A collaborative effort between the Sheriff’s Office, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Assistant State Attorney Robert Elmore helped lead to a Holt man's indictment in connection with an unsolved Okaloosa murder that dates back to October 1981.
Leonard “Buddy” Phelps of Niceville was killed Oct. 2, 1981, outside his business, Phelps Brothers Boat Works on John Sims Parkway. He had been beaten with a shovel and shot.
Jackie Long, 55, of Holt — in custody in Alabama on unrelated charges of attempted murder, robbery and burglary — was indicted Tuesday in Phelps’ killing, according to the State Attorney’s Office.
He now faces charges in Okaloosa County on first-degree premeditated murder and/or first-degree felony murder.
In addition to their other duties, OCSO investigators have continued working on cold case murders, hoping new technologies or new relationships could provide evidence needed to bring justice to victims and families.
Prior to this latest indictment, their efforts led to resolutions in four cold case murders in the last three years; those include the deaths of Catherine Ainsworth in 1975, Donald Tidwell in 1985, Pluma Bell Sanford in 1987 and Ulai Sookruetai in 1988.
In the Phelps case, investigators put fresh eyes on the complex case and continued to dig and prod to no avail.
The Phelps murder got renewed emphasis around 2008.
Investigator Mike Irwin says the investigation ultimately took investigators to four states and involved multiple agencies. Their work eventually led to indictments in two other unsolved cold cases in the state of Alabama.
The case, however, remains active.
“The Phelps murder investigation is not over and we anticipate it will continue to progress,” Irwin said.
“The persistence and partnerships between Investigator Mike Irwin, the FDLE, State Attorney’s Office, and Alabama District Attorney Walt Merrill have brought news that some family and friends had waited many years to hear,” Sheriff Larry Ashley said. “I want to publicly thank those partners for their assistance and dedication as we move forward in pursuing justice."