Sunlight was starting to fade on April 8, 1980 when 12-year-old Georgia Jane Crews walked out of her Montverde home on Highland Avenue and disappeared.
Her older brother, Tony, who was 16 at the time, thought she was simply heading down the street to the market on County Road 455, or possibly to her best friend’s house a few blocks away, but what happened in those few short blocks remains a mystery.
“She never really done nothin’ like that,” recalls Georgia‘s mother, Linda Crews. “That’s something we couldn’t understand.”
Linda and her husband Michael now live in Wellborn, a good two hours north of the Lake County town that holds such bittersweet memories. They’ll never forget the night they returned home from work to find their sons Tony and Charles, then 14, desperately searching the streets and calling for their little sister. They knew she would never willingly stay out after dark.
The AMBER Alert system was still 20 years away from being established in Florida, but in such a small town word of Georgia’s disappearance traveled fast.
By midnight hundreds of friends and neighbors had joined the Crews family in the search, trampling any possible evidence with their good intentions.
By the next morning the media had descended on the quiet town of Montverde, broadcasting and publishing photographs of the smiling fifth grader’s big brown eyes and long blond hair.
Deputies cased the town overhead from a helicopter, they combed the grounds with tracking dogs, rummaged through the orange groves on horseback and even dragged the bottom of Lake Florence near the family’s home.
“We went for three days without sleep,” says Michael Crews. “I was looking everywhere in the world we thought she could be.”
The anxiety the family felt the night before had given way to full-blown panic which would eventually spiral into cold dread. They didn’t know at the time that those feelings were only the beginning of what would become a life-long strain of unanswered questions that would weigh heavily on their hearts.
“Why would anybody want to hurt a little girl?” It's a question Linda has asked herself almost every day for the past 32 years.
It appeared the only things Georgia left behind were a trail of small prints of her bare feet in the dirt road and her beloved dog, Tiger. During the search the pup sat at the crossroad just down the street from the Crews’ home, refusing to move, as if telling the family that that is where he last saw her.
In fact, every morning after Georgia disappeared, Tiger would run back out to the crossroad and sit there waiting for her to return; Tony or Charles would have to get him at nightfall and bring him back home. Mysteriously, three weeks after Georgia disappeared, Tiger disappeared as well. The family still has no idea what happened to him.
Local 6 has now learned that just two days after the little girl vanished, the Lake County Sheriff’s Office received a disturbing anonymous phone call from a man. The transcript of that call reads, “Hello… yeah… you know that girl that you looking fo… yeah, the twelve year old… yeah… she’s dead.”
The recording of that phone call has since been lost and the man has never been identified. Six days after that call, on April 16, Georgia’s body was discovered in Casselberry, Seminole County, 30 miles away from her home. She had been stabbed in the back and her body dumped in a wooded walk-through area behind what was then a K-Mart.
She was still dressed in the tattered remains of the jeans and tank top she had sewn herself in her 4H Club. Her body was so badly decomposed that she could only be identified through medical and dental records, and there was no evidence of a sexual assault leaving very little, if any, DNA evidence for future technology to analyze.
The search for Georgia was over, but the search for her killer was just beginning. Each day that passed without an arrest chipped away at Montverde’s middle-America mentality of unlocked doors and unsupervised children.
Detectives interviewed dozens and dozens of neighbors but no one saw anything unusual that week which, in a town of only 300 or so people, was rather unusual in and of itself. Surely someone would’ve noticed an outside vehicle or a new face strolling through their sleepy town, but no one did, leaving many to speculate that the killer was a seemingly friendly face that lived among them.
“This is basically a book of names that have come up during the investigation,” says Detective Adrian Youngblood as he flips through a three-ring binder. It is bulging with background checks, mug shots and side notes from previous detectives detailing a long list of possible suspects that mostly lead to dead ends.
The binder is just one of eight that make up a mountain of information that investigators with Seminole County's Major Crimes Unit are now digging through as they join the growing list of detectives who, over the years, have reopened the cold case of Georgia Crews.
“Somebody saw something about this little girl,” says Detective Robert Jaymes. “Somebody knows what happened to this little girl, somebody said something to somebody and that’s what we need out there.”
It's a difficult task because in the 32 years since Georgia’s murder many of the original detectives have passed away, witnesses have moved away, and memories of a seemingly unforgettable murder still tend to fade.
Even the area where Georgia’s body was found is now buried under a new layer of trees and shrubs; the neighborhood where she grew up has been redeveloped to the point where it's not even recognizable.
However, with every fresh set of eyes comes a different perspective and this time around new information has been discovered. It centers around a necklace Georgia was wearing when her body was found. It appears to be a homemade cross possibly constructed from parts of a motorcycle.
At the time, a friend told detectives the necklace belonged to Georgia, but during recent interviews Det. Jaymes learned that it did not. It is a lead that was never followed up on.
"We need to find ownership of the cross. It was not her cross," says Jaymes.
“It’s not something you see everyday,” Linda says. She and her husband have been studying photos of the necklace, memorizing every cut and curve.
“It’s not something you’d walk out and go to the jewelry store or Walmart and find. It belonged to somebody, and either that person was there when she was abducted or that person is the one who abducted and killed her.”
If you have information on this case contact the Seminole County Sheriff's Office by clicking here. Or you can remain anonymous through the Crimeline: 1-800-423-TIPS.
To take a look at other cold cases Seminole County detectives are working click here.