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A 16-year-old went missing 2 decades ago. Investigators used ground penetrating radar to find her remains

Florida investigators say they dug up the remains of a teenager missing for 20 years and hidden underneath the trailer where she was killed.

“At least she can be buried with dignity now,” Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said at a news conference Thursday.

Chitwood said investigators never stopped looking for Autumn Lane McClure of Ormond Beach, who was 16 when she disappeared in May 2004. Over the years, they took DNA samples from her family members, re-interviewed her friends and possible witnesses, and identified a person of interest in 2021.

Members of the Volusia Sheriff's Office Crime Scene Unit work at the site where Autumn Lane McClure's remains were found. - Volusia Sheriff's Office
Members of the Volusia Sheriff's Office Crime Scene Unit work at the site where Autumn Lane McClure's remains were found. - Volusia Sheriff's Office

The person of interest died two years ago, and new information led authorities to believe he killed the girl in a trailer in the Ormond Beach area and buried her underneath it, Chitwood said.

Using “ground penetrating radar” to search below the surface, authorities found spots of different density than the surrounding soil, said Lerah Sutton of the University of Florida Naples Center for Forensic Medicine.

Investigators dug this week and recovered “99.9%” of Autumn’s remains, which were taken to the medical examiner to confirm her identification, Chitwood said.

A 20-year mystery

The story began in May 2004, when Autumn’s grandmother, with whom she lived, reported her missing to the sheriff’s office.

Chitwood said detectives received information Autumn had been staying with a woman she knew from work at a grocery story and the woman’s boyfriend, Brian Donley, who was then 31.

The couple told detectives the girl had stayed with them briefly while having trouble with her grandmother, but they didn’t know anything else, he said.

In 2021, a tipster told the sheriff’s office the couple had been involved in a missing teenager’s killing and burial in Volusia County, Chitwood said.

Donley died during a medical procedure in May 2022.

Authorites removed a modular home and tore away a paved driveway in their search. - WFTV
Authorites removed a modular home and tore away a paved driveway in their search. - WFTV

Detectives gained immunity for the woman, who then told them Autumn had stayed with the couple. The woman said she came home one day and found her boyfriend choking Autumn and, by the time she intervened, the girl was dead. She said he told her multiple stories about what he had done with the body, according to sheriffs.

Donley threatened to kill her if she told anyone, Chitwood said. Donley had seemed relieved in 2021 or 2022 after he visited the site and found a modular home and driveway had been installed on the trailer’s former location, Chitwood said.

The woman told investigators late last year Autumn’s body was buried where the trailer had been. They obtained warrants and worked with the new homeowner, then tore up the pavement and removed the home to conduct the search, according to sheriffs.

Chitwood said Donley had been able to scare people over the years to keep silent.

“He’ll never face (consequences) in this world for the evil that he perpetrated,” Chitwood said.

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