Suspect Emerges in Killing
But an admitted serial killer, Michael Ronning, in Arkansas refuses to talk about it.
December 26, 2005
She had reddish brown hair and weighed about 100 pounds. Her petite frame was dressed in a black T-shirt with "Here Comes Trouble" on the front and a nightshirt with "Have You Kissed Your Child Tonite?"
For 21 years, no one has known her name, why she was slain and who left her in the Ocala National Forest near Lake Dorr north of Umatilla.
Lake County investigators suspect an admitted serial killer serving life in an Arkansas prison may know something about the case. But Michael Ronning, 48, isn't talking.
Investigators think he may fear being convicted of capital murder in Florida, where he could face the death penalty.
Today, Michael Ronning is serving life in prison without parole for the 1986 murder of a 19-year-old woman in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Michael Ronning has admitted to at least six other killings: three in Michigan, two in Texas and one in Florida. But authorities have never charged him in those homicides.
These victims and their deaths share similarities. They were all young women, and their bodies were found in woods close to where Ronning lived.
A few years ago, Michigan authorities questioned him about the killing of three women in the Battle Creek area in 1982 and 1983. Another man was already convicted in one of the slayings.
Officials there eventually accused Ronning of making false statements and sent him back to prison in Arkansas.
Texas detectives have said they would like to talk to him about the death of 20-year-old Annette Melia, whose body was found in 1985 near Bedford. She disappeared in 1982. The next year, Melissa Jackson, 16, went missing from Grand Prairie, Texas. Her body was found in 1986 in woods outside Bedford.
Like Florida and Arkansas, Texas has the death penalty.
Lake County detectives and prosecutors plan to meet within a few months to figure out their next move. Finding the killer would bring authorities closer to learning the victim's identity.
"We want to open doors to find out who she is," Lake County sheriff's Sgt. Ken Adams said. "Maybe we can make closure to her family possible once we find out her name."
State Attorney Brad King, whose office oversees prosecutions in Lake County, said he does not discuss any plea negotiations with open cases.
The case goes back to April 18, 1984, when a man found the woman's remains in the Lake Dorr recreation area in the national forest. She had been dead for two to four weeks, and animals had scattered her remains.
A break in the case came almost 18 years later when the news show Dateline NBC did a story about Michael Ronning in February 2002.
In Dateline's research, the producers found a traffic ticket that was issued April 17, 1984, to Ronning by Umatilla police for not having a valid drivers license. The show alerted Lake detectives about its findings and asked if they had any unsolved homicides.
That's when Lake County investigators first heard about Michael Ronning and began investigating.
Ronning and his wife, Victoria, lived in a mobile-home park off Golden Gem Drive in Umatilla for about a year. He worked in construction in Seminole County before they moved away.
Michael Ronning was eventually convicted of seven murders and sentenced to life, but he refused to ever speak of the young girl with the reddish brown hair.
credit - murderpedia / Sarah Lundy