Case cracked: Counselor arrested 23 years after murder, dismemberment of teen boy

“Justice has no expiration date”

Twenty-three years after the dismembered body of a 16-year-old boy was found buried in a dumpster, an arrest has finally been made.  

Ronnie Leon Hyde, 60, has been charged with the 1994 murder of Fred Paul Laster, the Columbia County, Florida Sheriff’s Office announced in a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Hyde is being held in custody without bond and is expected to make his first appearance in court Wednesday afternoon.

“This is a reminder that justice has no expiration date,” State Attorney Melissa Nelson said, speaking of the 23-year gap between the alleged murder and arrest. “My office intends to continue the hard work of our law enforcement partners to deliver long-delayed justice.”

In June 1994, a woman walking her dog discovered a dismembered torso in the dumpster of a Columbia County gas station. The body – missing the head, hands, and legs – was unable to be identified.

For several years, the investigation seemed to be growing cold. Then, in 2013, investigators spoke to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), who offered their assistance in the case and posted a cold case flyer on their website. A year later, sheriff officials received a call from the family of a 16-year-old boy who saw the NCMEC flyer. The female caller told investigators she believed the unidentified torso may belong to her brother who went missing in 1994. Detectives soon met with the family and gathered items to be tested for DNA.

In February 2016, a DNA match was confirmed. The victim was positively identified as Fred Paul Laster.

Family members reported Hyde as the last person to see Laster before he went missing, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by News 4 Jax. The family, who first met Hyde in the 1980’s when he was working as a youth pastor at a Jacksonville church, said Hyde gave inconsistent accounts of when he last saw the teen.

In April 2016, detectives retrieved an item from Hyde’s trash and tested it for DNA. It was compared to a bloody flannel shirt located inside of the dumpster and was found to be a match, according to the arrest affidavit.

Investigators said Hyde had some nursing education, which leads to the belief that he “has anatomical knowledge and would be familiar with joints, bone structures, and bodily organs placements, which would be of value to him during dismemberment of a body,” the affidavit states.

Investigators remained tight-lipped with details on what may have led to Laster’s death, though they said additional details will be released as the investigation progresses.

Hyde, who provided counseling for multiple organizations, had “the potential for extensive access to children” and has been named a suspect in a previous international child exploitation investigation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) said.

Anyone with information on potential other victims is asked to call the Jacksonville FBI office at 904-248-7000.

[Featured Image: Columbia County Sheriff’s Office]