Newspaper articles reporting on the murders of Rick Merrill and Dori Colyer.
5/10/1981 - TWO FOUND DEAD IN BURING CARBY DERALD EVERHART
TAMPA BAY TIMES
BROOKSVILLE - Two bodies, burnt beyond recognition, were discovered early Saturday morning inside a flaming car off a quiet side street in Brooksville, the Brooksville Police Department reported.
The bodies, which have not yet been identified, were found at 2:30am Saturday when the Brooksville Fire Department responded to a report of a car fire on Stafford Street, two blocks off West Fort Dade Avenue, Brooksville Police Chief Ron Novy said.
As of late Saturday afternoon, investigators have not been able to determine what caused the deaths of two individuals or how the fire was started, he said.
Novy would not release the name of the owner of the car. However, he did say that the car, a late model black Chevrolet El Camino, was registered to a Hernando County resident.
In additional, Novy would not say what the sex, age or race of the victims were nor did he way what the victims were wearing. The bodies will have to be identified through dental records, because they were severely burnt, he said.
While Novy was mum on the identities of the victims, he did way earlier in the day that the body in the driver's seat was believed to be that of a white man in his 20's. In additional, the other body may be that of a white female in her late teens, he said.
We don't know what happened, but we're investigating it as a homicide," he said, adding that arson is commonly used to hide evidence of another crime.
"A fire scene is one of the hardest to process because you destroy some of the evidence while you are putting the fire out," Detective Bob Johnson, who is in charge of the police department's investigation said.
The burning car, reported by a passing motorist, was on a vacant lot on the tree shaded street about 50 yards from the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad overpass. The entire front end of the car, which was about 15 years from the street and had apparently been backed into the lot, was consumed by fire.
Investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) crime lab in Tampa were called to the scene early Saturday morning to assist the police department in the meticulous and laborious task of gathering evidence, Novy said.
Two of the FDLE investigators, both women, recently spent fie weeks during March and April exhuming the skeletal remains of four women from the Weeki Wachee Acres property of convicted sex offender William Mansfield.
Investigators worked all morning and into early afternoon cataloging evidence in and around the burnt car and making plaster casts of tire prints leading onto the vacant lot.
Paramedics from the Hernando County Emergency Medical Service removed the charred remains from the car and put them in black body bags about noon Saturday. The remains were taken to Lykes Memorial Hospital where Dr. William Winters was scheduled to perform autopsies later.
5/10/1981 - BODIES FOUND IN BURING CAR BY BROOKSVILLE FIREFIGHTERSBY DANIEL MCLAUGHLIN
TAMPA BAY TRIBUNE
BROOKSVILLE - The bodies of a man and woman were found burned to cinders early Saturday in a car that police believe was deliberately set ablaze, authorities said.
City firefighters found the bodies shortly after 2:30am, while extinguishing flames in the charred cab of a black Chevrolet El Camino. The truck was parked in a wooded, vacant lot facing the west side of Stafford Avenue, around the 300 block.
When police arrived, firemen told them the flames apparently were started by an arsonist. Detective said they are considering the case a double homicide, but would not elaborate.
The tentatively have identified the victims through the vehicle's licensor's tag. The owners of the truck, who live outside of Hernando County, have been contacted, police said. They refused to name the couple.
Positive identification of the victims will have to wait until after an autopsy by the medical examiner's office and the results of tests being conducted at the Tampa Regional Crime Lab.
Detectives declined to release the name and age of either victim.
The head of Brooksville detectives, Bob Johnson said, "Right now, both are classified as John Doe 1 and John Doe 2."
First indications are that the deaths appear to be the result of "a drug deal gone sour," said one law enforcement officer, who asked that his name not be used. "We're not sure," he added.
The officer said he believe the victims were burned after they had been killed by some other means.
A state fire marshal has been summoned to assist with the investigation.
Police have at least one clue that leads them to believe there was foul play.
Residents living in modest block houses lining Stafford Avenue, north and south of the vacant lot, told investigators they heard nothing strange or out of the ordinary before the fire was spotted.
The driver of a wrecker truck discovered the blaze early Saturday morning on his way to pick up a disabled vehicle on US 98. He reported a brush fire to Brooksville authorities.
Firemen began fighting the flames in the vehicle, and the blaze which had spread to some of the underbrush. "Once the flames were nearly put out, the bodies were seen in the car," said Assistant State Attorney Jimmy Brown.
"We are treating this as a double homicide," Brown said.
A contingent of law enforcement authorities, including state officials, worked throughout most of Saturday to gather evidence.
Brown said crime specialists from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement in Tampa arrived about 6:30am to begin collecting data.
Police said they expense to release the identities of the victims today.
5/11/1981 - TWO BURNED BODIES REMAIN UNIDENTIFIEDA man and a woman, who were found dead and burned in a truck early Saturday and who police suspect may have been the victims of an arsonist, remain unidentified Sunday, Brooksville police officials said.
Police Chief Ron Novy said the man, believed to be in his mid-20's has been tentatively identified though a check of the truck's license tag.
Novy, however, said nothing will be made public until he man is positively identified through dental records within the next few days.
In addition, said Assistant State Attorney Jimmy Brown, police have no idea who the woman might be. She is believe by police to be slightly younger than the man, in her early 20's.
"The bodies were burned in such a fashion that it requires more than simple observation to make an identification," said head of Brooksville detectives, Bob Johnson.
The registered owners of the truck, who live outside Hernando County, have been contacted, but police are withholding their names.
Authorities said the dead couple may have been the victims of a "drug deal gone sour."
Police have several clues that indicate there might have been foul play.
5/12/1981 - POLICE SEEK LINK BETWEEN BLAZE, DRUGSBY NEIL JOHNSON
TAMPA BAY TRIBUNE
BROOKSVILLE - Many of the same crime scene analysts who worked for weeks at the Weeki Wachee homesite of William and Virginia Mansfield were called to the scene of a possible double homicide by Brooksville Police.
The analysts are investigating clues connected with a car first that killed a man and a Wiman, believed to be in their early 20's. Police haven't released the victims identities.
Some of the crime scene experts involved in the case also worked at the Mansfield property, where the biddies of four young women were discovered and excavated.
"We just roped it off and preserved the crime scene for the (Florida Department of Law Enforcement) specialists," Brooksville Police Chief Ron Novy said about the burned-out car.
"We're releasing nothing until we have a positive identification," he added.
Authorities said they believe they know the identity of the man whose charred body was discovered in the burned-out, late model El Camino at about 2:30am Saturday.
Police said earlier that they had no idea who the woman might be, although they speculated that she was slightly younger than the man.
The car, with its two occupants, was parked in a vacant lot in the 300 block of Stafford Avenue. The area is said to be a night parking place for local youths.
Though authorities have traced the owner of the car to Port St. Lucie, which is about 10 miles south of Fort Pierce, they said the vehicle had been given to a relative of the owner in Hernando County who was making payments on the car.
Dental charts are being checked to determine the exact identity of the two biddies, Novy said. His department is treating the deaths as a double homicide that may be drug related.
Earlier, Detective Bob Johnson said, "The bodies were burned in such a fashion that it requires more than simple observation to make an identification.
An investigator from the state fire marshal's office is working on the case to determine the cause of the blaze.
Novy hasn't released the result of autopsies performed Saturday and Sunday on the two victims.
A drug screen taken from the victim's blood is being performed at a toxicology lab in Dade County.
Though investigators asked that the tests be expedited, they don't know when the results will be returned.
5/12/1981 - FATHER FEARS SON DIED IN BURNING TRUCKBY BRUCE ROLFSEN
DAILY SUN JOURNAL
Jim Merrill has not seen his son Rick since Friday night.
Friends of Dori Colyer have not see her since Friday, and her employer says she didn’t come to work Saturday and hasn’t been seen there since.
Assistant State Attorney Jimmy Brown said this morning that Merrill and Colyer have been mentioned in the investigation of two bodies found Saturday in a burning vehicle. But Brown refused to confirm or deny that the investigators believe the bodies are that of Merrill and Colyer.
The Sun Journal and Spring Hill Sun has learned that Friday night Rick Merrill was suppose to see Dori Colyer. Since Friday friends have not seen Merrill or Colyer.
Colyer, who was in her early 20’s is said by friends to have lived with her father in High Point. She moved to Hernando County three years ago the friends said.
Rick Merrill had lived in Hernando County for 10 years with is parents in Weeki Wachee where the family owns The Ark restaurant.
