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Police recover remains believed to be 16-year-old girl who mysteriously vanished in 2004

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Posted at 7:37 PM, Feb 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-29 19:37:24-05

Florida authorities said they believe they've recovered the remains of a 16-year-old girl who vanished in 2004 in a mystery that took almost two decades to unravel.

Detectives investigating the disappearance of Autumn Lane McClure found the remains while excavating her suspected burial site on Wednesday afternoon, the Volusia Sheriff's Office said.

McClure, from Ormond Beach, Florida, was last seen on May 10, 2004. At the time, her boyfriend told authorities he dropped her off at the Volusia Mall, the sheriff's office said.

In 2016, detectives re-interviewed McClure's boyfriend and he admitted he lied in 2004, and said he didn't drop McClure off at the mall, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said at a news conference Thursday. He said he really dropped her off at a bridge where she got into a car with her grocery store co-worker, Jessica Freeman, the sheriff said.

McClure had been staying with Freeman and her boyfriend, Brian Donley, then 31, at their trailer at the time of her disappearance, and the teenager was engaged in a sexual relationship with Freeman and Donley, the sheriff said.

Detectives later tracked down Freeman, who said she had no information, Chitwood said.

In 2021, authorities identified a person of interest when they received a phone call from Chris Miller, a man who knew Donley and Freeman, the sheriff said.

Chitwood said Miller told police, "I got to get this off my chest. ... There is a teenage girl who is missing and is dead and is buried in Volusia County, and Brian Donley and/or Jessica Freeman had to have something to do with this."

Miller made a controlled call to Freeman, during which Freeman disclosed that "she saw Brian Donley kill Autumn, and that he told a myriad of stories" of how he disposed of her, Chitwood said.

Donley "had the ability to instill fear in everybody," Chitwood said, noting that it took years for "Miller to finally wake up and say, 'Enough is enough, I can't live with my conscience, as a father, knowing that I heard him tell people what he did.'"

Donley died on May 26, 2022, Chitwood said.

"The sad part is he'll never face, in this world, for the evil that he perpetrated," the sheriff said.

Detectives then went to re-interview Freeman, and prosecutors granted her immunity, the sheriff said.

Freeman admitted to investigators that "she came home one afternoon and saw Brian choking Autumn in the bathroom," and "by the time she intervened, she saw Autumn was lifeless," the sheriff said.

Authorities said they believe the motive was McClure planned to go back home, and Donley was afraid if she returned home and disclosed their sexual relationship, he'd face charges.

Freeman said, about two weeks after the murder, she saw plywood on the bedroom floor. Freeman said she asked Donley, "What happened to Autumn?" and he replied, "Shut up or the same thing will happen to you," according to Chitwood.

In late 2023, Freeman re-contacted police and disclosed that McClure was buried underneath where their trailer was, the sheriff said.

Freeman told police that Donley would go back and visit the site, and Freeman was scared that "he would kill her as easily as he killed Autumn," Chitwood said.

Police said they don't suspect Freeman was involved in the murder.

McClure's brother is "relieved" by the recovery of his sister's remains, Chitwood said.

"He wasn't shocked. I mean, there's been rumors, but they're, you know, happy that she's been found," he said.