Beside a grove in this small Pasco County farming community lies the grave of a little girl whose life was taken by a still unknown killer.
It's been 20 years since 12-year-old Jennifer Odom was abducted near her school bus stop and murdered. Her mother still doesn't know if she was killed by a stranger, or maybe even worse, someone they know.
"I can't even fathom that it's somebody that we knew, or that we still know," said Jennifer's mother, Renee Converse.
Jennifer was abducted while walking home from her school bus stop on February 19, 1993. Her body was found six days later in the woods in nearby Hernando County.
THE BLUE TRUCK THEORY
At the time, reports of an old blue pickup truck in the area brought hundreds of calls to authorities. Investigators were swamped with reports of people with blue trucks.
"For months and months, and currently we're still looking at information about blue pick-up trucks," said cold case Detective Jim Boylan of the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
"What if the report was a mistake in the first place?" he asked, suggesting that all possibilities must be looked at.
The Jennifer Odom investigation has never been closed, but now it's ramping up again.
NEW EYES ON AN OLD CASE
Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis has assigned a full-time detective to focus exclusively on the Odom case. Det. John Ellis says he'll begin by reviewing the mountain of files collected on the case over the past 20 years.
"It's just a fresh set of eyes, a different perspective from a different time," said Ellis, a veteran police officer who says he volunteered for the job because of the challenge and the need to find justice for the family.
He'll also make sure that the latest forensic technology is used to re-analyze evidence, like Jennifer's clarinet and bookbag, found miles away two years after the murder.
IS HE STILL OUT THERE?
Sheriff Nienhuis says there are no new breakthroughs that prompted him to assign the full-time detective. But there's a feeling around his office that someone knows something about the murder that they weren't willing to say before.
"Maybe they were too scared to come forward, maybe they were scared of that suspect and now the suspect is 20 years older," said Nienhuis.
Detectives believe other victims may have remained silent.
"We encourage anybody who has experienced a near abduction, or any type of physical abuse to call in," continued Boylan.
Over the past 20 years, the killer may have died or moved far from here, but Boylan has a feeling.
"I'm thinking he's still out there," he added.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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