Saturday morning at 11am authorities called Jim Merrill and asked him to send his son’s dental records to them. The use of dental records and x-rays is a common way to identify badly damaged bodies.
Brown said this morning that dental checks had yet to be done on either body. Brown explains that the tests would have to be conducted in Tampa since there was no dental x-ray equipment available at Lykes Memorial Hospital where the bodies were taken.
Brown said he did not expect the check to be done before Wednesday.
Early Saturday morning Jim Merrill received a call from Brooksville authorities telling him there was a problem with his son’s car, but they wouldn’t elaborate. Merrill said he was already worried because Rick hadn’t returned home that night.
What Brooksville Police and Fire Department had discovered was a flaming Chevrolet El Camino at 300 Stafford Drive in northeast Brooksville.
The car was parked in a vacant lot with the front of the car pointing towards the residential street.
Jim Merrill explained that Rick had bought the 1979 Chevrolet El Camino from his other son Mark in October of last year.
The fire was reported at 2:30am Saturday morning by a passerby. The fire department responded to the call putting out a small brush fire and the car fire. Just before they had extinguished the auto fire, the firefighters discovered two charred bodies in the front seat.
The Brooksville Police were quickly radioed.
By sunrise local officials had been joined by crime scene investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). The FDLE workers began a thorough check of the burned out car and surrounding area.
The police announced they were investigating the incident as a double homicide and vehicle arson.
Associate County Medical Examiner, Dr. William Winter finished his autopsy on the two victims on Sunday.
As of this morning at the Brooksville Police Department still refused to release any information about the victims.
Earlier, authorities had indicated that the murder victims were thought to be white, in their 20’s and one was a man and the other was a woman.
As to who the other victim might be, Jim Merrill said he could only guess at.
The Ark Restaurant did not open Saturday morning and stayed closed Sunday and Monday. A sign in front of The Ark reads “Closed due to death in the family.”
Jim Merrill said, “It is always difficult to lose one of your children. The hardest part has been the waiting.”
Merrill said because he has received no official word yet on if the victim is his son, no funeral arrangements have been made.
The father said Rick was a responsible young man. While Jim Merrill and his wife are on vacation, Rick managed the successful restaurant.
This weekend, friends and customers who knew Rick and the car he drove were asking the Merrill’s if it might have been Rick’s car.
Jim Merrill had some critical words for Assistant State Attorney Jimmy Brown who commented the victim had once been arrested on drug charges and was required to attend a drug rehabilitation program.
Merrill said his son was never arrested on any drug charges. The only charges ever brought against his son was for the grand theft of a motorcycle in 1979. Rick Merrill was serving three years probation for that offense.
“If Jimmy Brown had checked with Rick’s probation officer, he would have found Rick was making a comeback,” Merrill said.
5/12/1981 - FATHER FEARS SON WAS BURNED IN CARBY DERALD EVERHART
TAMPA BAY TIMES
BROOKSVILLE - While Brooksville Police labored Monday to identify the two bodies found in a burning car early Saturday morning, the father of Ricky Lee Merrill, the owner of the car, has prepared himself for the worst.
James Merrill, owner of The Ark restaurant at Weeki Wachee, told The Times Monday that he believes his son died in that car fire with a woman friend. He also thinks his son was murdered.
“We turned him over to the Lord two years ago, and he has called him home,” Merrill said. “We are very upset.”
The 1979 black Chevrolet El Camino was in flames when passing motorist noticed it about 2:30 AM Saturday on Stafford Avenue near the Seaboard Coast Line Railroad trestle.
After the blaze was extinguished, firemen found the charred remains of two people, believed to have been a white man in his 20's and a white female in her late teens. As of Monday afternoon, neither body had been identified, Brooksville Police Chief Ron Novy said.
“We don't have anything to release at this time,” he said, when asked about the cause of death as determined by the autopsies.
But James Merrill said the car had been bought by Rick, 24, from his other son, Mark, in October 1980. "No one in the family has seen Rick since he left work at the restaurant about 8:30 PM Friday," Merrill said.
“Rick got a call at the restaurant Friday night and responded to that call,” Merrill said. “That was the last time we saw him alive.”
Police are investigating the incident as a double homicide.
The Ark was closed Monday and a white wreath had been placed on the front doors.
“Closed due to a death in the family” is the explanation given passersby by a large, portable sign in front of the restaurant, which is near the Weeki Wachee River.
While his son was on three years probation following a 1979 grand theft conviction in connection with a theft of a motorcycle, Merrill said Rick was making a comeback.
Merrill said he thinks the other body is that of an old friend of Rick's, although he declined to give her name.
“Rick truly cared about people. I've been proud of his relationships with other human beings,” he said.
5/13/1981 - FAMILIES STILL WAITING FOR VICTIM'S FINAL IDENTIFICATIONBY BRUCE ROLFSEN
DAILY SUN JOURNAL
“Dori was a good girl, a smart student, but she always seemed to be friends with boys who were troublemakers,” Mrs. Marilyn Climer, the mother of Dori Colyer said.
“She would always bring home stray animals. Maybe she hung around with those kind of people because she wanted to take care of them.”
The parents of Dori Colyer, 20, are waiting for some word about what happened to their daughter early last Saturday morning in Brooksville.
The Brooksville Police Department has indicated to Climer and Dori’s father Aubrey Colyer that they suspect the female body found Saturday morning in the burning El Camino is their daughter’s.
The two bodies found in the truck still have not been identified.
The other body is thought to be the remains of Rick Merrill, 24, of Weeki Wachee. The burning car was owned by Merrill and he has not been seen since he left the Hilltop Lounge with Colyer at around 1am Saturday.
Climer said a friend on Saturday told her ex-husband that one of the bodies found may have been Dori’s. The Brooksville Police Department requested Colyer not call Climer at her Texas home, but Colyer made the call to Dori’s mother Sunday.
Since then the family has gathered from Ohio and Texas at Colyer’s High Point home waiting for a final answer from the police department.
The Brooksville Police Department's handling of the case has not pleased the family Climer said. It was not until after three telephone calls were made that the police department sent anyone to talk to the family and give them some idea of what had happened to Dori.
The Merrills have also been frustrated by the investigators actions. Rick Merrill's older brother, Mark, found it hard to understand why the police had not obtained his brother's dental records until after 1pm Tuesday, three days after the body was discovered.
Also Tuesday afternoon, Police Chief Ron Novy and Detective Bob Johnson talked with Colyer’s relatives telling the family some of what the price know about Colyer’s actions that night and asking the family about the young woman’s friends.
Police said they believe that the body may be Colyer’s because she is the only one of several people considered as the possible victim who was not found. Also, friends questioned by the police identified rings found in the truck as rings Colyer owned.
At around 1am Colyer and Merrill left together and said they would be back in 30 minutes. The two never came back.
Climer said her daughter and a girlfriend had recently moved into their own home in High Point and that Dori was looking forward to being in her new home.
Colyer’s mother explained that her daughter had moved to High Point to live with her father three years ago. For awhile she attended Springstead High School. Before moving permanently with her father, Colyer had visited Hernando County in the summer and during school vacations.
It was during these vacations that Colyer met Merrill. Climer said the tow had always been “just friends,” never boy and girl friend.
For now the only thing the families of Rick Merrill and Dori Colyer can do is wait.
A positive identification of the male body found could come this afternoon when a forensic dentist compared the dental plates of the body and Merrill’s.
Until police say More, Colyer’s relatives and friends can only guess at what happened and share the rumors they hear.
The Merrill’s said that because of their Christian faith they have been able to handle their son’s death with strength. “Rick was saved,” his mother said. “We know where he has gone.”
5/13/1981 - DENTAL, X-RAY RECORDS MAY IDENTIFY A VICTIM IN CAR FIRE.BY NEIL JOHNSON
TAMPA BAY TRIBUNE
BROOKSVILLE - Investigators may have a positive identification today of the man who was one of the two persons killed in a fierce car fire early Saturday, an official in the probe said.
Dental charts and X-rays of the man's teeth have been sent to a forensic dentist in Tampa for identification, Assistant State Attorney Jimmy Brown said.
Though the investigators believe they know who the man is, they are awaiting a positive match with dental charts before releasing his name.
Brown says investigators have a "good lead" on the identity of the woman whose body also was found in the late model El Camino that caught fire about 2:30am Saturday in the 300 block of Stafford Avenue.
But no identification of the woman, who Brown said may be local, can be made through detail charts because of damage to the woman's skull caused by the intense heat of the blaze.
