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The Murder of Fred Laster

"This is a reminder that justice has no expiration date"- State Attorney Melissa Nelson.

On the 5th of June 1994 the torso of a Caucasian, teenage male was discovered behind a gas station in Lake City, Columbia County, Florida.

Fred Laster Crime Scene

 

(image:Google maps)

Although the tops of the arms were attached, the legs, head and hands had been severed and were not present at the scene. This could possibly have been done by the killer in an attempt to conceal the identity of the victim, who police believe was murdered elsewhere and brought to the site of discovery. According to the Doe Network profile for the Doe the dismemberment had been performed after death with a knife. The nydailynews revealed that a set of bloodied knives were also found nearby.

Fred Laster Vehicle

(image source)

At the time police state that they had no reports of missing people that matched the statistics of theunidentified homicide victim and without any further information were at a dead end with the case. 

They estimated that the body had been dumped there during the gas stations closing hours, most likely between the Saturday night and Sunday morning that it was found by a woman walking her dog. She had at first thought that it was a mannequin, but feeling unsure and unnerved, walked into the local police station to report it.

Fred Laster Dumpster

(image source)

According to a news segment from 1994, the gas station was in a rural area, the back of which lead out into a forest. A worker at the BP branch stated that he realized it wasn’t a mannequin when he noticed “all of the blood”.

In the nearby dumpster a plastic bag was found containing a red plaid shirt, which police concluded belonged to the victim. Small rubber bath mat adhesives in the shape of flowers were found at the scene; further indicating that the body had been transported from somewhere else, most likely the killer’s home. It seemed that the boy had been murdered in a bathroom.

Fred Laster Gas Station

 

(These days, the gas station is a tire shop. In this interview one of the investigating officers, Calvin Fenner, revisits the spot and stands before what was once the crime scene.  Image: googe maps)

A year later in 1995, in Jacksonville, Florida, a girl made a phone call to what was then the Duval county Sheriff’s station to report her teenage twin brother missing. His name was Fred Paul Laster , she informed them, adding that he hadn’t taken anything from the family home that suggested he’d planned to leave for an extended period of time. Fred was a guitarist, she said, and he was a member of a Christian Rock band that often played shows in Jacksonville.

The last person he was seen with was local youth pastor and family friend Ronnie Hyde. The family had made the acquaintance of Hyde at their shared place of worship, a church in Oceanside, which was then called “the strength for living” church. It was built with the money of elderly investors who were never paid back, by a man described in this news4jax report as a beer swilling, cigarette smoking scam artist. The law eventually caught up with the pastor, a Dr. Ed Stalnecker, a man that locals in the interview claimed to be wary of. He was imprisoned and is now deceased.

In The 1990’s Fred Laster’s family would pile into Hyde’s vehicle and make the journey to the “strength for living church” every weekend, where Fred would put his guitar skills to work in the church band.

Fred Laster

(Freddy Laster. Image source)

For years the BP gas station Doe went unidentified and Freddy Laster remained a missing person, until, in 2016 the two were discovered to be one and the same. Freddy’s sister received a phone call from the Sheriff’s office with the news that her brother’s remains (originally found back in 1994) had been identified. Unfortunately their grandmother did not live long enough to see justice prevail. This article writes that authorities stated it was a combination of recent awareness of the cold case (thanks to online missing people’s databases etc.) and modern technology that helped solve the 23 year old cold case.

Ronald Hyde

(Ronnie Hyde following his arrest. Image source)

Ron Hyde was arrested for the murder of Fred Laster in March 2017. He had been working as a mental health counselor at the time.

DNA found on the flannel shirt from the dumpster linked to Hyde to the crime.

In one TV interview Freddy Laster’s cousin claimed that he always knew Hyde had something to do with the disappearance of Freddy. Other people in the neighborhood described the killer as “creepy” and said that he made everyone he came into contact with feel uncomfortable. The official missing persons report does not contain Ronnie Hyde’s name but another report that I found here states that a few months later Freddy’s sister did tell officers that Hyde was the last person to be with her brother.

Fred Laster Missing Person Report

(image source)

According to a poster released by the FBI, it seems that Ronnie Hyde was also a suspect in an international child exploitation case and has indeed traveled around the US and internationally over the years. His Facebook profile shows him talking about his trips to various countries. 

Ronald Hyde Wanted

 

(Image source FBI)

The FBI are worried that there may be more victims and after reading this article with the following statement from Freddy Laster’s sister, I can see why.

“….She also said that she and one of her siblings stayed the night with Hyde at his Jacksonville Beach home in 1993 and she woke up to find Hyde nude, trying to wake someone up, the court document said.”

Fred and his siblings were raised by their grandparents, as their mother and father had passed away. It’s believed that this made the kids an easy target for Hyde. Through the various occupations he had over the years, he was able work closely with children, something investigators consider to be a deliberate move on his part.

His Facebook account proudly displays “Providing Christian Mental Health Counseling at Crosswater Community Church!” and sprinkled between posts on politics is the occasional post about saving lives and helping people. One update exclaims “We must stop child abuse now!”

The final update he makes is a quiz which he encourages other people to answer on their own profile. He answers yes to various questions including “have you ever travelled?” and “Have you ever watched somebody die?” Chilling, considering what we know now.

If you have any information on this case please do not hesitate to contact the FBI via the phone number provided in the poster above.

I’m happy that Hyde is incarcerated now after all these years of getting away with what he did to Fred Laster. Sometimes I notice comments under cold case posts saying things like “Well they’re dead obviously” in reference to missing persons cases or “does it matter? They’re dead” under articles about Jane and John Does.

All I can think is, of course it matters. These people’s lives were taken from them by someone who has not been caught and they will continue prey on more people until they are stopped. In the case of Colleen Stan (aka.”The girl in the box”) she was missing for years at the hands of Cameron Hooker who kept her as a slave in a box under his bed. The same goes for the case of Steven Stayner who broke away from Kenneth Parnell after many years in his control, in order to save the life of a younger victim. 

As for unidentified bodies, they were once living, breathing people just like you and I, who were murdered by someone who is still out there and able to do the same thing again to someone else. I’m happy that there are online databases for missing and unidentified people as well as forums, bloggers, podcasts and videos discussing long forgotten cases and sometimes even solving them.

Until next time, friends, stay safe.



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