August 23, 2021
At approximately 3am on Christmas eve of 1985 a man entered the apartment of 17-year-old Leslie McCray on 3673 St. Johns Avenue in Jacksonville, Florida.
McCray shared the apartment with her boyfriend, Edgar W. McCurry III, and the pair were asleep in bed when the assailant entered their home. McCurry would later describe opening his eyes to see a man kneeling by the bedside, brandishing a knife.
The man restrained McCray and her boyfriend with neck ties and dragged the teenage girl from the apartment as McCurry helplessly watched. They left through the back door of the property. McCurry struggled to free himself and eventually managed to call the police at around 6am.
Leslie McCray's naked body was discovered a few hours later at 9:30am near Interstate 295 along Old Middleburg Road, just under six miles from the apartment from which she had been kidnapped earlier that day. Sergeant Charley Hill, who responded to the scene after two civilians who discovered the body called it in, described the scene as bloody and noted obvious wounds to the victim.
An article from The Florida-Times Union printed December 27, 1985, describes severe wounds to the head and chest. Leslie McCray was born in Perry, Florida. She studied at North Florida University, worked as a waitress part time at Sliders Restaurant and worshipped at the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville. Leslie loved pranks and friends and family members said she had a good sense of humour. She also had aspirations to be a model one day.
Although Police believed Edgar McCurry's account of the happenings that night, they couldn’t find any sign of forced entry into the apartment nor any sign of a struggle. A report noted undisturbed cobwebs on the apartment door as well as a lack of footprints outside of the premises. Edgar W. McCurry III was the son of an attorney and one time chairman of the Duval County Republican Executive Committee. He was interviewed more than once regarding his account of what happened that night and investigators believed his story. Rather than the lack of evidence of a struggle and forced entry being indicative of McCurry’s deceit, they instead leaned towards the possibility that the perpetrator had used advanced methods to conceal evidence of the crime. It was likely Leslie’s killer had committed similar crimes in the past.
"It strikes me as curious how the suspect got in and out of the apartment. We have no reason to disbelieve his story," said Lt. Jim Suber concerning McCurry’s statements.
The Duval County Medical Examiner’s office released a report detailing that Leslie McCray had died from a stab wound to the neck. The victim had been raped and stabbed multiple times. Evidence was collected from the body and stored but no suspect was ever charged.
The only description the police had to go on was that her killer was male with short brown hair. A funeral service was held for McCray on December 27, at Joe P. Burns Funeral Home Chapel in Perry, the city she was born. She was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Leslie McCray's family never gave up hope in finding her killer.
They contacted the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office Cold case unit in 2019, asking them to look at the evidence again. They also contacted Project: Cold Case, a not-for-profit organization that works to bring unsolved homicides back into the public eye. The case was cold for 36 years, until an arrest was finally made last week.
In April 2020 investigators discovered a DNA match that led them to their suspect and travelled to Michigan to collect a sample of DNA to confirm. A warrant was issued for first degree murder, two counts of kidnapping and one count of armed sexual battery, in May of 2021.
Last week 59-year-old David Nelson Austin was indicted on a charge of first-degree murder by a Duval County grand jury in the death of Leslie McCray. Austin is an inmate at a Michigan correctional facility with a collection of sexual assault charges to his name. Records show that he was sentenced to a maximum of 2 years in 1991 for Criminal Sexual Conduct, 4th Degree (Multiple Variables), committed in 1990 in Charlevoix, Michigan. Media outlets report that he may have committed many more assaults over the years. He is currently serving two life sentences for Criminal Sexual Conduct, 1st Degree (Personal Injury). The date of the offense is recorded as 09/10/1988, he was sentenced in the summer of 1991.
Reports state he is serving out his sentence at the Cotton Correctional Facility in Jackson County, Michigan. David A. Austin had been living in Jacksonville, Florida at the time of Leslie McCray’s murder in 1985 but had moved out of the area soon after and was never a suspect in the case. He was also known to go under the aliases David Nelson Aistom and Sonny Austin.
He is expected to be extradited to Florida.
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