"We hope to be able to identify her through personal items found in the car," Brown said.
He added that investigators are also attempting to determine the woman's identity by matching her blood type.
"If she had any blood type taken either through a doctor or at the hospital, we might be able to match that," Brown said.
Meanwhile, investigators are continuing to probe for the cause of the fire that consumed the passenger compartment and front of the car.
An investigator from the state Fire Marshal's office is expected to be in town today to inspect the burned out hulk of the black automobile. The investigator will try to determine the point inside the auto where the fire originated, Brown said.
Also helping to determine the cause of the fire are experts at the Tampa Regional Crime Lab who were called to the scene to gather evidence.
Neils Bernstein, director of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab, said tests one there may be able to pinpoint what if anything was used to start the fire.
If any petroleum products were used to start the fire, enough may be left for distillation and vaporizing tests to identify them.
But Bernstein said, if the heat was too high or not much of the flammable liquid was used, there will be not left to show up in the tests.
Brown said investigators are treating the case as a double homicide until evidence proves the deaths of the couple were accidental.
The owner of the car has been traced to his home in Port St. Lucie, about 10 miles south of Fort Pierce, though he gave the automobile to a relative in Hernando County who was making payments on the vehicle.
5/13/1981 - FAMILIES ARE SURE THEY KNOW MAN, WOMAN WHO DIED IN CAR FIREBY BILL STEVENS and DERALD EVERHART
TAMPA BAY TIMES
BROOKSVILLE - Dori Colyer, 20 completed her waitress duties at Fat Boys Restaurant at 10:50 p.m. Friday, changed clothes and headed to a local nightclub.
She has not been seen since, and her friends and relatives believe she was one of two persons found dead at 2:30 a.m. Saturday in a flaming 1979 black Chevrolet El Camino parked near a deserted shack off Stafford Avenue.
The other person is believed by his family to be a friend of Miss Colyer’s, Ricky Lee Merrill, 24, of Weeki Wachee. He was the owner of the El Camino.
“We’ve been told by friends that she and Rick left the Hilltop (Lounge) about 1 o’clock Saturday morning and said they’d be back in 30 minutes,” Diane Woedl, Miss Colyer’s sister, said Tuesday. “But they never came back.”
Mrs. Woedl and other relatives, including Miss Colyer’s mother, Marilyn Clymer of Texas, and her father Aubrey Colyer, were interviewed by police at Colyer’s home in the High Point subdivision west of Brooksville Tuesday afternoon.
Mrs. Woedl, who flew in Sunday from Oxford Ohio with her brother, said that her sister was “very happy” recently because of the new mobile home her father had bought for her in High Point.
“She was just crazy about the trailer, always talking about fixing it up,” Mrs. Woedl said.
“I can’t imagine what she would have had or known that would make someone do something like that to Dori. But she was always attracted to the wrong people.”
“She liked to have fun, but didn’t know how to say no to people. She’d follow the crowd. She wasn’t one to stand up for herself.”
James Merrill, owner of the Ark Restaurant in Weeki Wachee where his son Ricky was employed, said police confirmed that a gold chain with a gold sand dollar was found at the scene Saturday.
“We just got back from California Thursday and gave Rick the chain, which he wore around his next,” said Merrill, who moved to Hernando County from Seminole in Pinellas County 10 years ago.
“We’ve gone ahead with funeral arrangements.”
Merrill said he received a call about noon Tuesday from a dentist, asking for permission to release Rick’s dental records.
Police Chief Roy Novy said late Tuesday that dental records have been taken to Tampa for analysis. He would not say whose records they were.
“We have no new information to release,” Novy said.
At Fat Boys Restaurant on State Road 50 W, where Miss Colyer was a waitress for about a year, employees were “shocked and bewildered” Tuesday afternoon, co-owner Belinda Arney said.
“Some of the waitresses are working in the kitchen because they can’t stop crying,” she said. “Dori was very well liked and always smiling. She was an excellent waitress and always called me early if she thought there might be a problem getting to work. She was never late. She never seemed to have any problems. Her father had just bought her a trailer and she was excited about getting her first checking account.”
Miss Colyer was described at 5 foot 4 with long light brown hair that she kept in a ponytail. She had taken a change of clothes to the restaurant Saturday, Mrs. Arney said.
Employees at Fat Boys said they were asked by Brooksville Police to identify rings and other items belonging to Miss Colyer.
They said Miss Colyer and Merrill were “just friends.”
Police have said they are investigating the incident as a double homicide and arson of a vehicle.
5/14/1981 - VICTIM'S FAMILIES ARE FRUSTRATED BY DELAYSBY BRUCE ROLFSEN
DAILY SUN JOURNAL
Conjectures, rumors and stories from people is all the families of Dori Colyer and Rick Merrill have heard.
From the Brooksville Police Department, there has been silence and no comments.
As of this morning, the investigators have still no identified either of the two bodies found early Saturday morning in a flaming El Camino truck near Stafford Drive in Brooksville.
Investigators had hoped by Wednesday to have identified the man’s body with the use of dental records. From the identification of a crucifix medallion, chain and earring, Jim Merrill had told the Brooksville Police that he believed the body found was the remains of his 24 year old son Rick.
But it wasn’t until Tuesday afternoon that police asked for Rick Merrill’s dental records.
No investigator had asked for the medical records of Dori Colyer, her mother Marilyn Climer told the Sun-Journal and Spring Hill Sun.
Police tentatively identified the body found as Colyer’s by jewelry and a belt found in the car.
Frustrated with the police department’s slowness in positively identifying the woman’s remains, Colyer’s relative have contacted Brooksville City Manager Margaret Willard for help.
“I’m not a person to sit back and do nothing,” Colyer’s mother said.
If no action is taken soon, Climer said, she would contact a lawyer to determine if there was any legal action the court can take you speed the identification of the body.
A family member of the Merrell's question how the police can be investigating the murder if they are not sure who the victims are.
If either of the bodies are not Rick or Dori it would seem to make much of their investigating useless, the family member said.
While the investigators are not commenting, there is no shortage or rumors of what happened to the pair.
Beyond questions about identifying the victims, investigators have not questioned either family about their children's habits and who might have a reason to kill them.
From the time police learned the El Camino belonged to Rick Merrill it took the police five hours to contact his family in Weeki Wachee to see if Merrill was home or if the family knew where he was.
Jim Merrill said he is praying his family will be able to bury his son this Saturday.
Marilyn Climer, Colyer’s mother said the family can't keep waiting much longer. Climer and her children have traveled from Texas and Ohio to be together with Aubrey Colyer, Dori's father and wait for word on what happened to the 20 -year-old girl.
When Colyer’s family contacted officials about funeral arrangements they were told, ”It is too premature to have a funeral service until a positive identification is made.”
Other people who knew Merrill aren’t waiting for an official word. And the convenience store near where Merrill lived and worked a collection has started for flowers and a sympathy card is filled with names.
5/14/1981 - FAMILIES COMPLAIN OF DELAY IN IDENTIFYING BODIESBY DERALD EVERHART
TAMPA BAY TIMES
BROOKSVILLE - Since Rick Merrill’s burning car was discovered early Saturday morning on a quiet side street in Brooksville, investigators have been working to unravel the questions surrounding the deaths of the two people inside.
But Wednesday, the Brooksville Police Department had still not released the identities of the victims, the results of the victim’s autopsies nor the cause of the fire that destroyed Merrill’s 1979 Chevrolet El Camino.
The family members of Merrill, 24, Weeki Wachee, and Dori Colyer, 20, High Point, believe that the youths were in the El Camino that was found 2:30 AM Saturday near a deserted shack on Stafford Avenue.
Neither youth has been seen since they left a local bar together at about 1 AM Saturday morning.
In the meantime, the family members, who have gathered in Hernando County from across the nation to wait for the identification, have complained that the police department is moving too slowly on the case.
Miss Colyer’s sister, Diane Woedl, told The Times Wednesday that her family was not contacted by the Brooksville Police Department for any information concerning Dori until late Tuesday afternoon. Only after repeated calls from family members, who flew in Sunday from Texas and Ohio, did Brooksville Police Chief Ron Novy and Detective Bob Johnson talk with the family.
“The only thing we know is what we have been told by Dori’s friends and what we've read in the papers,” Mrs. Woedl said. “The thing that bothers us most is that they were not even willing to come by and talk to us.”
