October 2, 2022 | By Adawe Bosworth

This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.

Over 20 years ago, 14-year-old Heather Landacre met her nephew John Robert Thomas for the first time, only by coincidence. He was, oddly, older than her. Four months later, 19-year-old John was murdered.

Heather cherishes the few months that she was able to spend with John, or as she calls him, “JT.” “He’s the one that taught me how to play baseball,” she said. It was summertime in Lake City, Florida, and Heather and John would get together to throw the ball in the yard. Estranged from her father and his side of the family, Heather did not grow up knowing her nephew. It wasn’t until her friend from school happened to bring John Robert Thomas over to her house that they discovered they were related. But her time with JT was cut short, and JT’s killer is still unknown over 20 years later.

John grew up in Lake City, Florida and graduated from Columbia High School. He worked on his grandfather’s snow cone truck. When he wasn’t working, he enjoyed playing baseball and hanging out with his friends and family. He loved baseball and he dreamed of one day playing for Florida State University. He always looked clean-cut, wore nice clothes, and had the most radiant smile. Heather remembers him as always looking tall, although she acknowledges that he wasn’t that tall – she just saw him that way. She looked up to him. She can still picture the huge smile he had on his face every time he walked in the door.

Before he was killed, he purchased a baseball glove and bat for Heather that he planned on giving her the next time they got together. “He was sweet, and kind,” said Heather. To this day, she receives messages online from friends and acquaintances of John’s telling her how great he was and how much they loved him.

On December 9th, 2001, John Robert Thomas borrowed his cousin’s, 1997 gray Nissan Altima to return a bracelet to the Lake City Walmart. According to the police, there is footage captured around midnight that reveals there may have been two other people in the car with John that night. Between midnight and 4 a.m., a witness saw John at a Lake City house on Northeast Washington Street near Northeast Broadway Avenue with several other people. A witness reported that someone in the house was handling a small semiautomatic weapon, chambering, and ejecting rounds.

According to reports, John left the house because he felt unsafe, but he was stopped on the porch by another individual. A police report states, John and another person got into a physical fight over a watch John was wearing. Someone from the crowd emerged with a handgun and shot John in the head after John began getting the upper hand. John Robert Thomas was found dead on Northeast Broadway Avenue at 4:50 a.m., according to police. The car he was driving was found in Live Oak the next day and had been set on fire and burned.

At the time this article was written, according to Crime Grade Organization, Lake City, Florida was rated a D for violent crime. “Lake City was in the 51st percentile for safety, meaning 49% of cities are safer,” according to Crime Grade. Heather wonders if the amount of crime in the area contributed to the lack of news coverage on her nephew’s murder.

In 2002, a woman was arrested in connection with the murder of John Thomas. Her DNA evidence was found in vomit that had been found next to John’s body. The court dropped the charges, however, citing of a lack of evidence. Heather wishes the police would have investigated that suspect more and has asked the LCPD to investigate further, but she says they told her they cannot find the woman. Heather believes with more information the murderer could be revealed.

John Robert Thomas had an extensive family that loved him very much. His father visits the police department with questions on the case every year on the anniversary of his son’s death. According to Heather, John’s siblings suffered tremendously from the loss of their brother. John’s family and friends are vocal on social media in reference to what they think happened, and what different people may know about the story, but no one with any information has come forward to the Lake City Police Department. Heather now has a son who, according to her, “is the spitting image of John,” and for her that is a daily reminder of her nephew.

Anyone with information on this case is asked to reach out to the Lake City Police Department’s at 386-752-4344.

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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.

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