A Bloody Fingerprint Could Be the Key to Lakeland Man's Murder
November 30, 1984
A bloody fingerprint could be the key to solving the more than 30-year-old murder of 44-year-old Leonard McCullough.
The detectives just need to find its match first.
Lakeland police detectives had the print — found on a matchbook at the crime scene — entered into a statewide fingerprint database in the late 1980s.
Investigators have been running it through the system since, looking for new matches, but so far, haven’t had any luck.
And without a match or new witness information, detective Brad Grice said they might not ever figure out who killed McCullough.
As part of a continuing series and a partnership with the Lakeland Police Department, The Ledger is profiling many of the city’s 37 unsolved homicides and cold case murders, such as McCullough’s.
The detectives said their hope is that with a little extra time to focus on the unsolved homicides and help from the community, they’ll be able to solve more of the cases. And, in turn, bring closure to many more families.
BIG CITY CRIME
It was a record-breaking year for Lakeland police. Eleven murders in eleven months, with McCullough’s death on Nov. 30, 1984, being the last.
His case is one of three from that year that remain unsolved and one that made detectives realize big city crime had come to Lakeland.
McCullough was a car salesman at the former Ernie Haire Volkswagen/Mazda dealership on West Memorial Boulevard and had been living in Lakeland for about nine years, according to police.
He had only been working at the dealership for about seven months and had recently accepted a new job at a Volkswagen dealership in Fort Lauderdale, a co-owner of the dealership told The Ledger after his death. He was planning to take his family with him. Everything was finalized.
About 8:15 p.m. that day, McCullough left the dealership with a man who had walked onto the car lot. He was well-dressed and possibly Hispanic, police said, and wanted to test-drive a dark-blue 1985 Volkswagen Vanagon.
The man got into the driver seat; McCullough sat next to him.
The pair never returned.
About 45 minutes later, a passerby found McCullough’s body slumped over in the van’s passenger seat in a grassy field on Ruth Avenue, about a block from the dealership, police said.
The engine was running and the windshield wipers and lights were on, police said. There was blood on the window.
McCullough was taken to Lakeland Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead. He had two close-range gunshot wounds to his head, possibly from a .38-caliber pistol, police said.
At the time, detectives interviewed numerous people, including his family and friends. No one was sure if the man was an actual customer or someone McCullough knew.
Through their investigation, detectives determined his death may have been a pre-arranged “hit,” and McCullough may have had
organized crime connections.
He was a native of New York City and had been involved in a dispute with a group of people in Louisiana before coming to Lakeland, police said a few years after his death.
Detectives said they think the man probably came from out of state.
WAITING FOR MORE
His case files aren’t very big. They hardly fill half of the brown cardboard box where they’re stored. All but a few papers look to be originals and more than two decades old.
Grice, one of two cold case detectives at LPD, said aside from the fingerprint, nothing new has come up in McCullough’s case in years.
McCullough left behind his wife of 12 years, Barbara, and three small children. Although, detectives said his family hasn’t reached up to LPD in years.
When The Ledger attempted to contact them, Barbara McCullough said she was unsure of talking about her husband’s case and ultimately chose not to.
The original detectives, who have long since left LPD, exhausted almost every lead they had.
And without something new to go on, Grice said they may not ever solve McCullough’s case.
Stephanie Allen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 863-802-7550.