Rick's brother, Mark, who previously owned the El Camino until he sold it to his brother last year, expressed the same frustrations.
“The only thing we know is what we read in the newspapers,” he said. “We are still waiting.”
It took the police until Tuesday to get Rick's records from his dentist in Brooksville.
The Merrill family has made funeral arrangements, family member said. James Merrill, Rick's father, said he identified a gold chain that his son was wearing that night he disappeared.
However, Novy said the delay is not the fault of his department.
“It was all explained to the families yesterday,” Novy said Wednesday. “There are other people involved in this investigation other than the Brooksville Police Department.”
“We're working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a forensic dentist in Tampa, and the State Fire Marshal's Office.”
“There were cases before us, but we asked that they expedite ours.”
Novy said a set of dental records, along with x-rays of the teeth of one of the victims, were taken to a forensic dentist in Tampa about 3 PM Tuesday. As of 4 PM Wednesday, he was still waiting for the results of the match.
“We just can't sit down here (in Florida) and wait forever for them to identify the bodies,” Mrs. Woedl said Wednesday. “We want to know if it's Dori, so we can go ahead and hold a memorial service or something for her.”
She said the families talk with Novy and Johnson on Tuesday gave them little encouragement.
“They didn't tell us anything,” she said
5/15/1981 - MEMORIAL SERVICE PLANNED FOR MERRILL, BUT CAR-FIRE VICTIMS IDENTITIES REMAIN UNCONFIRMEDBY DERALD EVERHART
TAMPA BAY TIMES
BROOKSVILLE - Although the family of Ricky Lee Merrill has scheduled memorial services for Saturday afternoon, they still do not know for sure that he is dead.
The identities of the two bodies found early Saturday morning in a burning car in Brooksville were still unconfirmed late Thursday afternoon, Brooksville Police chief Ron Novy said.
“We’re hoping that we’ll get some notification on the one body Friday,” Novy said, adding that he had no other information about the cause of the fire or the cause of the deaths.
“A forensic dentist in Tampa was furnished with Merrill’s dental records Tuesday, but because of her busy schedule, she has not had a chance to compare the dental records with the body’s x-rays,” Novy said.
But Merril’s family is so convinced he died in the fire that nearly consumed his 1979 Chevrolet El Camino, that they have scheduled a memorial service for 1 PM Saturday at Florida Hills Memorial Gardens on Spring Hill Boulevard. That is, the service will be held if his body is identified by then, Mark Merrill, Ricky’s older brother, said Thursday.
“There is a possibility the services may be held Sunday or Monday if they don't identify him by Saturday,” Merill said.
Mark Merrill and David Colyer, the brother of Dori Colyer, spent more than three hours Thursday talking with Novy and Detective Johnson about the investigation.
Miss Colyer, 20, of High Point has been missing since Saturday when she failed to report for work at Fat Boys restaurant in Brooksville. Miss Colyer's friends have told the members of her family that she left the Hilltop Lounge at 1 AM Saturday with Merrill and said they would return in half an hour but they never came back.
The meeting with Novy and Johnson Thursday was arranged to give family members an idea of the progress of the case and what police were doing to identify the burned bodies and the reasons for the delay, David Colyer said Thursday.
On Wednesday, the families of Miss Colyer and Merrill complained to The Times that the investigation seems to be going too slowly.
Mark Merrill said he believes that Thursday’s marathon discussion was beneficial to the families.
“They assured us that they were working hard on the case. I feel better about it now,” Merrill said. “It’s a very involved case. I think they are doing a fine job.”
5/15/1981 - MEEING WITH POLICE CALMS VICTIM'S FAMILIESBY BRUCE ROLFSEN
DAILY SUN JOURNAL
Six days after two badly burned bodies were found in a flaming truck in Brooksville the bodies still remain officially unidentified.
But Thursday afternoon relatives of the young man and women believed to be killed, met for almost 3 hours with Brooksville Police Chief Ron Novy and Detective Bob Johnson.
During the meeting, the department discussed its difficulties in identifying the bodies and explained its progress and problems in solving the double murder.
David Emery, brother of probably victim Dori Colyer, 20, said he left Thursday’s meeting feeling more satisfied in the department's investigation and has confidence in Detective Johnson's abilities.
The brother of likely victim, Rick Merrill, 24, Mark Merrill said Chief Novy and Detective Johnson explained that it was a very involved case and that the department must follow up every lead and rumor it hears to its source.
Miss Colyer and Merrill have been missing since they were last seen at the Hilltop Lounge in Brooksville early Saturday morning. The pair left the popular nightspot and told friends they would be back in 30 minutes. They never returned.
At 2:30 Saturday morning Merrill’s El Camino was discovered engulfed in flames along Stafford Drive, a residential street in Northwest Brooksville.
Chief Novy said he hopes to get the man's body identified today. The identification will be done at the Tampa Regional Crime Lab where a forensic dentist dentist will compare Merrill’s dental x-rays with the victim’s.
Positive identification of the woman’s body is expected to take more time because her body was burned more in the fire.
It might take police more than a year to solve the suspected murderer David Emery said, but the police can do their job better without the families interfering with them.
5/15/1981 - POLICE AWAIT WORD ON VICTIMS’ IDENTITIESBY NEIL JOHNSON
BROOKSVILLE - investigators are still waiting for positive identification of either of the two victims of a car fire that occurred Saturday.
Brooksville Police Chief Ron Novy they said that no word had come from a forensic dentist in Tampa who was examining the dental charts and x-rays of the man authorities believe died in the fire.
Firefighters found the charred bodies of a man and woman at about 2:30 AM inside a burned-out El Camino on a vacant lot in the 300 block of Stafford Avenue.
Investigators still don't know what caused the intense fire that consumed every flammable items in the passenger compartment of the truck-like vehicle.
Dental charts of Rick Merrill, 24, whom investigators think was one of the victims, along with x-rays of the male victims teeth, were sent to Tampa Tuesday. But Novy said the dentist hasn't notified authorities about an identification.
"We were hoping to hear something today,” Novy said Thursday.
Also waiting for word is the family of Merrill, his brother, Mark, said.
“We haven't heard anything from the police since Monday,” Merill said
Police have also notified the family of 20-year-old Dori Colyer that the woman may have been the second victim in the fire.
Though the body was too badly burned for dental identification, investigators are trying to determine the woman's identity through jewelry and blood type matching, Assistant States Attorney Jimmy Brown said.
5/16/1981 - IDENTITIES OF TWO CONFIRMED IN BURNING CARBY BILL STEVENS
TAMPA BAY TIMES
BROOKSVILLE - Authorities concluded Friday that the two persons who burned to death in a car fire in Brooksville last Saturday are indeed Dori Colyer and Ricky Merrill.
“The damage to the bodies was so extensive that positive identification was impossible,” Assistant States Attorney Jimmy Brown told The Times. “But three people have identified jewelry the Dori Colyer was wearing the night she disappeared and evidence leads to the fact that the other body is that of Rick Merrill.”
Miss Colyer, 20, of High Point, and Merrill, 24, of Weeki Wachee, were last seen alive at 1 AM May 9 at the Hilltop Lounge. They left the lounge together, telling friends they would be back in half hour. But it 2:30 AM Merrill’s black, 1979 Chevrolet El Camino was found burning near deserted shack on Stafford Avenue about a half mile from the center of town.
Detectives were investigating the incident as a double murder and vehicle arson, he said
“(Detective) Bob Johnson is following up on some leads but at this point there are no suspects,” Brown said Friday.
Since Monday, friends and relatives of the victims have assumed that the identification that came from he was inevitable. A memorial service for Merrill has been scheduled for 1 PM today at Florida Hills Memorial Gardens on Spring Hill Drive and a separate service has been scheduled for Miss Colyer for 6 PM Sunday at the Mariner United Methodist Church in Spring Hill.
Early Friday police chief Ron Novy was apologetic that the bodies cannot be positively identified rapidly.
“I know how the family must feel,” he said. “I’m frustrated too, but the bodies were badly burned. You can assume a lot, but we deal with facts. We want to be positive.”
5/16/1981 - MEMORIAL SERVICES PLANNED FOR VICTIMS OF DOUBLE MURDERDAILY SUN JOURNAL
A memorial service is plan early this afternoon for Rick Merrill.
One week ago, Merrill’s El Camino was found ablaze in Brooksville.
While at press time neither of the two bodies had been positively identified, jewelry and other items found at the fire crime scene led relatives and police to believe the remains found to be that of Rick Merrill, 24, of Weeki Wachee, and Dori Colyer, 20, of High Point.
