October 10, 2022 | By River Cordova
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Renee McBreen was someone’s mother, daughter, best friend, sister, and victim. Her son is now 32, with kids of his own. Her best friend lives in Nashville, and her sister works for the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, a minor league baseball team. But no one, not even for a second, forgets Renee. Her family members have the fondest memories of Renee as an insurmountable soul, glowing with positivity and good will to others.
On the night of Monday, Sept. 21st, 1992, 22-year-old Renee McBreen was at her Jacksonville home in the Murray Hill neighborhood with her 3-year-old son Caleb. They had just finished celebrating his birthday and there were still decorations up on the wall. Someone entered the home and beat Renee to death, leaving Caleb in bed unharmed. No one has ever been arrested in connection with the crime.
Renee McBreen was born on August 29th, 1970, and grew up in a close-knit community of several families near Jennings State Forest in Middleburg. As a kid, she spent her days walking the one-mile dirt road between her and her best friend Dyanna Miller’s house, getting into adventures in the nearby woods and riding the motorcycle her father gave her.
She loved poetry and was considered a good writer by all who knew her. She was rambunctious and social, and made everyone who knew her feel a personal connection to her. Renee’s sister, Shannon Preston, said Renee was a tomboy, always active and climbing trees, camping and hiking. She remembers Renee dressing up as Casper the Friendly Ghost for Halloween as a child, and the way she lit up a room with her energy. Because of her magnetic personality, she was a successful waitress, a job she took to get enough money to raise her pride and joy, Caleb.
Dyanna Miller, who was also Renee’s roommate, said “Renee did everything for Caleb.” Renee even chose the house she lived in because of its proximity to a police officer, something that made her feel safer living there. She could swing Caleb on a swing set in the backyard and go to the park. After a long day playing, Renee often scratched the back of her son’s head until he fell asleep.
Caleb, now grown up, holds on dearly to the few memories he has of his mother. He said he remembers the feeling of his mother’s nails running up and down his back, laying his head on her legs as she held him. He has two kids of his own and said one of the hardest days for him was his son’s 3rd birthday. The perspective of being a father allowed him some insight into his own mother’s final moments. “On my son’s third birthday I realized that as my mom was beaten, I knew she was thinking about me and my safety. I know she was thinking about her son being 30 feet away and if I was going to be all right,” he said.
The morning after Renee was killed, three-year-old Caleb answered the phone. It was Renee’s husband calling, from whom she was separated. He told his father he couldn’t wake Mommy up. Her husband then called the police, and Renee’s body was soon discovered.
The investigation found no forced entry. Neighbors said they heard arguing during the night of the 21st. The autopsy found that Renee had been hit with a blunt object, and that she was two months pregnant. JSO was not able to make any arrests in connection to the case, nor were any suspects made public, and it eventually went cold. Caleb ended up going into foster care after his mother’s death, and he was eventually adopted in his late teens. But he never stopped missing his mother.
Renee lit up every life she was a part of and was such a special person , she is still dearly missed by every person who lost her nearly 30 years ago. Renee’s best friend, Dyanna, is reeling from the loss. “One thing I realized is that I will never have another best friend. I get close to people only to find out that connection isn’t what I had with Renee, I don’t think I can ever have that with another person,” she said.
Anyone with information that could help police in their investigation is urged to contact the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at 904-630-0500 or email JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. To remain anonymous and receive a possible reward up to $3,000, contact Crime Stoppers at 1-866-845-TIPS or dial **TIPS (star star 8477) on your cell phone.
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