The Abduction and Murder of 12-year-old Carol Lynn Sullivan

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Who is Carol Lynn Sullivan?

Carol Lynn Sullivan was born in Seminole County, Florida, in 1965 to Herbert and Joanne Sullivan, one of three children and their only daughter.

The Sullivans resided in Longwood, Florida, before moving to Osteen on July 4, 1978. The family lived in a white concrete house about 100 yards off Doyle Road.

Carol Lynn, 12, started attending Deltona Junior High School that August. Donna Vacarro, a guidance secretary, had registered the young girl for school. She later recalled telling Herbert that the closest bus stop was at Sheryl and Doyle Road, but Herbert thought it was too far for his daughter to walk alone. Donna advised him to call the school transportation office to see if there was a closer bus stop, which he did. An employee told him Carol Lynn could catch the bus at Courtland Boulevard and Doyle Road, a short walk from their home.

The Disappearance of Carol Lynn Sullivan 

On September 20, 1978, Carol Lynn refused a ride from her mother to the bus stop and decided to walk instead.

“I’m growing up, Mom. Nothing’s going to bother me,” Carol Lynn said. She left home at 6:55 a.m. wearing a bright green long-sleeved blouse, new denim jeans, and blue and white jogging shoes.

Joanne watched her daughter walk down their lane, turn left at the old crumpled mailbox at Doyle Road, and head toward Courtland Boulevard. Joanne looked away only when she could no longer see her daughter; she then saw the bus go by and assumed her daughter was on it.

Photo of victim's mother, Joanne Sullivan and the Sullivan's dirt lane leading to Doyle Road, Osteen, FL
Newspaper photo of Doyle Road near Courtland Blvd where Carol Lynn Sullivan vanished

At 10 a.m., the school called Joanne regarding her daughter’s absence. Joanne frantically called Herbert at work in Longwood and then called the police. However, authorities did not act until after school that day, roughly seven hours after Carol Lynn disappeared. As expected, the police initially thought Carol Lynn had run away.

Reasons why authorities thought she had run away:

  1. After seeing the bus pass, her mother stayed outside to feed the family’s rabbits. She never heard any screams that would have suggested something had happened to Carol Lynn.
  2. Carol Lynn’s maternal grandmother, Cora Fyfe, lived in Maryland. Carol Lynn wanted to see her because she was bored over the summer and argued with her mother about it.
  3. The Sullivans heard a radio blaring and horn honking two nights before Carol Lynn disappeared; her mother thought it could have been a signal to her friends.

Reasons why she did not run away:

  1. Carol Lynn was excited about the family’s plans to build a log cabin in the woods where they could raise animals.
  2. She had no family or mental problems and was in a good mood on the morning she vanished.
  3. A neighbor reported seeing a red pickup truck with an Ohio license plate on the front bumper parked near the bus stop with its hood up on the morning of September 20.

The Search for Carol Lynn Sullivan

The family began searching for Carol Lynn and telephoned anyone they could think of who might have known where she was or if she was with them. Nobody had spoken with or seen the girl.

The police finally began an extensive search for Carol Lynn around the perimeter of the Sullivan home but found no trace of her. 

Skull Found

Bob Gorman, 19, had recently moved from Rochester, New York. He had never seen alligators before, so he went to St. Johns Lake on Doyle Road just west of Saxon Boulevard. There, he spotted a rusted 1-gallon paint can in the tall grass. Inside was a human skull.

“I didn’t take it out. I did pick the can up and look inside,” Gorman told Bo Poertner of The Orlando Sentinel in June 2002. “I could see fillings in the teeth. I could smell the odor of rotting flesh and see the fire ants – my first experience with them.”

Bob drove to a nearby convenience store and called the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office. 

Deputies arrived at the lake and inspected the skull. All the flesh was gone, and there was only a tiny patch of hair. Only 12 days had passed since Carol Lynn disappeared, so they did not initially believe it belonged to her. They did not think decomposition could have occurred so quickly.

However, Dr. Thomas Ford, an Orlando forensic odontologist, used Carol Lynn’s dental records, and they matched the teeth on the skull. Police never found Carol Lynn’s other remains.

Lab tests on the skull showed Carol Lynn had been bashed in the back of the head. No chemicals were used to remove the flesh or the brain from the skull – that had been done by boiling or cutting. Cuts on the head hinted that a scalpel or an extremely sharp knife had been used to slice the flesh of the skull. Parts of the skull were polished. (Poertner 2002)

1978 INVESTIGATION

In October 1978, using the 12-year-old daughter of police investigator Gordon LaFavour, investigators reenacted Carol Lynn’s disappearance for a broadcast on a local crime show. Police had hoped to receive tips from the program, but nothing solid came in.

