The Suwannee Valley Unsolved (SVU) team recently closed a cold case involving a Quincey teenager murdered in September 1983.
On Friday, Jason P. Futch, a director/producer with JPF Productions in Lake City, released an account on the death of 19-year-old Reginald Leonard Ward to Mainstreet Daily News. The following is the report in its entirety.
1983 SUWANNEE COUNTY COLD CASE SOLVED; VICTIM AND SUSPECT IDENTIFIED
Live Oak, Florida—On Tuesday, February 15th, 2022, the Suwannee Valley Unsolved (SVU) team were able to confirm that a Suwannee County cold case from September 1983 has been resolved. Based on discussions with Investigator Sgt. Wayne Kelly of the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office (SCSO) and a recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, investigators were able to conclude that a John Doe found in the Suwannee River is that of 19-year-old Reginald Leonard Ward (B/M), a resident of Quincy, Florida at the time of his death. His remains were identified in 2012, but not made public until the closure of this case in January 2022.
The suspect identified in this case was William Clyde Sapp, Jr. (W/M), a resident of Dowling Park, Florida at the time of the events. He was identified as the suspect based on several witness accounts, as well as statements from a close member of the family who was able to detail the events. William Clyde Sapp, Jr. died in Hamilton County in 1996.
The following is a detailed account of the events leading to the identification of Mr. Ward.
On September 18th, 1983, canoeists on the Suwannee River near the I-10 bridge discovered human remains partially floating to the surface of the river; about 20-25 feet from the water’s edge. The canoeists were able to stop a vehicle on I-10 and alerted them to the remains. The vehicle drove to the Florida Agricultural Road Inspection station and alerted Inspector Wesley Silas, who officially reported the incident.
The body was removed from the river by a team from the Florida Fish and Wildlife with assistance from the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office. The hands and feet were bound with a rope while two sandbags were wrapped around his neck to weigh the body down. At the time of his discovery, the unidentified male was listed as a white male, 6’2” and weighed approximately 132 lbs. He was wearing a pair of denim jeans. Later, it would be revealed the John Doe was a black male. The misidentification of the John Doe’s race was likely due to the severe decomposition of the body. It was estimated that the body had likely been in the river for roughly three weeks and had been experiencing skin slippage.
The following day after the discovery, a dive team from the Suwannee and Lafayette County Sheriff’s Office searched the river for clues. Personal effects were found in the river, including clothing, and camping materials. Among the effects was a .22 caliber Winchester semi-automatic rifle that was identified as a stolen weapon. Another item, a hunting knife, was also located and had been previously reported missing.
The weapons were traced back to a home in Dowling Park, where a report weeks earlier indicated the home had been burglarized. One of the residents interviewed by deputies indicated his surprise considering there had been attack dogs on the property. In the original report, a witness had identified a black male and two white males that were “rough looking” wandering around near the property. They were seeking assistance with their car that had broken down on the side of I-10. The car owner was identified; however, the owner could not be located and was never considered a suspect in this case.
Meanwhile, during the autopsy on the unidentified individual, a total of 9 bullet wounds were located on the body. Each wound was consistent with that of a .22 caliber bullet. It was concluded by the medical examiner that the John Doe had been shot to death with the rifle found in the river and was bound and thrown in the river afterward.
The original report never indicated a potential suspect, and the case became inactive shortly after. The remains were interred in a pauper’s grave at Eastside Cemetery in Live Oak, FL. Thomas Funeral Home handled the arrangements.
FDLE INVESTIGATION AND IDENTIFICATION
In 2010, FDLE agent Robert Shotwell received a tip from William Clyde Sapp Jr.’s son William Clayton Sapp that he had knowledge of a homicide that occurred in 1983 near the Suwannee River. At the time, Sapp was serving time at a federal prison in Jessup, Georgia and had implicated his father in the homicide. Agent Shotwell requested the case file regarding the unidentified individual and did several interviews with witnesses who may have had knowledge of the events.
During the investigation, Agent Shotwell had learned from several individuals that they heard Sapp, Jr. had killed someone in the early 1980s with a .22 rifle and threw the body in the river.
A partial print from the unidentified decedent was provided to the FBI for fingerprint analysis. In June 2012, the fingerprint analysis came back, identifying the individual as Reginald Ward. Ward had run away from the Dozier School for Boy’s shortly before he disappeared and had been last seen by family members in Quincy. Family members believed that Reginald may have gone to Ohio to live with his girlfriend at the time.
When interviewed by FDLE agents, the girlfriend stated that she had last seen Ward in 1982 after dropping him off at his grandmother’s home in Quincy.
At the conclusion of the FDLE investigation, Sapp changed his story while speaking with investigators with the FDLE and Columbia County Sheriff’s Office, where he was residing while on federal parole. He had indicated that the individual he was referring to was thrown from a bridge in Dowling Park, and did not resemble Reginald Ward, despite the story sounding close to what reports indicated in 1983. The case was closed. Though an identification was made, a suspect had not been positively identified.
CONFESSION REGARDING SUSPECT
In June 2021, SVU contacted Sgt. Wayne Kelly of the SCSO in reference to this case. An open case in Suwannee County had been located on Project: Cold Case’s website about an unidentified person found in the river. The newspaper reports from the Suwannee Democrat were collected and sent to Sgt. Kelly, who would reference the case in the SCSO archives. Within the file, it was revealed that Ward had been identified in June 2012 and that the case concluded without a suspect named.
During Sgt. Kelly’s investigation, it was revealed by a close family member of Sapp Jr. that he had admitted to murdering Ward and dumping his body in the river after learning of the Dowling Park burglary. Sapp, Jr. along with others saw that Ward possessed the stolen items from the home as he walked into Sapp Jr.’s saloon. Sapp, Jr. took Ward to the Suwannee River, shot him with the stolen rifle and threw it in the river along with Ward’s body. The family member had relayed the fact that William Clayton Sapp had shared this story with members of the family over the years, and that it had been a “dark secret within the family.”
Sgt. Kelly attempted to speak with William Clayton Sapp, however, he died in 2020.
It was also revealed through the research performed by SVU that Reginald Ward had relatives that resided in Titusville, Florida. One of the relatives is a brother who reached out to SVU via Websleuths Web Forum in January 2022. He was able to provide a photograph of Mr. Ward. The following is a statement from the family of Reginald Ward:
To Suwannee Valley Unsolved,
We, the Rivers Family would like to extend our gratitude of thanks and blessing upon each of you for the very hard work and committed efforts in bringing the necessary attention to the cold case file of our beloved family member Reginald Ward.
We would like to thank the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office and Detective Wayne Kelley for solving this cold case.
With your due diligence and skillful investigation, our Family can now begin the much need healing and grieving process.
The Bible scripture in the book of Philippians 4:6-7 New International Version(NVL) says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
God has answered our prayers and now our Family has PEACE.
The Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office has closed this case with a satisfactory ending. Though William Clyde Sapp, Jr. is deceased, he has been named the suspect in this case based on witness statements from people with knowledge of this event.
SVU would like to thank the following individuals for following up with this case:
- Sgt. Wayne Kelly, Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office
- Ret. Agent Robert Shotwell, Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement
- State Attorney’s Office for the 3rd District
- And the countless number of deputies and agents, past and present, who worked tirelessly on this case.
If anyone has further information in regards to the homicide of Reginald Ward, you may contact the Suwannee County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Wayne Kelly at 386-362-2222.