Murder on Deerfoot Road
by Robert A. Waters
April 26, 1994. Another beautiful sun-drenched spring afternoon in DeLand, Florida. At 3:15 p.m., fifteen-year-old Laralee Spear gets off her school bus at South Spring Garden Avenue. The petite, friendly cheerleader begins walking home along Deerfoot Road.
She never makes it.
A half hour later, Barbara Spear calls police to report her daughter missing.
In 1994, DeLand has less than 20,000 residents. It’s known as a friendly town, home to the prestigious Stetson University. Unlike Daytona Beach, its raucous neighbor to the north, major crimes are rare in the community.
Officers from the Deland Police Department and Volusia County Sheriff’s Office converge on Deerfoot Road. Blue lights beat against homes on either side of the street. Yellow crime scene tape is strung up. Uniformed cops and suited detectives move about as neighbors watch.
Several witnesses inform cops that they saw a black low-rider truck speeding away from the area at about the time the girl disappeared. Barbara Spear tells investigators her daughter was happy at home and school and would never run away. She’s an A-student, and has many friends. Laralee likes to ride her bike, sing in the choir at church, and play her violin. She loves animals, especially horses. She hopes to become a pediatrician, her mother says.
Cops quickly get the message--there’s no reason for Laralee to disappear.
The searchers spread out. Within an hour, the sheriff’s office sends a helicopter up. The chopper starts at the scene of the disappearance and circles out.
It’s been two hours now and time is of the essence. Then a call comes in, the kind of call cops hate. The helicopter pilot has spied a body lying on the back-yard patio of a burned-out house. It’s only a quarter-mile from where Laralee vanished.
Cops have been called to this house before. Teenagers often use the place for drug parties, neighbors say. There’s an old railroad trestle nearby. The charred home and yard surrounding it has been sealed off because of complaints, but that doesn’t stop the parties.
Behind the blackened corpse of the building, detectives spot Laralee.
There’s no question who it is. Her hands are tied. Much of her clothing is missing. Blood pools beneath her.
Cops are supposed to be Joe Friday matter-of-fact, but a slow anger boils inside the responders. Senseless. That’s the word for what they see. It’s obvious from the first that someone abducted Laralee, attempted to sexually assault her, and shot her multiple times in the back of the head. She may have been beaten as well.
The days wear on. Some of Laralee’s clothes are found scattered alongside Deerfoot Road. The killer must have discarded them as he drove away.
Cops release a profile of the killer. He would be young, investigators inform the media, maybe a teen. He may have a new handgun he likes to shoot. He may speak incessantly about Laralee’s murder. He may have a quick temper and he may have left the area shortly after the shooting. Cops think the killer is inexperienced in murder. He may have kidnapped Laralee and attempted to rape her. When she fought back, he shot her and fled.
Nine months later, detectives hone in on a suspect. Bobby Raleigh, a twenty-year-old ne’er-do-well and drug dealer, is arrested for Laralee’s murder. He’s easy to find since he’s sitting in jail for killing two rival drug dealers. But no matter how hard they try, investigators can’t find the evidence to link him to the kidnap and murder of Laralee. Cops conclude that he has an air-tight alibi and no physical evidence connects him to the crime. Eventually, Bobby Raleigh is tried, convicted, and sentenced to death for the drug-related murders. The charges in Laralee’s case are dropped for lack of sufficient evidence.
For sixteen years now, the case has gone unsolved. Laralee was recently featured on Northeast Florida Crime Stoppers Cold Case Playing Cards. Here's hoping someone will step forward and name this brutal killer.
The fleeting innocence of a young girl vanished with one senseless horrifying act and justice needs to be served.