Sunday, July 12, 2009

Unsolved Murder in a Small Town

It’s hard to watch the final moments of anyone’s life. That’s one reason the video of an unsolved murder stills haunts the residents of Lake City, Florida.

Nearly a year ago, on July 22, 2008, Linda Raulerson, 56, was closing Joy America Food Store for the night. It was 8:30 p.m. and no customers were in the store when a car parked just outside the front door. A man slouched in, sauntered to the counter, and pulled a handgun from the pouch of his hoodie. Without warning, he shot Raulerson in the arm. The thug yelled for her to give him the money from the register. Raulerson quickly opened the cash drawer and handed him a wad of bills. Then, to verify that she’d given him all the bills, she showed him the empty tray. This act of submission had little effect. For no apparent reason, the man fired again and she crumpled to the floor. The killer then left the store. A video monitor recorded the whole tragic episode.

Two days after the crime, the video was released to the media. The scenes and audio are chilling--they record the final terror-filled minutes of a doomed, innocent woman. What was not seen in the recording was Raulerson bleeding to death on the floor behind the counter. The coroner estimated it took as much as fifteen minutes for her to die. She was later found by customers who called authorities.

The crime shook the small town of approximately 11,000 souls. Lake City is poised between ever-expanding central Florida and the more rural panhandle. Murders in the community are rare, at least when compared to the central and southern areas of the state. In fact, Columbia County Sheriff Bill Gootee made that point. “This is a shock to the community,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. These are things that happen in [Miami], [Jacksonville], and [Tallahassee]. This is not something that happens here in our community.” The sheriff also opined that the criminal was from somewhere else and got off nearby I-10 to rob the store.

Linda Raulerson was a beloved mother and wife. In addition to enjoying outdoor activities such as fishing, boating, and swimming, Raulerson sewed Civil War-era period costumes for balls and pageants commemorating the Battle of Olustee. (In Florida’s largest Civil War battle, young children and old men from the surrounding area joined Confederate troops to beat back an attack by a larger Union force.)

A vital part of Lake City’s innocence died with Linda Susan Raulerson. The television crime show “America’s Most Wanted” profiled the case with a re-enactment of the murder and an interview with Raulerson’s husband. Unfortunately, no leads were developed that pointed cops to the murderer.

The killer is described as being a black male between 18-25; five-feet-ten to six-feet tall; wearing a dark hoodie and white sneakers as well as sunglasses and a shirt with white stripes; and driving a 1993-1995 four-door Buick Regal. Investigators think he has committed other such crimes before.

Here’s hoping he’s caught soon and stuck with a poison needle.

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