Nearly 40 years on, a cold case team from Jacksonville Sheriff’s office cracked a Florida woman’s murder case. They linked the suspect to three different fake names.
The victim, Annie Mae Ernest, 38, was discovered back on September 9, 1985. Cops chatted with a guy called “Robert Vance,” believed to be the last person to see Ernest.
Vance said he’d take a lie detector test, but then he was a no-show. When the police checked his place, it was deserted — and they couldn’t find him anywhere.
But as they dug deeper, they found out “Robert Vance” was actually Robert Richard Van Pelt. The detectives searched high and low for anyone with those names but came up empty.
Back in July 2023, Ernest’s relatives got in touch with the cold case squad, asking them to take another look at her case. The Jacksonville detectives dug in and figured out that Van Pelt had high-tailed it to Tampa right after Ernest was killed. Over there, he went by “John Leroy Harris.”
While in Tampa, Harris got mixed up in another incident. He was suspected of shooting a woman in 1988, as per the local police files. The lady made it through, but the Tampa records mention that Harris ended up taking his own life not long after.
The Jacksonville team put the pieces together using clues from both cities, checking state and local records, and a deep dive into fingerprint analysis. They concluded that all these three names – Van Pelt, Vance, and Harris – were just one guy.
The cold case team shared everything they found about Van Pelt with the Florida State Attorney’s Office, part of the 4th Judicial Circuit. Just last month, they officially marked the case as “Exceptionally Cleared – Death of Offender.”
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office stated, “If Van Pelt were alive today, he would be charged with the murder of Annie Mae Ernest.”