Sumter County was created by the Florida legislature on January 8, 1853 and was once part of Marion County. Known for its simple beauty, much of what is now eastern Sumter County was part of the original Seminole Indian reservation established under the Treaty of Moultrie in 1824, and was named after Revolutionary War hero General Thomas Sumter. Today, Sumter County is one of the fastest growing counties in Florida, encompasses 580 square miles, and is home to nearly 100,000 people.
In 2010, the FBI Uniform Crime Report showed that Sumter County was one of the safest counties in Florida; according to the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office website.
In spite of this, there is a dark history of unsolved murders in this county, many of which occurred alongside Interstate-75. Below are the high-lights of five cases. More information on these cases can be found at Florida Crime Writer, which is updated frequently with new information.
Anyone with any possible informationon any of these cases, please contact Captain Kevin Hofecker at the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office by telephone at (352)569-1600 or (352)569-1680, by fax (352)569-1605 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
On September 17, 2007, the body of 20 year old Jaime Ortiz-Morales was discovered in a wooded area off of CR 656-G in the “Croom” area of Sumter County, Florida. The cause of death was determined to be homicide as a result of multiple gunshot wounds. The time of death was estimated to be sometime between the early evening hours of September 13, 2007 and the morning hours of September 14, 2007.
Virginia Mary Ries
On May 2, 1979, the skeletal remains of 19 year old Virginia Mary Ries were discovered in a wooded median strip on Interstate 75 just north of Exit 309 in Webster, Florida. Virginia Ries was last seen leaving her mother’s home located in Punta Gorda, Florida with her boyfriend. Her boyfriend reportedly dropped her off at Interstate 75 and Busch Blvd in Tampa, Florida. From there Virginia was to hitchhike her way back to Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi where she had been serving in the Air Force. Her cause of death was determined to be a homicide as a result of stabbing.
Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee
Synopsis: On February 19, 1971, the body of a white female homicide victim was discovered under the Lake Panasoffkee Bridge at Interstate 75 in Sumter County. The victim has never been identified.
Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee In March 2012, Sumter sheriff’s detectives requested the Anthropology Department at the University of South Florida conduct further testing on the 41 year old remains after learning of the university’s involvement in other bay area cold cases. The Anthropology Department re-examined the remains and generated a new composite image of the victim and that of her clothing worn at the time of her death. Those new images are listed above. At the time of her death, she was between 17-24 years of age, approximately 5’02”-5’05” tall, weighed approximately 110-120 lbs. and had dark colored hair and brown eyes. She was wearing plaid green pants, a matching solid green shirt, and a shawl with green and yellow print. She had a Baylor wrist watch on her left hand, a yellow gold ring with clear stone on her left ring finger, and a small, thin yellow gold necklace.
Little Miss Lake Panasoffkee The victim’s teeth were examined by the Geological Sciences Department at the University of Florida. The conclusion of the analysis determined that the victim is possibly of Greek descent and most probably had come to the United States ten to twelve months before her death. Further testing determined the victim’s teeth contained a high level of Pb (lead) that may link the victim to the small town of Lavrion, which is located approximately 60 miles southeast of Athens, Greece. Lavrion is known for its high level of lead contamination associated with mining operations in the region.
Oak Grove Cemetery Double Murder
On February 22, 1972, at or around 8AM, the bodies of 19 year old Shirley Elizabeth Whitten and 26 year old Roger Dale Higgins were discovered in the Oak Grove Cemetery at the end of CR 232 in Wildwood, Florida. Both persons were determined to be the victims of homicide as they were both stabbed multiple times. Shirley Whitten worked at the Union 76 Truck Stop at the time of her death. Roger Dale Higgins had just accepted a new position as a lumper for a moving company and had stopped in to rest at the truck stop with his employer.
Jan David Fox
On April 13, 1992, at approximately 6:55AM, the body of 44 year old Jan David Fox was discovered along N CR-475 just south of the CR-470/Interstate 75 interchange. The cause of death was determined to be a homicide as a result of a single gunshot wound to the head. The victim had recently been seen with two unidentified large men described as “biker types” at the Fuel City Truck Stop located at CR-470 and Interstate 75. During the initial investigation, numerous sources suggested that members of the Outlaws Motorcycle Gang had put a hit out on Mr. Fox.