Melissa Jo Sermons
Is the lead suspect in a murder already dead?
Weight: 175 lbs.
Hair: Strawberry blonde
Remarks: Last seen 5/3/92
Larry was discovered dead on his bedroom floor
Larry Costine was a southern cowboy. Just before the turn of the century, his great-great-grandfather had homesteaded a stretch of harsh land in Central Florida, near the city of Lakeland. Larry took his ranching heritage seriously. According to his uncle, Earlow Costine, Larry had spent his entire 31 years working with horses and cattle:
“Larry was riding a horse from the time he was two years old. He loved the work, he loved rodeos. He wasn’t the type of person to get into trouble, he stayed away from trouble course if it came along, he no doubt could take care of himself.”
Earlow Costine was the barn manager for the local livestock auction. One of Earlow’s employees was Melissa Jo Sermons, whom everyone called Jo. Unbeknownst even to Earlow, Jo and Larry were romantically involved. They kept their relationship a secret because Larry had just split up with his wife, and Jo, with her boyfriend. The boyfriend often worked at the Auction Market, too. According to Melissa Jo’s mother, June Freeman, the boyfriend wasn’t taking the breakup well:
“He followed her continuously. Jo and my other daughter went to the store. He would follow them. Midnight you’d see him. We even caught him sneaking around under the kitchen window, listening to their conversation one night.”
Is Jo a victim or Larry’s killer?
On Saturday, May 2, 1992, Larry and Jo were in Dade City, Florida, for the weekly rodeo. The events got underway around 10 PM. Larry was one of the local stars, and his favorite event was team roping. That night, Jo stuck by Larry’s side, right up to the minute he and his partner were called into the box. Larry and his partner won the competition that night and split a $350 purse. The rodeo finished late. Around 2 AM, Larry and Jo went to breakfast with a friend. It is believed they arrived back at his trailer around 4:15 Sunday morning. No one knows exactly what happened after that.
When Jo didn’t come home that night, her mother called Earlow Costine. For the first time, he learned of Jo and Larry’s relationship. Earlow called Larry’s trailer, but Larry didn’t answer. The next morning, when Jo didn’t show up for work, Earlow drove to Larry’s trailer. He found Larry’s truck in the driveway and heard a radio on inside the trailer. Earlow’s frantic knocks at the door went unanswered:
“As soon as I got to the trailer a feeling came to me that I knew in my mind, that something was wrong… the smell was unreal. And I knew then, that Larry was dead.”
Larry Costine was found nude on his bedroom floor. He had been shot four times with a handgun—twice in the head. His bed had not been slept in. One of Larry’s guns was missing, however there was no sign of a struggle or robbery. There was also no sign of Melissa Jo Sermons. The Polk County Sheriff’s Department launched an all-out investigation. According to Detective Bob Ore, at first, suspicion focused on Jo’s ex-boyfriend:
“We interviewed him and he was able to give us an alibi for his particular time and location when the actual murder occurred. I don’t feel that the ex-boyfriend has any involvement. I have no evidence to indicate that.”
Soon Jo herself became a suspect. But Earlow Costine was convinced that Jo Sermons did not murder his nephew:
“Somebody watched Larry knew Jo was with Larry and was waiting for him. Personally, I feel like it was somebody real jealous of his actions that particular night, being with Jo, spending the night with Jo. I think that Jo was probably taken at gunpoint, and at a later time, murdered. I think Jo is dead.”
The authorities believed Jo Sermons may be the only person who could’ve gotten close enough to Larry Costine to kill him without a struggle. Is it possible that something happened in the trailer that night? Something that provoked Jo to violence? Detective Ore was convinced Jo was involved in Larry’s murder:
“Based on everything that I have learned, at this time I feel Jo is in some way involved in the murder. Either actually committing the murder, or possibly a witness to it… she has some type of involvement and or knowledge about it.”
Ever since the night Larry Costine was murdered, there have been sightings of Melissa Jo Sermons at truck stops in Florida, Texas, and Kansas. Two witnesses have claimed they saw her behind the wheel of a big-rig, hauling livestock. The authorities believed the sightings were reliable. Earlow Costine, however, did not:
“I feel like by now she might’ve made a move to come back, see her mother and her sisters. I can’t believe that anybody’s ever really seen her. They’ve seen people that they thought maybe was her.”
Melissa Jo Sermons is five feet ten inches tall, blonde and blue-eyed. When last seen, she was muscular and weighed 175 pounds.