The murder of a teenager in DeLand, Florida is still unsolved 27 years later.
Laralee Spear disappeared after school on the 25th April 1994, after alighting the school bus. Less than an hour later, the 15 year old honor student was reported missing but soon after the call to police, her body was spotted by the Sheriff’s helicopter near a derelict house not far from home. Laralee had been shot and killed, police believed, less than 30 minutes after her abduction. Police quickly narrowed in on a suspect.
At the time, Bobby Allen Raleigh was arrested for Spear’s abduction and murder. Orlando Sentinel archives reported that the 20 year old, who was already in prison for a recent double homicide and several other offences, was charged with first degree murder. However, in 1998, the State Attorney’s Office believed the evidence against Raleigh was weak and the charges for Laralee’s murder were dropped. Raleigh still resides on death row for his other crimes.
Raleigh was one of 66 suspects in Laralee’s case, according to investigators, but no one stood out as the perpetrator. In 2007, flyers were distributed by Laralee’s family and the police, in the hope of bringing the teenager’s murder back to the forefront of local’s minds, but the act was fruitless and no new leads came from the effort.
Laralee was a model student, who sang in the church choir and played the piano. She was on the cheerleading squad and was planning to join the Keyettes with her friend, Carolyn. Police believed that she was taken as she got off the bus at Deerfoot Road and Spring Garden Avenue, but according to multiple witnesses, they didn’t see anyone out of the ordinary hanging around the area.
“The bus driver [saw] her get off. She didn’t seem to have any problem. There was no one around the area [who looked] strange,” recalled retired cop Ralph Henshaw.
Now, police are offering a $50,000 reward in the hopes that it will lead to information relating to the teenager’s murderer.
“No family deserves to experience what Laralee’s family has been through for all these years,” said Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood. “If anyone out there has information that could help bring this innocent girl’s killer or killers to justice, now is the time to clear your conscience and come forward.”
Laralee’s case was featured on the Northeast Florida Crime Stoppers Cold Case playing card deck. The cards are distributed around prisons and jails in the county, in the hope that the cases can be solved by those already incarcerated. So far, several cases across the country have been closed due to information gained from dispensing the cards in facilities.
Laralee’s sister Ginny said in a video released by police, "I always wonder what she would think of Christmas, or Thanksgiving, her birthday. I always wonder where she will be at if things were different, if somebody had just left her alone that day and let her live," Bussell added. "What life would be like with her here – I’m sure it would have been a lot happier."
Renewed interest in the case has seen retired officers volunteer their time to help investigate historic cases in the specialised Cold Case Unit out of Volusia County, hoping their expertise will be of use in the nearly three-decade-old murder case.
In the video, Laralee’s sister added, "...if you know something, please just come forward, just tell something even if you think it’s the most useless piece of information, just speak up. One little thing can make a world of difference, can bring peace to Laralee, can bring us hope and closure."
Information about Laralee’s case can be submitted to the Major Case Unit at ColdCaseUnitTips@vcso.us or 386-254-1537.