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Video: News Conference: Remains Discovered During Investigation of 2004 Disappearance Of 16-Year-Old Girl

Date Added: February 29, 2024 4:34 pm


After almost 20 years, the 2004 missing-person case of 16-year-old Autumn McClure is headed for closure, as Volusia sheriff’s detectives and forensic units uncovered human remains Wednesday at an Ormond Beach-area mobile home park where detectives determined she was killed and buried.

“There really never is a ‘cold case,’” Sheriff Mike Chitwood said Thursday during a media briefing announcing the break in the case. “The men and women that are assigned to our Major Case Unit and all of our investigative units, that’s what they understand.”

While the suspect in Autumn’s murder, Brian Christopher Donley Jr. (DOB 3/7/1973), died in 2022 at the age of 49 and cannot be prosecuted, Sheriff Chitwood expressed a hope that he’s facing another form of justice.

“I’m hoping to God that when he took his last breath on May 26 of 2022, that maybe he had a vision of where the hell he was headed,” Sheriff Chitwood said.

“Cases like this are why we do what we do, and I’m extremely grateful to have been able to assist in this one,” said Dr. Lerah Sutton, whose team from the University of Florida’s Maples Center for Forensic Medicine assisted in the excavation and led to the successful recovery.

Autumn was reported missing May 10, 2004, from her grandmother’s home in the Ormond Beach area. Early on in the investigation, her grandmother received phone calls and letters from Autumn indicating she was fine and would come back home after she turned 18.

The investigation indicated Autumn began staying with a woman she worked with at an area Winn-Dixie. That woman and her boyfriend, Brian Donley, 31 at the time, lived at the Shady Oaks mobile home park. The couple told investigators Autumn stayed with them for only a short time, and they didn’t know where she went afterward.

The investigation continued for the next several years. During a re-interview of Donley’s girlfriend in 2018, she again denied having any information about Autumn’s disappearance.

In 2021, a tipster contacted the Sheriff’s Office alleging that Donley and/or his girlfriend were responsible for the death of a teenage girl in Volusia County. Detectives followed up and obtained additional evidence supporting the tip.

In 2022, detectives were able to interview the girlfriend in further detail, provide her a letter of immunity from the State Attorney’s Office, and gather new information. She indicated she witnessed Donley kill Autumn in the trailer, and that he threatened to do the same to her if she told anyone.

The property changed owners in the years since 2004, and a new trailer was placed on the lot in 2021. The Sheriff’s Office arranged to have the trailer and concrete removed to allow for excavation this week. Dr. Sutton’s team from UF assisted with the logistics, planning, and deployment of ground-penetrating radar to help identify areas of potential interest underground.

As of Thursday, an estimated 99 percent or more of the remains had been recovered from the site.

Official identification of Autumn is pending, but the Sheriff’s Office has been in contact with her family to notify them of the discovery.

Sheriff Chitwood and the entire Sheriff’s Office, along with Dr. Sutton and her team from UF, shared condolences to Autumn’s surviving family members and a hope that the resolution of the case will help answer the difficult questions they’ve held for 20 years.


CASE UPDATE (3/5/24): The search warrant affidavit in this case is available here.


CASE UPDATE (3/7/24): Autumn McClure's remains, recovered last week nearly 20 years after she was reported missing, have been positively identified using ANDE Rapid DNA technology.

This week, VSO Crime Scene Unit personnel and an ANDE Rapid DNA scientist developed a profile from DNA extracted from the bones recovered at the Ormond Beach burial site.

That profile was compared to DNA samples from Autumn's family members, resulting in a match.

The family has been notified of the positive match, officially identifying Jane Doe as Autumn McClure.

Autumn was 16 years old when she was reported missing May 10, 2004, from her grandmother’s home in the Ormond Beach area.

The suspect believed to be responsible for her murder, Brian Christopher Donley Jr. (DOB 3/7/1973), died in 2022 at the age of 49.

Rather than sending DNA to a state lab for analysis, the use of VSO's in-house ANDE Rapid DNA technology significantly reduced the time it took to make an official identification for the family.

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