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Sheriff produced documentary about 35-year-old cold case results in new & ‘credible’ tip

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By Andrew Boryga
Sun Sentinel

One afternoon in May 1984, 8-year-old Marjory Christina “Christy” Luna walked two blocks from her home in Greenacres, Fla., to buy cat food from a store. She made it to the store but never back home.

By the end of the night, a police search started. It’s stretched 35 years and counting, circling various leads and suspects. On Monday, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office announced that a new tip generated by a recently released documentary they shot led them to dig in an area close to Christy’s home in the hopes of making a break in the case.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw called the tip “one of the best and most credible leads that we have got to date to solve this case.”

He said a team of anthropologists from Florida Gulf Coast University was assisting at the dig site, and he was hopeful about what they might find. “We believe that this is another dot connecting all the dots to hopefully solve this case and bring some closure here,” Bradshaw said.

Christy’s mother, Jennie Johnson, wore dark sun glasses Monday morning. She seemed happy about the news, but not exactly jubilant.

“I think we are going to bring Christy home,” she said, pausing to re-state herself with more emphasis. “We are going to bring Christy home.”

It’s easy to understand Johnson’s brief hesitation.

It’s been 35 years, two months and nine days since her daughter went missing. In that time, investigators have presented four different men as suspects for her daughter’s disappearance. A body has never been found. None of the men have been charged in Christy’s case, although most have been imprisoned for sexual abuse charges against other children.

During the 35 years, investigators have tried again and again to seek new information from the community, usually making calls for those with tips or leads to come forward on the anniversary of Christy’s disappearance.

On the day of the 20-year anniversary, there was a review of evidence and a call for new information.

On the 26-year anniversary, the Sheriff’s Office released a photo of a potential suspect who had died in a Tennessee prison and composite sketches. They held a news conference and urged the public to come forward, but no significant leads developed.

However, as the case became colder and colder, the Sheriff’s Office began to move away from the old ways of calling for help and embraced social media and storytelling.

This year, on the 35-year anniversary of Christy’s disappearance, the Sheriff’s Office released a nearly 20-minute documentary piecing together Christy’s final moments. The Netflix-quality film includes a voice narrator, intimate details about Christy’s life, a rundown of all the known suspects and behind-the-scenes interviews with family and investigators.

A major character is the lead detective on Christy’s case, William Springer, who left viewers with an emotional call to come forward with any knowledge that might be helpful.

“This, I’m hoping, goes out nationwide,” Springer says, nearly choking up, at the end of the video.

Springer has been on the case since Christy first went missing and has continued to work through his retirement. “Maybe someone might remember something that stood out in their mind back then,” he added.

The documentary is directly responsible for the new tip, said Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Teri Barbera.

“Every year we put out our cold cases in different ways,” said Barbera. “This year we put together a beautiful story. The right person saw it and the right person called.”

Barbera said that “almost immediately” after the video was released on May 27 the Sheriff’s Office received an anonymous tip from someone who lived outside of the community of Greenacres. She would not say where, only that the tip came from “far away.”

According to Barbera, the tip was “too good not to pursue.”

Details about the tip and what investigators will be digging for in northern Palm Beach County over the coming days are scant.

Former TV and radio reporter Lauri Stevens believes the Sheriff’s Office is embracing a winning strategy by shifting to social media and video to seek out details about Christy’s case and other cold cases.

Stevens started an annual conference in 2010 that year after year draws representatives from police forces across the country as well as nations like Ghana and Panama to learn about how to use social media for community outreach, event management and investigations.

“Social media is how the world communicates now,” Stevens said, equating popular platforms to a modern-day telephone. “You wouldn’t say, ‘Well, we are the police, so we won’t bother answering the phone.’”

In 2017, on the 33-year anniversary of Christy’s disappearance, a voice meant to be Christy’s took over the Sheriff’s Office’s social media channels, speaking in tweets and Facebook posts to recreate the time line of events before she disappeared.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office employee who came up with the campaign had attended Stevens’ conference a month before.

It was there that he learned about a similar effort to renew interest in a cold case that had taken Canada by storm.

In 1986, 15-year-old Kerrie Ann Brown went missing after attending a party in Manitoba, Canada. She was found raped and murdered on the outskirts of town. In 2016, to gain more information about the unsolved case, Robert Cyrenne, director of media relations for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police of Manitoba, tried tweeting about the details of the case in Kerrie’s imagined voice.

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©2019 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)

Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

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