March 11, 2019 | By John Biasotti
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class
In March of 1980, Claire Gilligan’s life was saved by her 18-year-old aunt, Carol Ann Barrett. Today, Claire Gilligan is also one of the few people who still remember her aunt. “My Aunt Carol was like a mom to me. I even called her ‘mom’ when she was still around. We were very close,” Gilligan said.
That March, at a family pool party, then-3-year-old Claire had drowned. Her Aunt Carol performed CPR on her for ten minutes before an ambulance arrived to properly resuscitate her. “My aunt was a hero,” Gilligan said.
One week later, Carol Barrett also saved her friend’s life before being shot in the back of the head. Her murder has never been solved.
Carol’s family said that she had wanted to go to Florida for spring break. A week after the pool party, Carol, who lived in Ohio, and seven other friends went to Daytona Beach where they were held up at gunpoint in their hotel room. After forcing his way inside their room, a man told them to get naked, robbed them, and threatened that if they tried anything he would kill one of them. He then said he was going to take one of them to make sure they wouldn’t call the police after he left.
He picked Carol’s friend Pam to take with him. When Pam started to panic he became agitated. Carol volunteered to go instead. He made everyone else get on the balcony and locked them out.
Carol’s body later was found on the side of the road by the Jacksonville International Airport. It’s been nearly 40 years, and the investigators are no closer to discovering the identity of the man who killed her.
“The case is still open, so they still have items of hers that we haven’t been given back. Her necklace and her earrings haven’t been given to the family,” Gilligan said. “I’ve held on to one of her watches like it’s a million dollars. I know it sounds weird, but I’d just like to have her things to remember her by.”
Carol collected watches, had a beautiful dimple, and a boyfriend. “She was like any other person, and then she was gone,” Gilligan said.
For a long time, the family received prank calls. “People would call and say, ‘you’re next’ and hang up,” Gilligan said. “Afterwards, my mother was very forthcoming with me about strangers and the world. Now, I’m the same way with my children.” Once, she said, in California, someone tried to abduct her, and her memory of what happened to Carol inspired her to run for her life.
Because of her aunt’s death, Gilligan has always thought harder about life and death her whole life. She said, “I could die, and no one would know,” and it’s something she thinks about often.
Gilligan studied criminal justice in college with the idea of pursuing her aunt’s case, but now finds she must focus on her family. “The guy is probably dead,” she said. “I get so mad when I watch crime shows and they find the criminal. Those families have closure and I never will.”
Action News Jax has aired two stories on Carol’s case in hopes of generating new leads. The first was in November 2017 and the second was in November 2018. They also publicized both a hand-drawn composite sketch and a computer rendering of the suspect.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Carol Ann Barrett, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a $3,000 reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS.
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