Sumter County authorities could be getting closer to solving a more than 40-year-old murder mystery.
Since 1971, detectives have known little about the victim, known only as Little Miss Panasoffkee. Now, modern science has determined the victim’s hometown almost 6,000 miles away.
The name detectives gave her is derived from the marshy wooded area where she was found. It's a spot where thousands of cars pass by each day.
But for Sumter County detectives, Interstate 75’s Lake Panasofkee bridge has long represented the scene of one crime they just can’t solve.
“It’s always been a pure mystery,” Sumter County Sheriff's Detective Darren Norris said.
In 1971, the body of a girl in her late teens or early 20s was found near what’s now a popular fishing spot. She was strangled to death with a man’s belt.
“In 1971, if you wanted to report someone missing, it wasn’t like today where we could instantly put that into a computer database, it didn’t exist,” Detective Norris explained.
Since they didn’t know anything about the victim, other detectives always concentrated on the location and type of crime, seeing if they could link it to any serial highway stranglers of the 1970s.
In 1986, her remains were exhumed and scientists found she had a surgery known as Watson-Jones on her ankle.
The finding led to the popular TV show, Unsolved Mysteries, airing Little Miss Panasofkee’s story.
The story opened with Robert Stack's signature voice describing the area was she was found
“Fifty miles northwest of Orlando, it is a steamy mysterious quagmire,” Stack said.
But the mystery remained unsolved.
“Every few years, leads would come in, unfortunately, none of them panned out,” Detective Norris lamented.
Last year, Detective Darren Norris took over the case, wondering if advances in science could lead to new clues.
He took the remains to researchers at the Anthropology Department at the University of South Florida and Geological Sciences Department at the University of Florida and was amazed at what they discovered.
“They determined that Miss Panasoffkee is of Greek descent and that she would have only come into the country within 12 months of her death, which is an even greater significant lead,” Detective Norris said.
The timeframe of her arrival was determined by changes in her diet -- her origin, because of the amount of lead in her teeth.
According to researchers, lead levels like that were only found in one mining town in the world, Lavrion, Greece.
Forty-one years after her death, Little Miss Panasofkee’s story was just translated into Greek and published in that nation’s largest newspaper.
The developments have allowed Detective Norris to finally stop wondering if some clue was hidden in the swampy crime scene and concentrate on trying to track down leads half a world away.
He’s not sure, if Little Miss Panasofkee’s killer will ever be charged, but says after so much time, she deserves to go home.
“My goal here is to get her identified, and get her remains back to a grieving family somewhere.”
Detectives have also determined the following about Little Miss Panasoffkee:
At the time of her death, she was between 17 to 24 years of age, approximately 5 feet and 2 to 5 inches tall, and weighed approximately 110 to 120 pounds, with dark colored hair and brown eyes.
She was wearing plaid green pants, a matching solid green shirt, and a shawl with green and yellow print.
She had a Baylor wrist watch on her left hand, a yellow gold ring with a clear stone on her left ring finger, and a small, thin yellow gold necklace.
If you have any information in the case, contact the Sumter County Sheriff’s office locally at 352-569-1600 or nationwide at 1-888 231 2168.