Click the headlines to read articles on the murders of Rick Merrill and Dori Colyer.
5/12/1981 - FATHER FEARS SON WAS BURNED IN CARFATHER FEARS SON WAS BURNED IN CAR
by 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 20s 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.”
The discovery of two syringes near the burned automobile and other “confidential information” has led investigators to believe the deaths may be drug-related, Assistant States Attorney Jimmy Brown told the Times Sunday.
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 ARE SURE THEY KNOW MAN, WOMAN WHO DIED IN CAR FIREFAMILIES ARE SURE THEY KNOW MAN, WOMAN WHO DIED IN CAR FIRE
by 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. At the scene Saturday, a half-mile from downtown Brooksville, investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement discovered two syringes outside the car, police said.
The deaths are suspected as being drug related, Assistant State Attorney Jimmy Brown said.
5/14/1981 - FAMILIES COMPLAIN OF DELAY IN IDENTIFYING BODIESFAMILIES COMPLAIN OF DELAY IN IDENTIFYING BODIES
by 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 a little encouragement.
“They didn't tell us anything,” she said
5/14/1981 - TWO VICTIMS IN AUTO FIRETWO VICTIMS IN AUTO FIRE
by NEIL JOHNSON, TAMPA TRIBUNE
BROOKSVILLE - The man and woman who died in a savage car fire early Saturday morning were killed by carbon monoxide inhalation, according to a law enforcement official.
Autopsy results showed that carbon monoxide fumes from the fire killed the young couple, said the official, who asked not to be identified.
He added that the lungs were seared and there were no other apparent injuries to the bodies that could be attributed to the fire.
The couple was discovered by firefighters as they extinguished the blaze that gutted a late-model El Camino in a vacant lot in the 300 block of Stafford Avenue about 2:30 AM Saturday.
The investigators for the Brooksville Police Department haven't officially released the identities of the two persons, believed to be in their early 20’s, they have contacted the parents of Rick Merrill, 24, and Dori Colyer, 20.
Merrill was making payments on the car, and Merrill and Colyer were seen together leaving a bar at about 1 AM Saturday. Neither has been seen since.
Investigators hope to have a positive identification soon on the dead man. Merrill's dental charts were sent to a forensic dentist in Tampa Tuesday to be matched with x-rays taken of the man's teeth.
“We were hoping to get a positive ID on the man today, but we haven't heard from the dentist,” Brooksville Police Chief Ron Novy said Wednesday.
The body of the woman was too badly burned it to be identified, but a jewelry and blood type match are being used in an attempt to pinpoint the victim's identity.
Fellow workers of Colyer at Fat Boys Barbecue, where she worked as a waitress for about a year, were asked by investigators to identify jewelry found on the female victim to determine if it were Colyer’s.
Investigators are also hoping to be able to match the woman's blood type with medical records, either from a private physician or a hospital.
Police have shown a sand dollar on a gold chain to Merrill's father, James, owner of the Ark Restaurant in Weeks Wachee. They found the jewelry in the car, and the elder Merrill identified it as a recent gift to their son, authorities said.
As police try to identify the victims and trace the events of the night, other investigators are trying to determine how the savage fire started in the passenger compartment of the truck-like vehicle.
On investigator from the State Fire Marshal's Office and forensic crime scene analysts from the Tampa Regional Crime Lab are testing material from the charred auto in attempt to discover if any flammable liquid was used to accelerate the blaze.
However, the director of the crime lab, Neils Bernstein, said, “It may be difficult to determine what caused the intense heat of the fire.”
“Everything that could burn in the passenger compartment was consumed, leaving little for investigators to examine.”
Police are treating the case as a double homicide until further investigation proves otherwise.
Blood samples from both victims were sent to a toxicology lab in Dade County for examination.
5/15/1981 - MEMORIAL SERVICE PLANNED FOR MERRILL, BUT CAR-FIRE VICTIMS IDENTITIES REMAIN UNCONFIRMEDMEMORIAL SERVICE PLANNED FOR MERRILL, BUT CAR-FIRE VICTIMS IDENTITIES REMAIN UNCONFIRMED
by 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 - POLICE AWAIT WORD ON VICTIMS’ IDENTITIESPOLICE AWAIT WORD ON VICTIMS’ IDENTITIES
by NEIL JOHNSON, TAMPA TRIBUNE
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.
According to authorities the two victims died of carbon monoxide inhalation.
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 CARIDENTITIES OF TWO CONFIRMED IN BURNING CAR
by 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. Investigators discovered two syringes outside in the car and have speculated that the deaths may have been drug related.
Brown said the fire appeared to have been set with the petroleum agent. 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.”
5/19/1981 - POLICE POSITIVELY IDENTIFY BODIES OF 2 PERSONS KILLED IN CAR FIREPOLICE POSITIVELY IDENTIFY BODIES OF 2 PERSONS KILLED IN CAR FIRE
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 - AUTHORITIES IDENTIFY TWO BODIESAUTHORITIES IDENTIFY TWO BURN VICTIMS
by NEIL JOHNSON, TAMPA TRIBUNE
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.
The crime lab is examining two syringes found it outside the car and plaster casts of tire tracks found near the El Camino.
Novy said he couldn't say if the syringes were related to the deaths.
