Case Update: Arrest Made
On August 19, 2021, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office announced that Leslie McCray’s case had been solved after 36 years. JSO identified David Nelson Austin as Leslie’s killer after re-running DNA evidence collected at the scene.
Austin was already serving two life sentences in Michigan after being convicted of multiple sexual battery charges. Austin fought extradition but after a year, was finally moved back to Florida to face the charges. The state is seeking the death penalty in Leslie’s abduction and murder.
The holiday season has never been the same for the family of Leslie McCray, whose body was found on Christmas Eve in 1985.
McCray had been raped, beaten, and stabbed multiple times, with a fatal wound to the neck taking her life. She was 17.
“I will never give up fighting for Leslie,” declared Sarah Adams, Leslie’s mother.
Sarah was diagnosed with ALS in 2010, which has taken her ability to verbally communicate. Though ALS is a progressive disease that targets the nervous system leading to a loss of muscle control, Sarah is lively and moving around her small home.
With a pen a paper, Sarah relays that ALS “stole my voice,” but it certainly hasn’t affected her purpose.
Joey Bray, Sarah’s niece, has taken on the role of spokesperson for Leslie’s family. She often makes the 2-hour drive from her home in Perry to Jacksonville to care for her aunt and be present in the fight for Leslie.
“We were more like sisters,” Joey recounted of the years growing up with her cousin.
Sarah and Joey shared stories of Leslie while flipping through a multitude of photo albums. She had a wonderful sense of humor and was “quick to make you laugh,” according to Joey.
Leslie enjoyed pulling pranks. Joey shares the time that Leslie “painted her face all ghostly and chased me into a bathroom! Once I came out, there was Leslie – sitting on the sofa laughing at me so hard.”
It is these stories and memories that drive both women to ensure that Leslie McCray isn’t forgotten after all these years.
Leslie McCray was a student at the University of North Florida, always wanting to become a model. She was living in an apartment off St. John’s Avenue in the Avondale area.
According to The Florida Times-Union, Leslie’s 21-year-old roommate and boyfriend was awoken on the morning of Christmas Eve, around 3 a.m. He found a man kneeling by his bed and armed with a knife. The man reportedly tied up the boyfriend’s hands and feet with neckties. The unknown man would then take Leslie out the back door of the apartment.
The boyfriend reportedly struggled to free himself from the bindings before reporting Leslie missing at 6 a.m. Her body was found about three hours later, nude, on Old Middleburg Road near a local power substation, roughly five miles from her home.
Police, per the news report two days following the incident, were wary to accept the given storyline of that morning. Signs did not indicate forced entry or a struggle inside the apartment, and the backdoor had cobwebs and lack of footsteps.
Lt. Jim Suber was quoted saying, “It strikes me as curious how the suspect got in and out of the apartment,” before adding that they “have no reason to disbelieve [the boyfriend’s] story.”
Police Information Officer Sgt. Charley Hill added, “we’re still evaluating his story. His story is one part of the case.”
For now, the family pushes on.
In recent months, Leslie McCray’s unsolved murder has received more attention and public engagement compared to the previous three decades.
McCray’s loved one’s attribute the new attention to the help and interest of Project: Cold Case after submitting the case to the Jacksonville-based non-profit in late 2018. Since, Leslie McCray’s name and face have been added to the Faces of Unsolved Homicides page along with numerous other digital and physical media placements in hopes of generating more attention.
In June 2019, McCray’s family had the opportunity to sit down with Lorena Inclan from Action News Jax and share their stories of Leslie. The news feature acted as an initiation to the public to glimpse what the family had lost through shared memories and tragic details of Leslie’s death.
Joey Bray speaks about the long periods of silence over the years until Actions News Jax and Lorena Inclan aired an interview from the family’s home in June 2019. It was then that Joey spoke about the “fun-loving, sweet girl who loved everybody.” While sharing her memories of Leslie and her life, she also adds the family’s speculation about who killed Leslie. Sarah quietly nods in agreement to Joey’s words.
With attention back on this 34-year-old cold case, Action News Jax reached out to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for comment. JSO responded, stating, “the investigations unit has just transitioned into a new administration and they are reviewing all aspects of the day to day operations and work flow. As such, these interviews have been suspended at this time, and we are going to respectfully decline the interview.”
While the family was disheartened by the initial comments, a meeting was facilitated between the two parties to discuss updates to Leslie’s case. This was, in fact, the first time that the family had the opportunity to sit down with law enforcement since the fateful Christmas Eve.
“It’s time,” Joey said regarding the meeting. The family was very comforted and confident following their meeting with JSO.
With the recent media attention, Joey and Sarah believe now is the best time for this case to be solved.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Leslie McCray, 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.
Research and Impact
Project: Cold Case’s goal is to provide and promote awareness for the multitude of cold case homicides by using various avenues and platforms to engage with the public. The best tool available today is social media, where an impressive 1-in-3 people have some sort of social media presence.
As with the case of Leslie McCray, re-introducing her family and story has led to opportunities in capturing attention and ensuring that her story has greater reach.
The use of social media has been credited with capturing criminals and solving murders. Brevard County Sheriff (FL) Wayne Ivey, a 39-year police veteran, recognized the benefit of using online platforms to aid in capturing criminals. Although his strategy has garnered some backlash, the department uses to social media to request the public’s help for tips in locating those with current warrants. The “Wheel of Fugitive” has led to a number of arrests over the years.
Ivy estimates that approximately 88 percent of fugitives featured on the show turn themselves in or are found using tips from the public.
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If you have a loved one that is the victim of an unsolved homicide, please submit their case here for consideration in a future Cold Case Spotlight post.