That same month, police had arrested a Deltona truck driver on allegations of sexual battery and exposing himself to children. (Holt 2018)  

Investigators questioned him about Carol Lynn, but the State’s Attorney’s Office said there was insufficient evidence to make an arrest and did not issue a warrant. Detectives later said they did not believe the man abducted Carol Lynn.

The police also investigated the red truck sighting but never found the vehicle or driver.

Detectives returned to the paint can, which still had traces of paint in it. Forensic testing on the paint determined that the can once held blue metallic paint, an alkaloid enamel designed for automotive repainting. A piece of duct tape found at the scene contained a different kind of paint, but that paint was also specific to automobiles, said Steve White, a cold case detective with the sheriff’s office, in 2018 (Holt). That suggested the killer worked in an auto body shop. However, nothing further resulted from the paint can.

Tammi Lea Pearo

Photo credit: WoodTV.com

On August 21, 1978, Tammi Lynn Pearo, 13, vanished from Conklin, Michigan, while riding her bicycle home from a convenience store. Her family found her abandoned bicycle along the side of Wilson Road, near their rural Chester Township home.

Police found her clothes a few days later scattered along a rural roadside. Nine days later, they recovered her nude body in a rural area 15 miles from her home; she had been strangled.

The FBI was alerted to two migrant workers with ties to Florida. Thomas K. Nelson, 31, and James Nure Muhamet, 18, of Muskegon, Michigan, were wanted in connection with Tammi’s disappearance after they abruptly left the area following the discovery of her clothes, which were located within a mile of the Conklin farm where both men lived. They were seen at the same store Tammi had visited before her abduction.

Investigators entered the men’s names into the national Law Enforcement Information Network.

Thomas K. Nelson and James Nure Muhamet
(L) Thomas K. Nelson c. 1978 (C) James Nure Muhamet c. 1978 (R) Muhamet’s prison photo c. 2021

Nelson was arrested in St. Petersburg, FL, on Sept 7, 1978, 13 days before Carol Lynn vanished, on a federal fugitive warrant issued after state police said they wanted to question him in Tammi’s murder. However, Muhamet went on the run but was arrested on jaywalking charges in Los Angeles on Sept. 25, 1978. Muhamet had been in Volusia, Lake, and Orange Counties in Florida when Carol Lynn vanished. 

Muhamet and Nelson were seen together in Daytona Beach and split up there. Juries found both men guilty of Tammi’s murder, although they denied involvement, and a judge sentenced them to life in prison without parole. Muhamet is currently at Muskegon Correctional Facility. Nelson is not listed among Michigan’s inmates, incarcerated or discharged, so he may have died. It is unclear what happened to him. Florida investigators could never connect Muhamet to Carol Lynn’s abduction and murder.

“A July 2022 ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court may give him [Muhamet] a shot at freedom. In a 4-3 decision, the court outlawed mandatory life sentences for offenders who were 18 years old at the time of their crime, reported WoodTV.com earlier this year.

POSSIBLE LINK TO ADAM WALSH?

Nearly three years after Carol Lynn’s murder, Adam Walsh, 6, disappeared from a Hollywood shopping mall. His head was found in a roadside canal near Vero Beach on August 10, 1981. 

Because his death involved decapitation like Carol Lynn’s, investigators looked for a possible link in October 1983, after Ottis Edward Toole confessed to Adam’s murder. Toole gave several versions of how he abducted and killed Adam. But in 2008, 12 years after Toole’s death, police said he killed Adam, something this author has never believed. Police subsequently closed the case. 

Shockingly, John Walsh and his wife Revé bought it hook, line, and sinker, even though no physical evidence or eyewitness accounts pointed to Toole as their son’s killer. Furthermore, Toole and his murdering sidekick, Henry Lee Lucas, had bragged about numerous killings they did not commit. 

While investigators in Adam’s case claimed they could put both men in Florida in 1978, Volusia County authorities could not place Toole in their county when Carol Lynn was abducted.

CARL BRANDT

Carl "Charlie" Brandt

In 2004, Seminole County resident Carl Brandt, 47, brutally killed his wife, Teresa Brandt, 46, and her niece, Michelle Lynn Jones, 37, on September 13, 2004. Just two days before, Carl and Teresa had fled their Big Pine Key home during Hurricane Ivan and moved in with Michelle.

Police found Teresa’s body slumped on a living room couch, clad only in a T-shirt. She had suffered multiple stab wounds and had defensive wounds on her hands as she tried to fight off her husband’s vicious attack.

Michelle was found in the master bedroom, and the scene was more gruesome. Brandt had decapitated her and repeatedly stabbed her.

After the murders, he changed his clothes and took his own life. 