“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 HOMICIDECOUPLE’S DEATHS RULED HOMICIDE
by NEIL JOHNSON, TAMPA TRIBUNE
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 a petroleum based substance was used to speed the blaze. He did not say what that substance was.
The couple was alive when flames began to shoot through the cab of the El Camino, Novy said. Autopsy reports showed that died from inhaling monoxide fumes, their lungs were seared from breathing super heated air.
Blood test showed that Coyer and Merrill both had low traces of alcohol in their systems, though not much.
“About one or two beers,” Novy said, not enough to qualify as intoxicated.
Drugs were also detected in blood screen tests, though Novy and Johnson kept mum about the amounts and what type of drugs may have been involved.
Consuming the cab and engine compartment, the intense fire was hot enough to melt glass. When firemen extinguished the blaze, there was a little left in the cab that could burn.
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.
Neither law-enforcement official would say if two syringes found next to the car were related to the case, nor what tests revealed about the contents of the syringes.
“We'd rather keep that information for leverage,” Johnson 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 - POLICE HAVE FOUR SUSPECTS IN MURDER OF TWO PERSONS FOUND IN BURNING CARPOLICE HAVE FOUR SUSPECTS IN MURDER OF TWO PERSONS FOUND IN BURNING CAR
by 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 medical examiners report has stated that they died of carbon monoxide inhalation from breathing the super heated fumes of the fire, which was started with the help of a “petroleum based liquid” Novy said during a press conference Friday afternoon.
“The results indicate that they were alive at the time of the fire,” he said.
The deaths of now been officially classified as murders by arson, Novy said.
“There's just no way that the fire that consumed the way it did and with the heat involved could be accidental,” 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.
But he would not say what drug that was or if traces of the drug world also found in the two syringe is discovered outside the car at the fire scene.
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 DEATHSNO ARRESTS YET IN CAR FIRE DEATHS
by NEIL JOHNSON, TAMPA TRIBUNE
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.
The two died from breathing carbon monoxide fumes, police said.
The fire destroyed the cab of the pickup-truck-like vehicle, and nothing that could burn was left, according to investigators. It was started with a petroleum based fluid to speed the blaze.
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 fire left little physical evidence for the detectives to investigate the case, police have 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.
1/30/1983 - PALL OF ANGER, SUSPICION HANGS OVER YOUTHS’ DEATHSPALL OF ANGER, SUSPICION HANGS OVER YOUTHS’ DEATHS
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 dachsund.
“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 part Dash has 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 blink 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 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.
Two hypodermic syringes were found outside the car. One later proved to contain traces of phencyclidine, (PCP), a powerful animal tranquilizer that can be injected, or, in another form known as “angel dust”, smoked. The other contained no identifiable substance.
According to laboratory analysis, Miss Colyer's blood showed the presence of alcohol and PCP. Merrill's blood showed methaqualone (a frequently abused tranquilizer) and PCP.
The levels of drugs and both victims would have rendered them unconscious or semi conscious of the time of their deaths, according to the medical report.
There was no indication either of them had tried to leave the car as it burned.
Both died from smoke inhalation.
The doors were locked. The ignition was on.
That much is known.
And the confusion begins.
A Florida Department of Law Enforcement technician first branded of 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.
Another version they heard had Ricky injecting PCP at the home of the drug dealer and “freaking out” so badly that he had to be struck in the face by another man – although other witnesses saw him after that alleged incident and noticed no facial injury.
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.
Merrill believes that his son had been involved in a drug deal of some sort and was involved in a confrontation after someone took a pound of marijuana from him.
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 reinvolvement 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 MURDERSTAMPA BAY TIMES
by JAN GLIDEWELL
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 SUFFERINGTAMPA BAY TIMES
by JAN GLIDEWELL,
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 by 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 apparently injected with drugs (two hypodermc needles with traces of PCP in them were found nearby) and then burned to death after somebody locked the doors and set Merrill’s truck on fire.
9/9/1988 - QUEST UNFULFILLED AS TRAGEDY STRIKES AGAINTAMPA BAY TIMES
by JAN GLIDEWELL
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 kid 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 e 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 i person - at least to their memory.
12/4/1990 - MISSING FACES, EMPTY PLACESTAMPA BAY TIMES
by Jan Glidewell
Also without recent activity is the investigation of the deaths of Ricky Merrill and Dori Colyer, who apparently were injected with drugs and then 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 Capt. Ray Schumacher of the Brooksville Police Department. “I was the fist 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 UNSOLVEDTAMPA BAY TIMES
by JAN GLIDEWELL
…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 HOLIDAYS…Ricky Merrill, 24 and Dori Colyer, 20, were injected with drugs and then were burned alive in Merrill’s El Camino in Brooksville in mid-1982. Merrill’s parents, his brother Mark and sister-in-lw 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?TAMPA BAY TIMES
by Jan Glidewell
Ricky Merrill was 24 and his friend, Dori Colyer, was 23 when they were injected with drugs and then burned alive in Merrill’s El Camino in south Brooksville in 1981. Merrill's parents, who are 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 CHILDTAMPA BAY TIMES
by JAN GLIDEWELL
…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 injected with drugs and 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 THRUTHS MAY COMFORTTAMPA BAY TIMES
by JAN GLIDEWELL
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 or 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 CONTINUESTAMPA BAY TIMES
by JAN GLIDEWELL
..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 injected him and Colyer with PCP and then 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 scene, 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 on served unsolved killing in Brooksville…
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