Investigators had hoped to identify the male body Friday.
At accident in Tampa Friday afternoon involving the child of the forensic dentist that was to have done the identification delayed the identification till this morning.
Jim Merrill, the father of Rick Merrill, said the family decided to go ahead with the memorial service as they previously planned despite the lace of a positive identification on Friday.
The Merrill family had been sure since early this week that the male body found was Rick Merrill’s.
The memorial service will start at 1pm this afternoon at the Westwood Chapel of Brewer Memorial Funeral Home, 2201 US 19, Spring Hill.
5/19/1981 - POLICE POSITIVELY IDENTIFY BODIES OF 2 PERSONS KILLED IN CAR FIRETAMPA TRIBUNE
BROOKSVILLE - Police Monday positively identified the two persons killed in a car fire May 9 as Rick Merrill and Dori Colyer.
The investigators had suspected the two bodies found in the burned out hulk of a 1979 El Camino were Colyer and Merrill and had contacted both families last week, the official event of identification came from a Tampa forensic dentist at about 9:30 AM Monday, police chief Ron Novy said.
The identification of Merrill, 24, driver of the black El Camino, came through x-rays matched with his dental charts, Novy said.
The identification of Colyer, 20, was done by other methods, the chief said.
The body was too badly burned in the intense heat of the mysterious fire to be matched with dental records.
He said part of the investigation came through jewelry found on the bodies.
The State Farm Marshal's office is probing the cause of the fire, which occurred in a vacant lot on May 9.
Firefighters had answered a call about a brush fire in the vacant lot, and it was only when the flames around the car where nearly extinguished that they discovered the charred bodies.
5/19/1981 - POLICE CONFIRM MERRILL, COLYER DIED IN TRUCK FIREBY BRUCE ROLFSEN
DAILY SUN JOURNAL
Ten days after two bodies were found in a burning El Camino truck, investigators officially released the names of the two victims.
Police Chief Ron Novy announced the body found behind the steering wheel was that oF Rick Merrill, 24, Weeki Wachee, and sitting next to him was Dori Colyer, 20, High Point.
Family and friends of the pair had believed the bodies were Merrill’s and Colyer’s since Saturday a week ago. The family received word of the official identification Monday morning.
Last weekend, separate memorial services were held for Colyer and Merrill. Police Chief Novy said Associate County Medical Examiner Dr. William Winter had been given permission to release the bodies to the families on Monday.
Other than the official announcement of the body’s identity, no other new information was released except for the fact the pair were not wearing seat belts when discovered.
Police Detective Bob Johnson said he was not going to release any information until he can give “positive exact information.”
Johnson explained that he could not release some information regarding the victim’s cause of death and facts about the fire because the agencies handling these aspects of the investigation have not competed their reports.
Although the case is being investigated as a double murder, Det. Johnson said the possibility of the deaths been accidental has not been ruled out.
Chief Novy said the identification of Merrill was done by matching his dental plates with the body.
Colyer’s identification was done though matching several medical factors obtained from her doctors with the body.
5/19/1981 - AUTHORITIES IDENTIFY TWO BODIESBY NEIL JOHNSON
BROOKSVILLE - Police positively identified the two persons killed in a savage car fire May 9 as Rick Merrill and Dori Colyer.
Though investigators had suspected the two bodies found in the burned-out hulk of a 1979 El Camino were Colyer and Merrill and had contacted both families last week, the official identification came from a Tampa forensic dentist about 9:30 AM Monday, Police Chief Ron Novy said.
The identification of Merrill, 24, driver of the black El Camino, came through x-rays match with his dental charts, Novy said.
The identification of 20-year-old Colyer was done by other methods, the police chief said.
The body was too badly burned in the intense heat of the mysterious fire to be matched with dental records.
“The identification came from the Medical Examiners office, working with other physicians,” said Detective Bob Johnson, heading the homicide investigation.
“We’re satisfied and so are the families,” Novy said.
He said part of the identification came through jewelry found on the bodies.
But besides that positive identification of the victims, Novy said his department is still waiting for reports on other aspects of the case.
The State Farm Marshal's office is probing for the cause of the fire, which occurred in a vacant lot and the 300 block of Stafford Avenue at about 2:30 AM Monday, May 9.
Firefighters had answered a call about a brush fire in the vacant lot, and it was only one the flames around the car were nearly extinguished that they discovered the two charred bodies.
An investigator from the State Farm Marshal's office was in Brooksville Wednesday examining the car, but Novy said he received no word on the progress of that portion of the investigation.
Novy also said no results have come from the Tampa Regional Crime Lab, where other tests are being performed to trace the cause of the fire and to examine other evidence found at the scene.
“They could have been there before the fire. I understand that area is used by a lot of people,” the chief said.
The department is still treating the deaths a double homicide, though Novy said it hasn't positively been determined that the fire wasn’t accidental.
The head of the crime lab said determining if some chemical used to accelerate the blaze may be difficult because of the severe heat of the fire. Nearly everything combustable in the passenger compartment of the vehicle was burned.
Neils Bernstein, head of the crime lab, send tests can determine if a petroleum product was used and the product can be identified only if enough traces remain for chemical examination.
Novy said he hasn't received the official autopsy report from the Medical Examiner, but a law enforcement official who wish to remain unidentified said Colyer and Merrill died from carbon monoxide inhalation.
Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas, is produced in any fire or combustion.
Though the detective and chief remain tight-lipped about the progress of the case, Johnson send neither victim was strapped in the car by seat belts.
8/1/1981 - COUPLE’S DEATHS RULED HOMICIDEBY NEIL JOHNSON
BROOKSVILLE – Police have ruled that the savage car fire that killed Dori Colyer and Rick Merrill May 9 was deliberately started to kill the young couple.
Brooksville police chief Ron Novy said Friday the killings are definitely homicides. He said there was no way the intense fire that ravaged the interior of the vehicle could have started accidentally.
Colyer, 20, and Merrill, 24, were found in the cab of Merrill’s El Camino when firemen were summoned to the 300 block of Stafford Avenue about 2:30 AM May 9 to extinguish a car fire.
Though police remained tight-lipped about a possible motive for the killing, Novy and Detective Robert Johnson, leading the investigation, said there are four suspects in the killing.
Johnson said all four suspects, one whom he questioned, may have worked together to start the fire.
“They are not related as family members, but they are related as to possible motive,” Johnson said about the suspects.
Three of the suspects have left the area, Johnson said, but he said he knows where they are now. One is still in the Brooksville area. Johnson also said he questioned one of the suspects “before I had any inclination that he was a suspect.”
Novy said an investigator from the federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Bureau who is an expert in car bombings was asked to examine the vehicle and sent portions of the burn hulk to a crime lab in Atlanta for testing.
“Two mechanics also spent three hours examining the vehicle and help determine that the fire couldn't have started accidentally,” Novy said.
The body of the woman was too badly burned to identify her through dental charts, but jewelry Colyer was wearing led to her identification. Merrill was identified through dental charts. It too lawmen nine days to release the positive identifications of the victims.
8/1/1981 - FOUR SOUGHT IN THE MURDER OF MERRILL, COLYERBY BRUCE ROLFSEN
DAILY SUN JOURNAL
“We have at the current time four suspects in the murder of Rick Merrill and Dori Colyer,” Brooksville Police Detective Bob Johnson said Friday afternoon.
Johnson declined to give their names and said none had been arrested because of the May 9 murder.
The announcement came at a press conference called to discuss the unsolved murders of Merrill and Colyer and Ronald L. Hubbell.
One of the Merrill-Colyer suspects had been questioned by Brooksville Police Johnson said, but at the time he was not considered a suspect in the murder.
Three of the four have left the area, Johnson explained.
“One suspect is still in the area. We’re trying to locate the poor boy,” Johnson said.
The burned remains of 25 year old Merrill of Weeki Wachee and 20 year old Colyer of High Point were found in the front seat of a flaming Chevrolet El Camino in a vacant lot off Stafford Drive.
It was not until the fire was almost extinguished by the Brooksville Fire Department, that the bodies were discovered.
It took investigators more than a week to officially identify the bodies.
Friday’s press conference was the first time the police used the word murder without also adding that it could have been an accident.
Police Chief Ron Novy said the fire was ruled an arson by investigators from the state fire marshall’s office and the fire was fueled by a petroleum based source.
Other investigator from the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms confirmed the fire was not an accident.
