16-Year-Old in 'Sexual Relationship' with Couple Vanished 20 Years Ago. Her Remains Were Likely Just Found

Autumn Lane McClure, 16, disappeared in 2004, and a woman she lived with claims her then-boyfriend killed her, say police

<p>Volusia Sheriff

Volusia Sheriff's Office

Autumn Lane McClure

Police in Florida have recovered remains they believe to be those of a high school student who disappeared in 2004.

Authorities in Volusia County, Fla., discovered the remains while conducting an “excavation of a suspected burial site” on Wednesday, the Volusia Sheriff announced in a statement.

They said the remains appear to be those of Autumn Lane McClure, 16, who was last seen in May 2004 with her boyfriend. The boyfriend was dropping her off at a mall in Daytona Beach, Fla., when he last saw her, per the statement, and is not a suspect in Autumn's death.

Police have named Brian Christopher Donley Jr. as a suspect in the case; he died in 2022 at age 49, Sheriff Mike Chitwood said during a briefing on Thursday. Jessica Freeman, Donley’s girlfriend at the time, disclosed to officers his alleged involvement in the crime, said Chitwood.

The couple was "involved in a sexual relationship with Autumn. Now, keep in mind, Brian was 31 at the time, Autumn was 16,” Chitwood said.

Her grandmother told authorities that during the initial days following Autumn's disappearance, she received phone calls and letters from her granddaughter claiming she was okay and would return home after she turned 18, police said.

Freeman, who only recently began speaking with authorities on condition of immunity, told investigators that one day she returned home to see Donley allegedly choking Autumn in the bathroom.

She was unable to save Autumn, she allegedly said, and she left the trailer where the three lived, Chitwood added. When she returned two weeks later and inquired about what had happened to Autumn, Donley allegedly told her, “Shut up or the same thing will happen to you," Freeman claimed, according to Chitwood.

Over the years, Donley allegedly told Freeman several times about how he had “cut Autumn up and buried her and spread her parts over different parts,” authorities learned during the investigation, said Chitwood.

<p>Volusia Sheriff's Office</p> Excavation by Volusia authorities

Volusia Sheriff's Office

Excavation by Volusia authorities

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In late 2023, Freeman contacted authorities to notify them where she believed Autumn’s remains were buried. Before his death, Donley had allegedly expressed satisfaction at the fact new concrete had been placed on the site, she told investigators.

Subsequently, authorities worked with the new owner of a trailer on the property to excavate the remains, the sheriff’s office said.

While official identification is still pending, the sheriff’s office says​​ “an estimated 99 percent or more of the remains had been recovered from the site.”

The department is in contact with Autumn’s family regarding the discovery.

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