Judy MacFarlane attended a bible study group every Monday evening at her church, and January 13, 1992 was no exception. The 30-year-old appeared to be in a good mood after the bible study, which was held at United Pentecostal Church in Gainesville, Florida. Although a light rain was falling that night, Judy stopped to admire some of the flowers planted in front of the church. Noticing that the rain appeared to be getting heavier, two other church members asked her if she wanted a ride home, but Judy declined their offer. She told them that she lived close by and preferred to walk, so the two church members went on their way. Judy never made it home, and she was never seen alive again.
Judy had been dealing with several major lifestyle changes that winter; she had recently separated from her husband and was adjusting to life as a single mother of four young children. She and her kids had moved in with her mother immediately following the separation, but her mother’s house had recently burned to the ground. Judy and the children then moved into a small mobile home located less than a mile from her church. It had been a stressful time, but Judy was never one to back down from a challenge.
Although she could come across as sweet and soft-spoken when she wanted to, Judy had served in the United States Army and then the National Guard for a total of eight years. She could be extremely tough when she needed to be; when she was younger, she wouldn’t hesitate to get in a fistfight with someone if she deemed it necessary. She had nerves of steel, and a few years before she went missing she had obtained her private pilot license.
After leaving the military, Judy enrolled in Santa Fe Community College. She had graduated from there the previous spring, earning honors in industrial maintenance. She was hoping her degree would allow her to provide a better life for her children, but the separation from her husband, followed quickly by the house fire, had increased her stress level significantly. In order to help her get back on her feet quicker, one of her cousins had offered to take Judy’s children for a few weeks. Judy had gratefully accepted her offer, but was looking forward to their return; her children were the center of her world.
Since she was temporarily living alone, there was no one waiting for Judy to arrive home after her bible study and it’s unclear if she ever made it back to her house that night. She wasn’t reported missing until Wednesday, after her younger sister had been unable to get in contact with her and grew concerned.
Once Judy’s family realized that she was missing, they were immediately convinced that something terrible had happened to her. They were certain that she would never have taken off without telling anyone; prior to this she had checked in with her cousin and children almost every single day. She had wanted to be a mother since she was a small child, and was completely devoted to her children.
The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office took the missing person report, but found nothing suspicious about Judy’s disappearance. She was an adult, she had arranged for someone to watch her children, and she had cashed a check for $300 shortly before she vanished. Detectives assured her family that she had likely decided she needed a break for a while and would contact someone when she was ready.
As time went on, it became apparent that Judy had not taken off on a short vacation. Weeks turned to months without any word from her, and her family feared the worst. Even law enforcement seemed to concede that the case was unusual, and they conducted several searches of wooded areas near the church where Judy was last seen. They found nothing related to the case, and it seemed to go cold almost immediately.
Two months after Judy went missing, another Santa Fe Community College student disappeared. Beth Foster told her roommate she was going to a local park to read a book, but never returned. Her car was found behind a Gainesville restaurant a few days later, and police launched a massive search for the 21-year-old. Hundreds of volunteers participated in large-scale searches throughout the Gainesville area, and Beth’s body was found 11 days later. She had been brutally mu*rdered.
Judy’s family was understandably upset with the differences in the way the two cases had been handled, noting that no large-scale searches had ever been conducted for Judy. They openly questioned why the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office had virtually ignored Judy’s disappearance yet responded in full force when Beth went missing; law enforcement continued to insist they had good reason to believe that Judy had left voluntarily.
Although Judy’s family remained convinced that Judy had fallen victim to foul play, the investigation into her disappearance stalled. Then, six months after Judy vanished, her body was found in a retention pond by a lawn maintenance crew. The pond, located less than a mile from the church where she was last seen, was behind a locked gate and surrounded by a chain-link fence that was topped with barbed wire. The Florida Department of Transportation possessed the only keys to unlock the gate.
Detectives were baffled by how Judy’s body could have ended up in the pond. This wasn’t the first time a lawn maintenance crew had been sent to that area to mow the grass since Judy disappeared, and none of them had seen anything unusual before. The retention pond was not in a secluded area; it seemed impossible that the body could have been there for more than six months without someone discovering it.
Investigators theorized that Judy’s body may have been thrown down a manhole into the sewer system and washed into the retention pond from there. Detectives studied various maps of the sewer system in that area, but were never able to conclusively determine how Judy’s body ended up where it was found.
Judy’s body had been badly decomposed when it was found, but it appeared that she had been fully clothed at the time of her d*eath. Unfortunately, the state of her remains made it impossible for the medical examiner to determine a cause of de*ath. This seemed to squash the family’s hope for answers; the fact that the medical examiner could not say Judy’s de*ath had been a homicide meant that no homicide investigation would take place.
Judy’s family was devastated by her dea*th; after serving her country for so many years and then graduating from college, her life was really just beginning. No matter what the medical examiner said, they were convinced that Judy had been mu*rdered and her ki*ller was being allowed to walk free.
It seemed likely that there would never be any justice for Judy, but in 2015 her case was reopened as a homicide case by the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office Cold Case Unit. Detective Kevin Allen took an interest in the case and was determined to solve it. Like the initial investigators, he was puzzled by how Judy’s body ended up in the locked retention pond, but he was more concerned with trying to identify any potential suspects in her mu*rder.
Detective Allen noted that there were several potential people of interest who had been involved in Judy’s life at the time of her mur*der. He looked first at her estranged husband, Jim MacFarlane, who he learned was a convicted dr*ug smuggler from Canada. There certainly had been some tension between Judy and Jim, but he had been arrested on d*rug charges and deported back to Canada before Judy was kil*led.
Detective Allen also learned that there had been bad blood between Judy and a convicted felon named Robert Morris. Robert — who preferred to be called Bobby — had once dated Judy’s younger sister. The two had a volatile relationship and were constantly arguing; their fights would often become physical. During one particularly violent fight in 1990, Judy had intervened and called the Gainesville Police Department on Bobby. She let the responding officers into the house where Bobby was hiding and told them exactly where to find him. Bobby was so enraged that it took three police officers to finally subdue him enough to make the arrest.
Bobby was charged with a number of different felonies for his assault on Judy’s younger sister and for attacking the police officers; he was later convicted and served more than a year in prison. He was released on January 13, 1992 — the same day that Judy was last seen alive. Unfortunately, Bobby Morris died in 2010, so Detective Allen was unable to speak to him about the case. Beyond the coincidental timing, there is no physical evidence linking him to the crime.
It’s possible that Bobby was still very angry at Judy for getting him arrested, and he may well have been willing to ki*ll her. It’s also possible she met a random ki*ller on the road — Gainesville was not a very safe place for young women during that time period, and there were more than a half dozen who either went missing from this area or were kil*led there in the early 1990s.
Judy MacFarlane was 30 years old when she was kil*led in Gainesville, Florida in 1992. Although the case has been cold for years, detectives believe it can still be solved but they need help from the public. If you have any information about what Judy was doing during the days leading up to her disappearance, or about her mu*rder, please contact the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office at 352–955–1818.