Where the fire started Johnson would not say.
The police officials did confirm the two died of carbon monoxide inhalation with a secondary cause of death being the fire.
Whether or not the two were conscious when the died Johnson declined to say. However, the detective did say the two’s blood alcohol level indicated they had only one drink or beer each.
Tests showed there were drugs in the couples’ blood. Johnson said because their tolerances for drugs were not known he couldn’t say if they were unconscious because of the drugs.
A motive for their murder was not offered, but Johnson did say, “We have a very strong speculation.”
8/1/1981 - POLICE HAVE FOUR SUSPECTS IN MURDER OF TWO PERSONS FOUND IN BURNING CARBY DERALD EVERHART
TAMPA BAY TIMES
BROOKSVILLE - Brooksville Police have four suspects in the murder of two persons found in a burning car May 9 in Brooksville, Police Chief Ron Novy said Friday.
Novy would not identify the suspects or elaborate as to the motives of the four in the killing of Dori Colyer, 20, and Rick Merrill, 24.
Miss Colyer, of High Point, and Merrill, of Weeki Wachee, were last seen alive at 1 AM May 9 at the Hilltop Lounge in Brooksville. They left the lounge together telling friends they would be back in half-hour.
But at 2:30 AM Merrill’s black 1979 Chevrolet El Camino was found burning near a deserted shack on Stafford Avenue about a half mile from the center of town. When the fire was extinguished, firefighters found the two bodies inside.
The deaths of now been officially classified as murders by arson, Novy said.
Two auto mechanics, as well as an investigator with the State Fire Marshal's office in Tampa, have concurred with that opinion he said.
Three of the people Novy and Detective Bob Johnson, the head investigator on the case, suspect in the deaths have already left the immediate area. However, another is still in the area and police are "exhausting all efforts to locate that suspect,” he said.
The suspect may have worked together to kill the victims, or only one or two may have been involved, but the others would have information about the killings he said.
Both Miss Colyer and Merrill had "questionable levels” of a drug in them when they died Novy said. He explained that it was questionable because it could not be determined conclusively if they had enough of the drug in their systems to render them unconscious and allow someone to set their car afire.
Test for blood alcohol showed that Miss Collier and Merrill had very little in their systems, “in the one drink / one beer range,” he said.
Authorities had speculated that the deaths may have been drug related, but on Friday Novy would not indicate what the motives for the killings might be.
A rumor had circulated about town after Miss Colyer’s death that she had been a drug informant for local law-enforcement agencies, but that was not true, Novy said.
“She was not an informant and had not been working with any law-enforcement agency,” he said.
12/16/1981 - NO ARRESTS YET IN CAR FIRE DEATHSBY NEIL JOHNSON
BROOKSVILLE - Seven months into the investigation of the car fire deaths of Rick Merrill and Dori Colyer, police have suspects but not enough evidence to begin making arrests, a prosecutor said.
An examination of the evidence gathered by police since the May 9 fire that killed the young couple has cemented investigators beliefs that the two deaths are homicides, said Deputy States Attorney Jimmy Brown.
Brown also said that the investigators have solid suspects, though not all were actually involved in the igniting the interior of Merrill’s late-model El Camino.
Police chief Ron Novy said earlier in the probe that there were four suspects and none has been eliminated as the investigation has continued, Brown said.
None of the suspects are in the Brooksville area.
Firefighters found the two bodies trapped in the black vehicle about 2:30 AM May 9 as they were called to fight a brush fire in the 300 block of Stanford Avenue.
The fire was deliberately started to kill Merrill, 24, and Collier, 20, police have said.
Brown said he recently reviewed the evidence gathered so far and found the case wasn't ready to begin arrests or file charges.
“There's not enough yet to take to a grand jury for an indictment,” Brown said.
The bodies were burned beyond recognition. The man was identified through dental records and jewelry worn by the woman was used to identify her.
1/29/1982 - HERNANDO COUNTY MURDERS TRIPLE IN ONE YEARBY DERALD EVERHART
TAMPA BAY TIMES
BROOKSVILLE - The number of murders reported in Hernando County has tripled from three to 10 in one year, and investigators have been hard pressed to find the killers.
In fact, no arrests have been made in four of the 10 murders reported in 1981. Three of those murders were within the Brooksville city limits.
Brooksville investigators have a suspect in one case - whom they cannot find - and are finishing reports on two others with what they hope will be enough information to ask for a grand jury investigation.
…Novy said that Brooksville detective Bob Johnson may be sending the Brooksville state attorney's office a 300-page report on the May 9 murders of Dori Colyer, 20, and Rick Merrill, 24, sometime next week.
Colyer and Merrill were found inside Merrill's 1979 Chevrolet El Camino after firefighters extinguished a fire that had engulfed the vehicle, which had been parked along a quiet side street in Brooksville.
The police department has had four suspects in Colyer's and Merrill's deaths, but as yet has made no arrests.
All that could change, if the state attorney's office finds the evidence in Johnson's report sufficient to convene a grand jury, he said.
1/31/1983 - JUSTICE ELUDES PARENTS SEEKING AN ANSWER IN CHILDREN'S DEATHSPALL OF ANGER, SUSPICION HANGS OVER YOUTHS’ DEATHS (JAN 30 HEADLINE)
JUSTICE ELUDES PARENTS SEEKING AN ANSWER IN CHILDREN’S DEATHS (JAN 31 HEADLINE)
by JAN GLIDEWELL, TAMPA BAY TIMES
BROOKSVILLE - The flames that killed Ricky Lee Merrill and Dori Colyer 18 months ago are out now – but plenty of smoke remains.
And somewhere behind that pall of smoke hides the killer or killers who poured a flammable fluid over Merrill’s 1979 Chevrolet El Camino while he and Miss Collier sat inside in a semi-conscious or unconscious state – and then watched the car burst into flames.
Miss Collier was 20. Merrill was 24.
Four persons have been identified as prime suspects in the murders, but no arrests have been made.
Jim and Vicki Merrill, Ricky’s parents, wonder why. Aubrey Colyer, Miss Colyer’s father, wonders why.
Police say they're looking as hard as they can.
Prosecutors confirm that, but say police haven't found enough to justify any arrests.
And Jim Merrill, a pleasant man not given to profanity, says, “Bullcrap.”
He and his wife think the investigation has been bungled at different stages and believe that more could be done to bring whoever committed the murders to justice.
Among other efforts, the Merrills are now offering a $10,000 reward for any new information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whoever is responsible.
Last week, Merrill went to the office of Governor Bob Graham to complain about what he says as mishandling of the case.
“It was the final straw,” Merrill says of the morning last month when he read a newspaper story about the office of State Attorney Gordon Oldham assigning Oldham's chief deputy, Jimmy Brown, to prosecute the owner of dogs responsible for the death of Oldham’s daschsund.
“Oldham said he assigned Brown because there were no major cases requiring his (Brown’s) immediate attention,” the Hernando Times story said
In his early 40s, Merrill has facial features creased into a nearly permanent smile, but rage manages to transform his face into a grim mask when he recalls that morning.
“My blood ran cold,” he said. “We not only have dog killers around here. We have people killers running around loose here. Here we were assigning our finest to catch the owner of some dogs that allegedly killed another dog.”
Merrill admits that his son sometime sold small amounts of marijuana, and that Ricky and Miss Colyer had been “on their way to score” some drugs when they were last seen.
“I think the whole tone from the outset was ‘just another couple of druggies biting the dust’,” he said.
Brown says he understands how the Merrills feel but points out that his office’s function is to prosecute, not to investigate. He was assigned to prosecute the owner of the dogs that allegedly killed Oldham’s pet – not to investigate the case, Brown says.
There has been extensive investigation of the murder case.
Brooksville Police Chief Bob Johnson who was a detective when Miss Colyer and Merrill were killed, will display the outside – but not the inside - of a file nearly a foot thick that contains some 600 pages of reports, summaries, lab reports, interview transcripts and other information gathered over the past 18 months.
Johnson is new and his job as chief, so new that his predecessors nameplates still was sitting on his desk last week. He declined to discuss the specifics of the investigation other than to say it is still active and that he still believes the same four suspects were involved.
“I’ve lived with this case a long time,” said Johnson. “I don't consider it closed. We check out every lead that comes along.”
He will not comment on whether he agrees with a the assessment of prosecutors who say there isn’t enough evidence to make arrests.
The fire that killed Colyer and Merrill also burned a hole in the quiet pastoral exterior that Brooksville, like most small Central Florida towns, shows the outside world.
