Volusia Sheriff sheds light on 16-year-old Autumn McClure’s disappearance and untimely death

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Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood has clarified the timeline in the recently closed cold case involving a girl missing out of Ormond Beach.

This comes a day after detectives uncovered the remains of a person believed to be Autumn McClure, who was 16 years old at the time of her disappearance.

Investigators have been on the case since McClure went missing in 2004. Her boyfriend then claimed to have dropped her off at the Volusia Mall. He later changed his story and instead said he dropped her off at the Seabreeze Bridge, where she got into a car with a woman named Jessica Freeman.

When she first disappeared, Autumn’s grandmother reported receiving letters from her connected to a Melbourne address. It’s unclear if the letters were legitimately from her or a potential smokescreen by her killer. Sheriff Chitwood said the case went cold for years after being unable to catch a lead through those letters.

That was until 2021 when they received a phone call that would change the outlook of the investigation. A man named Chris Miller said an associate of his confessed to killing Autumn and burying her somewhere in Volusia County.

“He basically tells the detective, I’ve got to get this off my chest,” Chitwood said.

The associate’s name was Brian Donley, and the tip from Miller would put detectives on Donley’s trail. All while this is happening, investigators are in contact with Jessica Freeman, who, on a monitored phone call, told Miller she witnessed Donley kill Autumn and get rid of the body.

Approximately a year after said phone call, Donley died following a medical procedure.

“Karma is a [expletive],” the Sheriff said. “The sad part is he’ll never face [consequences] in this world for the evil that he perpetrated.”

According to investigators, Donley’s death gave Jessica Freeman the peace of mind to step forward and give more information. She told deputies she withheld information out of fear of retaliation from Donley.

After securing a deal for her immunity, she said Autumn lived with herself and Donley when she disappeared.

“They were involved in a sexual relationship with Autumn. Now, keep in mind, Brian was 31 at the time. Autumn was 16.” Chitwood said. After further conversations, she would give investigators a location where the body was buried in the 1300 block of Hand Avenue in Ormond Beach.

She claims Donley visited the property in late 2021 or early 2022 and was delighted to see a new home was being built there. In 2023, the department identified the location and began working with the homeowner on a deal to excavate the site. After coming to terms with them, the next stage of the investigation commenced.

The department recruited the assistance of Dr. Lerah Sutton, a forensic scientist. She said that with the help of radar technology, the group was able to identify an abnormal object in the ground.

The object turned out to be human remains. Those remains are believed to be those of Autumn McClure.

“This was really an extremely intense and resource-heavy operation, but all of the factors came together to help us achieve our successful outcome,” Dr. Sutton said.

Though the cause of death will be difficult to confirm, detectives found Freeman’s testimony to be credible.

“She came home one afternoon and saw Brian choking Autumn in the bathroom. By the time she intervened, she saw that Autumn was lifeless, and she left the [trailer],” The Sheriff said. The department said they have no reason to believe Freeman had anything to do with the teen’s death.

Freeman said Donley killed Autumn out of fear she would return home and he would face legal trouble if she told her family about their inappropriate sexual relationship.

The remains have been sent off to a medical examiner to confirm their identity.

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