Teresa Brandt and Michelle Jones

Investigators determined Michelle’s killer had committed homicide before by the “surgical nature” of how her body was mutilated and dismembered after she was killed.

Michelle and Teresa’s murder was similar to two others.

In 1989, Sherry Perisho’s body was found floating just blocks from Brandt’s house in the Florida Keys. The 39-year-old woman’s throat had been cut, and the killer attempted to decapitate her, but the knife did not sever her vertebra, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Furthermore, her heart had been removed, and the police never recovered it. 

In 1995, the body of Darlene Toler, 35, a sex worker and mother of three, was found on Black Friday in Miami-Dade County with the head and heart missing. They, too, were never found. 

When Brandt was 14, he went on a shooting rampage, killing his pregnant mother and wounding his father. A grand jury subsequently decided he was not criminally responsible for his mother’s death. Indiana law in 1971 presumed children younger than 14 could not understand the consequences of their decisions, which is 100% b.s., in my opinion. I have worked with children for years, and they fully understand right from wrong and consequences by the age 14

And don’t give me any sh*t about brains not being developed until 18 or 25. I know this, but I do not believe people or courts should use it to downplay responsibility. I remember being 18. If I had killed someone at that age, I guarantee I would have known what I had done and understood that action and its consequences ultimately. The new court rulings allowing killers a chance at parole if they killed when they were under age 25 because their brains were not fully developed is complete bulls*it. It’s kind of like getting rid of the death penalty. If you commit a crime, the punishment should fit the said crime when all evidence proves guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. I fully believe in the death penalty. There, I said it. Sorry, not sorry. 

Volusia County officials wondered if Brandt had murdered Carol Lynn. He would have been 21 in 1978. However, they found no evidence linking him to the crime. 

AFTERMATH

Shortly after Carol Lynn’s remains were identified, her mother, father, and brothers moved away from the area. 

Police are still investigating Carol Lynn’s murder. Maybe DNA could break the case. However, it’s unclear whether they have any evidence for testing.

It’s worth noting that Carol Lynn’s Find A Grave online memorial is connected to Carol Louise Sullivan, listed as her mother, who died in 1988. The older Carol was buried next to Carol Lynn. I need clarification because 1978 and 1979 newspaper articles list Joanne as Carol Lynn’s mother, not stepmother. Carol Louise’s obituary lists Herbert Sullivan as the surviving spouse, two stepsons, Herbert II and David, and her children as other survivors. So, I think Herbert and Joanne divorced, and he remarried. But that does not explain why Carol Louise is listed as Carol Lynn’s mother or why she is buried next to Carol Lynn.

A 2004 article states that Herbert lived in Clermont, where Carol Louise lived before her death. 

Holt reports that Carol’s mother is “still wrestling with the realization of her daughter’s fate.” While no name is listed, it means that her mother was alive in 2018. It was likely Joanne.

So, I have no idea the connection between Carol Louise and Carol Lynn. 

Sources

Bennett, Piet. “Charge Tammi Murder: Two Warrants Issued.” The Herald-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan). September 15, 1978.

Holt, Tony. “Cold Case of Osteen Girl Abducted From Bus Stop Unsolved 40 Years Later.” News-Journal Online. September 24, 2018. https://www.news-journalonline.com/story/news/crime/2018/09/24/cold-case-of-osteen-girl-abducted-from-bus-stop-unsolved-40-years-later/10165488007/

Poertner, Bo. “Grisly Find is Only Clue in Child’s Killing.” The Orlando Sentinel. June 16, 2002.

Poertner, M.C. “Fear Lingers in Southwest Volusia.” The Orlando Sentinel. November 12, 1978.

Poertner, M.C. “Girl Missing on Dark Walk to Bus Stop.” The Orlando Sentinel. September 27, 1978.

Poertner, M.C. “Mom of Missing Girl Tearfully Watches Replay.” The Orlando Sentinel. October 21, 1978.

Poertner, M.C. “Murder Suspect Traced to Volusia.” The Orlando Sentinel. February 15, 1979.

Poertner, M.C. “‘Oddities’ Leave Fear in Deltona.” The Orlando Sentinel. October 17, 1978.

Poertner, M.C. “Skull Identified as That of Missing Volusia Girl.” The Orlando Sentinel. November 9, 1978.

Poertner, M.C. “Sullivan Case Remains Open.” The Orlando Sentinel. September 27, 1979.

Taylor, Gary. “Killing Sparks More Inquiries.” The Orlando Sentinel. October 8, 2004.

Truesdell, Al. “Sheriff Investigates Possible Links in Walsh, Sullivan Cases.” The Orlando Sentinel. October 30, 1983.

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I've blogged true crime since 2010, happily taking up only a tiny corner of the internet. I'm not here for attention; I'm here to tell you their stories.

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