The on the city's face – the redbrick courthouse, the tree shrouded streets and flag day celebrations at the bandshell in Hernando - is another Brooksville.
It is a place where people have “street names” like “the devil” and where no one offers you a cup if you suggest you would like to “score some tea.” (Tea is slang for the active ingredient in marijuana – delta-9- tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC.)
It is a place for drug deals and drug rip-offs are not unusual but where the gruesome murder of two young persons with no history of major drug dealing still is shocking enough to provide major grist for the rumor mill.
There are nearly as many theories and rumors about who killed Miss Colyer and Merrill as there are barstools in Brooksville, and those rumors have sent Johnson and detectives up as many blind alleys.
What is known for sure is that Miss Colyer and Merrill were friends but were not romantically involved, met at the Hilltop, a popular bar in downtown Brooksville, at about 11 PM on May 8, 1981. They left, saying they were going to “score some tea.”
The driver of the tow truck on his way to an accident saw a fire shortly before 2:30 AM the next next day. When the flames were extinguished, two bodies were found inside the car. They were so badly burned that identification was difficult. Merrill was identified from dental records, Miss Colyer from jewelry she was wearing.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement technician first branded the deaths accidental.
Johnson, who won't comment on the situation, pushed for the fire to be considered arson and the deaths classified as murders.
And, it seemed, everyone had a theory.
Merrill said he and his wife had dealt with Ricky's drug problem since their son was 16 and understand why police heard often-conflicting stories from young people about the night the couple died.
“You've got to remember that this (drug use) is a disease,” he said. “When kids get into this stuff their maturity is arrested right there – wherever it is.”
Being asked about that night, he said "was exciting (to the young people). It made them feel important. Some of them got their names in the paper.”
But many of the stories proved to have been heard second and third-hand.
Some stories police heard had Merrill and Miss Colyer being chased by a carload of men from "the Sub”, the local name for the predominantly black section of the city’s south side.
One person told The Times that Ricky had said he was afraid of someone “out of Miami” and tried to hire him as a bodyguard two weeks before the murder.
Another man involved with Ricky reportedly disappeared after being taken out of a bar by two men dressed in army type fatigues.
He believes that his son was carrying about $500 to make car and car insurance payments, and that robbery may have been part of the motive.
Miss Colyer “was in the wrong place at the wrong time” and wouldn't have been killed had she not decided on impulse, to go with his son to seek drugs, Merrill says.
Merrill says he believes that his son and Miss Colyer were driven to the northwest Brooksville location by third person and that their vehicle was followed by another car, which, after the fire was lit, left at a higher rate of speed.
Police believe that four men were involved in the murders. All four have been questioned, and all four have denied having anything to do with the crime.
One man, whose name figures prominently as a suspect, recently completed a sentence – on unrelated charges – in the Citrus County Jail, according to court records. He also was briefly in custody in Illinois, according to La Salle Illinois sheriff’s deputies.
Merrill says the man, while in custody in Illinois, offered to talk about the local murders in return for being charged with a lesser crime but was turned down by local prosecutors.
“That's not the way it happened,” said Assistant States Attorney Chip Harp, who declined further comment on the matter.
The Times was unable to confirm Merrill’s statement with Illinois authorities.
Merrill also charges that the police report on the murders have been in the hands of prosecutors for six weeks before it was read, and that it was in the trunk of a car owned by an employee of that office when he and his wife went there to talk about the case.
“That's not true,” said Harp. “I read the report within 48 hours of it being received here.”
Generally, prosecutors are troubled by number of suspects, the hearsay nature of much of the information that involves the suspects, and the lack of eyewitness and physical evidence.
Merrill says that he feels the “foot dragging” in his son’s case is motivated in part by prosecutors desires only to prosecute those cases they are sure they can win.
He said he and his wife believe one or more of the suspects in the case should be arrested and frightened into informing on the other participants in the crime.
“I’m willing to take the gamble,” says Mrs. Merrill.
The prosecutors aren’t – and say they can't.
“The Constitution forbids that kind of unbridled police action,” Harp said. “There's just no way you can do that.”
But to the Merrills, the entire situation is an example of “a decaying system it seems to be more more unworkable.”
“We’re not just out for vengeance,” says Mrs. Merrill. “There's some of that, but not much.”
“How do we tell our kids the system works… That it's good?” Merrill asked.
Miss Colyer, who worked as a waitress at Fat Boys Restaurant in Brooksville, was popular with coworkers, who obviously still feel bound to the Merrills and grade them as if they were family members.
Her father, Aubrey Colyer, was the first to complain to the governor’s office about what he feels is the inadequate handling of the case. He said through his sister, Wilabelle Weeks, that he still is not satisfied. (Colyer has hearing problems and was unable to talk on the telephone.)
“He's very unhappy about it,” said Mrs. Weeks. “He dreams about it. He is miserable. We all are.”
Merrill said his son was an honor student before entering the 10th grade in Seminole, but became involved in drugs and “wham…straight F’s.”
He had difficulties with drugs on and off. But after completing a treatment program, he began to overcome the problem, his father said. He stayed away from those drugs for more than a year before his death, Merrill said.
He was working in a popular restaurant that his parents owned.
“I guess he probably smoked a little marijuana, but nothing else,” Merrill said. “He lived for that restaurant. It was helping him get it all together.”
Mr. and Mrs. Merrill said they realize that an investigation of the sort that is going on has to focus on the negative side of their son’s life but wish it were not necessary.
“There was a lot of good in him,” Mrs. Merrill said. “He was a good, loving, decent person. There are a lot of people willing to say bad things about him – but he would never have done that to them. He had something nice to say about everyone he knew.”
His son was depressed over personal problems that came up about three weeks before he died, Merrill said, and he believes that led to his re-involvement with drugs.
Merrill said that he hoped going public with this concern over the investigation – and offering the reward – might “help shake out some piece of information that hasn’t come up.”
“And maybe,” he said as an afterthought, “it will serve another purpose. There are a lot of people out there with kids who are saying that it could never happen to them or their’s.”
12/8/1983 - TIME TO REMEMBER FOUR MURDERSBY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
For the family of Dori Colyer, this is a particularly bad time of year. Not only is Christas coming but also December 15th which would have been Dori’s 23rd birthday. “I was just thinking about her today,” said her sister, Diane Woedl of Oxford Ohio.
Miss Colyer, who was 20, and Ricky Merrill, 24 were burned to death on May 9, 1981 in Merrill’s 1979 Chevrolet El Camino, not far from the center of Brooksville. Police know they were murdered and have suspects in the murder, but not enough to make an arrest.
“We haven’t had anything new on that case in the last three months,” said Tim Vitt, acting Brooksville Police Chief, “but the investigation is still active.”
Miss Colyer’s brother, Dennis, is a police officer in Ohio, and came to Brooksville during the summer to visit his father and look into Dori’s case.
“He explained to me, and I understand, that if they make an arrest, they can only try the person once, and they want to be sure,” Mrs. Woedl said, “ but I sure wish something would happen.”
Jim Merrill Ricky Merrill’s father, said he will meet with Vitt, who is the third police chief in charge of the case. Merrill and his wife have also offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of whoever murdered their son and Miss Colyer. “I haven’t heard a thing,” Merrill said.
The holidays will be hard, Merrill said, “but I still think we’re blessed. It happens to alot of other families who just can’t handle it. We’re doing okay.”
12/4/1987 - FAMILIES OF VICTIMS STILL SUFFERINGBY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
Ricky Merrill would be 30 now and his close friend Dori Colyer would be turning 26 on December 15. The drugs they were reportedly seeking to buy during the early morning hours of May 9, 1981, are out of vogue now. If they had survived, they may have been leading normal young-adult lives today.
Instead, at the ages of 24 and 20, they were burned to death after somebody locked the doors and set Merrill’s truck on fire.
9/9/1988 - QUEST UNFULFILLED AS TRAGEDY STRIKES AGAINBY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
I was doubly saddened Thursday morning to learn of the deaths of Jim and Vicki Merrill, who, along with their son Mark, and his wife, Sybrena, were killed in the crash of a private airplane in North Florida.
It is, of course, tragic when anyone dies on the prime of life and when that many members of one family are suddenly gone.
But I am particularly bothered that Jim and Vicki died without having fulfilled a quest that had occupied much of their time for the past seven years, one that stemmed from another family tragedy.
