed forever by his death.

“They took our baby that’s why it’s so important. They took a part of us,” Jabez Spann’s aunt Latohya Jakes said. “It changed our life forever… life has never been the same since that happened.”

The Sarasota Police Department remains hopeful that someone is out there with answers, and are offering a reward if the information they get leads to an arrest.

“We just want to give this family closure and let them know that the person responsible for their son, their grandson, their loved one’s death can be behind bars,” a Sarasota Police Department spokesperson said.

Date: Sept. 23

Original author: Justin Schecker

The body of a Tampa mom who went missing in March was found five days later, 50 miles away from home at the Pasco-Hernando County line. Pasco Sheriff’s deputies found the body of Teneisha Griffith, but how she died and who moved her body from her home in South Tampa is still a mystery.

Griffith’s sisters are still searching for answers and seeking justice. The medical examiner’s report was inconclusive, according to her sister, Rena Walters.

“We were hoping that the toxicology that was pending would have given us some additional information, but unfortunately its only added to questions,” Walters told WFLA.

At this stage, no arrests have been made and no one has been publicly named a person of interest in the case. The investigation is still underway.

(Photo from Lake Wales Police Department)

Date: Nov. 2

Author: Katlyn Brieskorn

Lake Wales police officers are still seeking tips about a 1990 cold case murder after Debbie Williams was reported missing by a family member in late March 1990.

She had been missing for four weeks at the time of the report. Following her disappearance, detectives said they had been left with a single partial-page initial report to go on.

The most recent developments of the case came in 2019 when a retired Lake Wales supervisor told detectives there were rumors that Williams had been killed by her on-and-off boyfriend who had since died.  

Rumors also said Williams was buried beneath her boyfriend’s home, but only animal bones were found. Detectives were working to rebuild the case and interview anyone who knew Williams and her boyfriend.

Randy Petersilge (Credit: New Port Richey Police Department)

Date: Nov. 18

Author: Nathaniel Rodriguez

After a body was found in a home under construction on Sanctuary Drive back on Nov. 28, 2001, a man has been sentenced to life in prison for the cold case.

According to officials, the victim, Simon Clarke, was killed by blunt force trauma. For years, investigators searched for a suspect but were unable to find one. However, they were able to locate the murder weapon.

In 2004, the case went cold but was reopened in 2016 when officers gathered new details from pre-existing witnesses. In 2018, Randy Petersilge was indicted by a grand jury and on Nov. 14, 2022, he went on trial for first-degree murder. He was found guilty after three days.

[Photos: FDLE] Abron Scott (left), Amos Robinson (Right)

Date: Oct. 14

Author: Sam Sachs

In October, the 13th Judicial District State Attorney decided to move forward with pursuing murder charges against two men suspected in a pair of Tampa cold case murders from the 1980s. 

Amos Robinson and Abron Scott were announced as true suspects in the murders of 19-year-old Barbara Grams and 41-year-old Linda Lansen. 

Before DNA evidence revealed Robinson and Scott’s involvement, a Tampa man spent 37 years behind bars for Grams’ death before being exonerated in 2020. When Robinson and Scott’s identities were revealed, it was stated that new evidence had led the investigation to find new leads. 

The two men were also said to be under investigation for additional cold cases from the ‘80s in the Tampa Bay area. Robinson is currently serving three life sentences, while Scott is serving a single life sentence. The State Attorney said Robinson had killed additional victims while in prison, adding to the life sentence he was serving.

Date: Jul. 20

Author: Niko Clemmons

After more than 40 years, detectives finally confirmed the third set of remains discovered in Hernando County belonged to Theresa Carolina Fillingim, who was reported missing by her sister in 1980. Her remains were found a year later on land where a serial killer once lived. 

On May 16, 1980, just a week shy of her 17th birthday, investigators said Fillingim vanished without a trace. A year later in 1981, Hernando detectives found four sets of human remains at a house that belonged to the family of convicted serial killed Billy Mansfield. At the time, only two victims were able to be identified. 

Within the last year, investigators identified the third set of remains as Fillingim. Four decades after she went missing, detectives thank advanced technology for helping identify the remains.

Retha Hiers (WFLA/Family handout)

Date: Jul. 7

Author: Athina Morris/ Jeff Patterson

A Largo property was excavated after it was believed to be linked to at least one cold case. Back in July 2022, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office excavated the site after detectives got tips about a cold case and possible human remains being buried at the property. 

The case involves Retha Hiers, who disappeared on Dec. 28, 1982. At the time, the sheriff’s office said they were also investigating whether the site was linked to the disappearances of Donyelle Johnson, who went missing in 1989, and Margaret Dash, who disappeared in 1974. Clearwater Police, who had been investigating Dash’s disappearance said it didn’t appear her case was connected to the dig, 

However, officials came up empty-handed when no remains or evidence related to the cases were found at the site.

The Pinellas County Sheriff’s office named a suspect in the missing person cases but said the suspect died and because he was never charged in connection with the cases, WFLA is not naming him.

Date: Feb. 9

Author: Staci DaSilva

After four decades, a son was able to confront the man sentenced for his mother’s murder in 1981. Back in Sept. 1981, 31-year-old Linda Slanten was found dead in her home. Her sister, Judy Butler found her laying on the bed with a wire hanger around her neck. 

The day before her body was found, Joseph Clinton Mills, Slaten’s son’s football coach had picked her son up at her house, drove him to practice, and then brought him home. 

Mills was questioned at the time of Slaten’s death and told detectives at the time that he only met the victim once and did not return to the apartment after dropping Tim Slaten off that night. 

Tim Slaten said Mills was the “last person on his radar,” and continued to drive him places after his mother’s murder. At the time of her death, her sons were 12 and 15 years old. 

Her son, Jeff Slaten thought he would die without knowing who killed his mother.

In 2019, Mills became the Lakeland Police Department’s main suspect after DNA submitted through an online ancestry database linked him to the crime. Results came back and pointed to Mills as the likely killer.

He was arrested in Dec. 2019 on several charges including first-degree murder and sexual battery. During his hearing, Mills changed his plea to guilty because it was “in his best interest to do so.”