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Investigators solve 1988 cold case involving man found dead in Florida citrus grove

The body of Rocky Taylor, 25, was found in a citrus grove in St. Lucie County on May 12, 1987.jpg
Posted at 8:31 AM, May 14, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-14 11:31:30-04

ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. — About 33 years ago, investigators in St. Lucie County, Florida, came upon a badly decomposed body in a citrus grove.

It was a homicide, but for three decades, no one had been arrested. Now, that cold case has been closed.

Out on Route 70, way west of town, it looks about the same as it did in 1988. That's when a man mowing a citrus grove came upon a body.

Detectives thought they knew who it was, Rocky Taylor, and had an idea who might be responsible. But investigators couldn't positively identify the 25-year-old at the time.

"He had no identification on him. They actually met up with friends, asked if they could identify the clothing he usually wore," said Detective Paul Taylor with the St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office's cold case unit.

Through online sleuthing last year, Taylor tracked down two brothers who agreed to submit to DNA testing. The samples were sent to a Texas lab in early 2020.

"Unfortunately, at that point in time, COVID hit and their lab shut down," Paul Taylor said.

Detective Paul Taylor investigated cold case death of Rocky Taylor
St. Lucie County Sheriff's Office Detective Paul Taylor had been agressively investigating the 1988 death of Rocky Taylor.

A few weeks ago, the lab contacted the sheriff's office and the pieces fell into place.

"Once they ran those two DNA profiles, it came up that he was positively identified as Rocky Lane Taylor," Paul Taylor said.

But the main suspect, a former boyfriend of Rocky Taylor, died of cancer in 2015.

"I would have loved to have made an arrest on this," Paul Taylor said. "I think we had the evidence to convict this guy. Just a matter of, you know, time wasn't on my side on this one."

The detective has been a one-man cold case unit. But recently, a second man has come on board to volunteer his time.

"So far, what I've done in the last, probably, month-and-a-half to two months is just read," retired State Attorney Bruce Colton said.

Colton retired this year after 35 years in the office. As someone with a hand in convicting some of the Treasure Coast's most notorious killers, Colton has a history with some of these cold cases.

"One of the things that I found interesting is that, even way back in the '70s and '80s, they were doing pretty complete investigations," Colton said.

Colton said Paul Taylor's work on the Rocky Taylor case was impressive.

Bruce Colton, former state attorney, helped with Rocky Taylor case
Retired State Attorney Bruce Colton helped Detective Paul Taylor with the Rocky Taylor investigation.

"He's done a great job putting these together," Colton said. "I think that says volumes as to why he's been able to now have two of them that he's cleared."

Paul Taylor found that the victim's remains were still in a lab in Gainesville, so he coordinated it so the family could collect them. Rocky Taylor's surviving siblings held a memorial service for him Wednesday.

"Thirty-three years to the day, they’re having a celebration of life in Alabama," Taylor said.

This story was originally published by Jon Shainman at WPTV.