LAKE CITY, Fla. — For more than two decades, 16-year-old Fred Laster was known as "John Doe" to investigators looking into his death.
His dismembered body was recovered behind a dumpster on Highway 441 near Interstate 10 on June 5, 1994.
Attempts to identify him proved difficult until years later with the advancement of DNA testing and the perseverance of determined detectives.
On Tuesday, the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, along with other local, state, and federal agencies, revealed his identity and that of the man accused of his gruesome death.
Ronnie Hyde, 60, has been charged with murder and booked into the Duval County Jail.
Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter announced the break in the case.
“The initial detective team continued investigating over the next 18 years. In 2012, this case was reassigned to a new detective here at the Columbia County Sheriff's Office,” Hunter said.
In 2013, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children stepped in, posting a flier of a John Doe.
The post said a red plaid shirt was found near the body along with nonskid bathtub adhesives and a mattress pad.
“In September of 2015 the Sheriff's Office received a call from family members of a 16-year-old white male who had been missing from Jacksonville since 1994,” Hunter said.
Investigators said Hyde was socially known to Laster and his family.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office had taken a missing person’s report from one of Laster’s siblings in February 1995.
“Detectives for the Columbia County Sheriff's Office met with the family of the missing Jacksonville boy in September of 2015,” Hunter said.
A forensic anthropologist with the University of Florida was able to narrow down Laster’s age shortly after his body was found.
Then in 2016, the University of North Texas’ Human Identification Lab was able to link Lester’s DNA to his family.
“This is a reminder that justice has no expiration date and we, my office, intends to continue the hard work,” State Attorney Melissa Nelson said.
According to Hyde’s arrest warrant, DNA obtained from the plaid shirt found at the scene matched Hyde’s DNA recovered from trash at his Jacksonville Beach home.
The FBI is searching Hyde’s Jacksonville Beach property along with another property on Thelma Street in Jacksonville.
Laster is survived by his siblings who can now be one step closer to seeking justice for their brother.
“I want to applaud the perseverance of the Columbia County investigators for their unrelenting pursuit of the truth in this matter, which has occurred over two decades,” Nelson said.
FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Spencer believes there could be more victims.
“We've also learned that throughout his various positions and jobs in the Jacksonville area we have obtained that he had a potential for additional child victims and had access to children in multiple positions,” Spencer said.
Hyde’s primary home was in the Jacksonville area but the FBI said he frequently traveled throughout the country and abroad.
“During the course of this homicide investigation we determined that Hyde was a named subject in a previous international child exploitation case,” Spencer said.
The FBI is urging anyone with information about any more potential additional victims to call 904-248-7000.
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