Regular readers of this column know that, every December, there will be an installment dealing with the unsolved murders of several children and young adults in Pasco and Hernando counties.
The inspiration for that annual column was born in the hallway outside the intensive care unit of University Community Hospital, where the parents of Elena Goldstein, a 13 year girl gunned down near a school bus stop, took time out from wrestling with the question of when to discontinue life support to talk to a reporter about their daughter.
In return, Bob and Marjorie Goldstein made me promise that I would do what I could to keep the case of their daughter’s murder from disappearing from public view until the killer was captured.
A few weeks later, Jim and Vicki Merrill, sitting in a Brooksville barbecue restaurant, asked me to make them the same promise.
Their son Ricky, 24, and Dori Colyer, a 20 year old friend of his, were murdered - burned to death - in Ricky’s 1979 Chevrolet El Camino in downtown Brooksville.
The Merrills impressed me immediately. They were an attractive couple, just entering the young end of middle age. They were stylishly dressed, personable and generally cheerful. They were not driven, sleepless, wild-eyed people so obsessed with the death of their child that they could think of nothing else.
But they were people who wanted very badly to know they why, how and who of their son’s death. They were very frank about their son’s failings and his occasional involvement in the drug subculture of Brooksville, and were so bluntly honest that they even told me some things that it was never necessary to print.
But they loved their son, and they felt he was on his way to straightening out his life when he was killed, and they were determined to have justice…not revenge…but justice.
They were that kind of folks. Vicki Merrill once just as avidly came to defense of a daughter involved in a dispute over participation in a band event for which she had missed a practice.
They were the kind of parents who cared deeply about their children, but not the kind whose appearance on the sidewalk outside your office makes you want to hide under your desk.
My one meeting with the Merrills would prove to be our last.
Over the years I would get a telephone call here, or receive a note in the mail there - always thanking me for keeping my promise to keep Ricky and Dori part of the column about unsolved murders.
There are systems of religious belief that would hold that the four Merrill family members are now in a place where all questions are answered and all anxieties are left at rest.
And there is probably some legal precedent that says the promise I made them is no longer binding.
But my promise was that I would - as long as I could - keep asking their questions until we all have answers.
and I feel obligated to keep my promise - if not to them in person - at least to their memory.
12/30/1989 - HERNANDO COUNTY VICTIM OF DECADE OF CRIMEBY MICKIE ANDERSON, TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER
CRIMES OFTEN INVOLVE VIOLENCE - UNSOLVED KILLINGS
A savage car fire, set deliberately, killed a young couple in Brooksville in 1981. Dori Colyer, 20, and Rick Merrill, 24, were killed by carbon monoxide inhalation.
The fumes, not the fire itself, killed the young couple. Police questioned many, but have never learned by whom - or why - the couple was killed.
The gutted El Camino was found in a vacant lot in the 300 block of Stafford Avenue during the very early hours of May 9, 1981 by firefighters after the extinguished the blaze.
12/4/1990 - MISSING FACES, EMPTY PLACESBY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
Also without recent activity is the investigation of the deaths of Ricky Merrill and Dori Colyer, who were burned alive in Merrill’s truck as it sat parked on a downtown
Brooksville street in 1981.
Both Brooksville Police and the Hernando County Sheriff’s office were involved in a massive investigation of those murders, and both consider the case open.
“That’s one I’ll never forget as long as I live,” said Captain Ray Schumacher of the Brooksville Police Department. “I was the first officer on the scene,” he said, adding sadly, “but it’s one of those where nothing new has turned up.”
…Jim and Vicki Merrill had worked tirelessly to keep the investigation of the murder of their 24 year old son and his 20 year old friend in the forefront of the public’s mind.
But their seven year quest came to an end two years ago when they were killed in the crash of a small plane flown by another son, Mark, who died in the crash along with his wife.
Their surviving daughter still doesn’t know who killer her brother and his friend - or why.
12/1/1991 - FACES STILL LEAVE RAGE UNSOLVEDBY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
…and Brooksville Police have confirmed that they have a suspect in the murders of Dori Colyer and Ricky Merrill, but will say no more. “We know there are people out there who know what happened and could help,” said Police Chief Ed Tincher, “but they need to come forward.”
Merrill, 24, and Colyer, 20, apparently were injected with drugs then burned alive in Merrill’s truck as it sat parked on a downtown Brooksville street in 1981.
Merrill’s parents, tireless campaigners in their attempts to focus attention on his death, died along with another son in a plane crash two years ago.
12/4/1992 - CRIMES CHILL THE HOLIDAYSBY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
…Ricky Merrill, 24 and Dori Colyer, 20, were burned alive in Merrill’s El Camino in Brooksville in mid-1982. Merrill’s parents, his brother Mark and sister-in-law Sybrena Merrill were killed in a small plane crash in 1988.
Jim and Vicki Merrill, Ricky’s parents, had made nearly a full-time job out of pushing the investigation the murder of their son and Ms. Colyer.
A woman called me in February last year to give me the name of a man she says she had been told was responsible for the murders. One of the witnesses she named was in jail because of his involvement in another suspicious death, and one had drowned since the murders. Brooksville police already knew about the suspect, but they still do not have sufficient evidence for an arrest.
12/5/1993 - IS THERE ANY CHEER THIS YEAR?BY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
Ricky Merrill was 24 and his friend, Dori Colyer, was 20 when they were burned alive in Merrill’s El Camino in south Brooksville in 1981. Merrill's parents, who were activists in seeking the killer, died along with another son and his wife in a plane crash in 1988.
A former prosecutor told me earlier this year that authorities have had a good idea who killed the couple since shortly after the murder and even gave me the alleged killer’s “street name” – but said there was never a sufficient evidence for an arrest.
12/5/1994 - EVIDENCE POINTS TO THE KILLER OF A CHILDBY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
…Another case where there is a strong suspect, although investigators will not release his name, is the murder of Ricky Merrill, 24 and Dori Colyer, 20. They were burned alive in Merrill’s El Camino in downtown Brooksville in mid-1981. The investigation remains active.
12/3/1995 - WHEN LIVES ARE LOST, DISCOVERED TRUTHS MAY COMFORTBY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
Also still unsolved are the murders of Dori Colyer and Ricky Merrill, burned to death in Merrill’s El Camino in downtown Brooksville… Police officers, former prosecutors and other witnesses can tell you the name of the man who most likely injected Merrill and Colyer with drugs and then set them on fire, and can point out to you where he lives – but the dirty underbelly of Brooksville drug subculture has yet to disgorge the evidence or testimony that will enable police to make an arrest in that case.
12/3/1996 - WITH CRIMES UNSOLVED, SEARCH, PAIN CONTINUESBY JAN GLIDEWELL
TAMPA BAY TIMES
..Jim and Vicki Merrill conducted a seven year search for information about the slaying of their 24-year-old son Ricky, who died a horrible, fiery death with his friend Dori Colyer as the couple sat in his El Camino in downtown Brooksville. They knew their son was no angel and had, in fact, probably been trying to buy drugs that night in 1981 when somebody burned them to death.
But the affable middle-class couple went at the search hammer and tong, asking the Medical Examiner for details the most people don't want to know about any death, much less that of a loved one, and following other investigators in the seldom seen, sometimes violent world on some of Brooksville's manor streets.
And they pushed the investigation until the day of 1988 when they, Ricky’s brother Mark and his wife, Sybrina, died in the crash of a private plane in North Florida.
Brooksville Police Chief Ed Tincher and others who have compiled nearly 1000 pages of reports in their investigation day they know the name of the man who killed Colyer and Merrill, but they do not have the evidence they need.
Tincher said last week he is considering involving the FBI and his investigation, and that of another long time unsolved killing in Brooksville.
2018RickAndDori.com goes online.
- Fox 13 Tampa Bay airs a segment on the murders of Rick and Dori on the 38th anniversary of the crime.
- Two weeks later, the "Sun Crime State" podcast airs a segment on the murders.
- A short chapter on the murders of Rick and Dori is included in the book TWISTED MURDER - Murder in Hernando County Through the Ages. This book is available on Amazon and local Hernando museums.
We want to hear from you. You can submit information on this double murder in a number of ways:
- Email Cold Case Detective George Loydgren at the Hernando County Sheriff's Office.
- Submit a tip to the Hernando County Crime Stoppers - it may qualify for a CASH REWARD.
- Call the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office at 352-754-6830 or toll free at 1-877-282-5727.
- Leave an anonymous tip at 1-866-990-TIPS or 1-877-282-5727.