Jeff Earley has been haunted for nearly three decades by his mother's disappearance. Amy Rose Hurst vanished from New Port Richey in 1982, when Earley was just 9, and he has worried and wondered about her ever since.
One day a few years ago, Earley was so upset he called his fiancee during his lunch break.
"I really want to know about my mom," he told Julie, his now wife. "Do you have time to get on the computer?"
Julie hit the Internet and discovered the Doe Network, an online database with information about missing people and unidentified bodies. She plugged details into the site and called Earley back with the first result. He was silent.
"Read that to me again," he said.
Julie described a woman's body found Sept. 5, 1982, floating off Anna Maria Island. The body was wrapped in a green bedspread and a beige-brown-orange afghan. A rope around the waist was tied to a concrete block. An autopsy showed the woman had died of blunt force trauma to the head. She was wearing two turquoise rings and a Cameo ring.
Earley remembered that his mom had a pair of turquoise rings and that his mother's side of the family makes afghans.
"My mom had a green bedspread," he told Julie. "I vividly remember a green bedspread and afghan."
The couple contacted authorities in Manatee County in February 2009 — and a series of tests led detectives to announce Friday that the woman's remains did, in fact, belong to Hurst.
Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said his agency has now opened a murder investigation into the cold case.
Earley got the call from Detective Lisa Schoneman on Tuesday, when the medical examiner officially identified the body. He said he was relieved but doesn't feel at peace yet.
"My closure is going to come when they find out who did it," said Earley, 39, who lives in Grand Blanc, Mich.
He and his sister last saw their mother about a year before her death. Hurst dropped the children off at her first husband's house in Michigan. She and her second husband, William Hurst, then moved to Florida sometime in 1981 or 1982.
The couple lived in a New Port Richey mobile home park on Grand Boulevard that no longer exists. Hurst, then 29, worked as a cashier at Winn-Dixie. She was fun loving and always up on the latest styles. She wrote to her daughter and stayed in touch with relatives by phone.
The family knew something was wrong when no one heard from Hurst on Aug. 15, 1982 — Hurst's mother's birthday.
"I knew she was not alive then," said Judy Briggs, Hurst's older sister. "And I would call every week, every week to the Sheriff's Department in New Port Richey."
Eventually, she said, deputies told her to stop calling. They would call if they found anything.
Another sister called William Hurst, who said his wife had left him and he didn't know where she was.
Two months after some fishermen found the body 27 miles from the Manatee coast, Pasco deputies officially opened the missing person's case on Amy Hurst — never connecting the two.
The body was exhumed in 2001 for analysis in a different case: Authorities wondered if the remains might belong to Wendy Huggy, a Pasco County 16-year-old who disappeared from a mall in April 1982.
Although their hunch was wrong, the new autopsy produced better fingerprints and DNA from the teeth and bones — evidence that proved vital in finally identifying Hurst a decade later.
Technicians at the FBI laboratory compared those samples to Earley's DNA and found the two were related. Due to the complexity of the tests and the backlog of cases, the process took a couple of years.
Investigators also looked at other factors: Hurst's mother made her own patterns for her hand-crafted afghans. Briggs still has one of those blankets — and said it's identical to the one found wrapped around the body.
"I knew for sure it was her then," Briggs said.
Detective Schoneman plans to go to Michigan next week to interview Hurst's husband and other relatives, with the hope of determining who might have killed her.
Schoneman said she has been in touch with some family members over the past two and a half years, as investigators tried to determine if the remains belonged to Hurst. She was glad the identification came before the family reunion planned for September.
"Their one wish was, if this was Amy, that they could bring her home and put her to rest for the family reunion and finally give peace to everybody," Schoneman said. "So when I got to make that phone call, I was very happy."
Briggs was also grateful for the news, though frustrated it took so long.
"And believe me, I carried this burden for 29 years," said Briggs, who lives in Palm City. "You miss them and you don't know where they're at and you fight to find them. I guess it feels like relief. Maybe we can get closure. We're finally getting help."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contribued to this report.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Jeff Earley helped authorities identify the remains of his mother, who went missing in 1982 from New Port Richey. His name was misspelled in a story Saturday.