ST. PETERSBURG — Twenty-thousand people drive on U.S. 19 through St. Petersburg every day. Peter Forcinito and his family hope one of them knows something about his beloved Aunt Jean.
She smiles down on drivers from a red and yellow billboard on the east side of Fourth Avenue S beside this question: "Who murdered this woman on March 23, 2002?"
In the photo, Jean Ault, who was 74, is leaning out of her blue Chevy camper van. Her body was found that Saturday morning in water in Coquina Key Park. How it got there is a mystery.
Ault's case, which is still being investigated by the St. Petersburg police, is one of six unsolved homicides that will be featured over the next few months on Pinellas County billboards, in partnership with area law enforcement agencies, Crime Stoppers of Pinellas County and Clear Channel Outdoor Media. Authorities hope the ads generate a flurry of tips.
"Nothing is going to bring my aunt back, that's a fact," Forcinito said. "The main thing now is to bring whoever killed her to justice and prevent this from happening again."
Ault's case file is three large binders thick on investigator Brenda Stevenson's desk. Stevenson is optimistic, and not only because advances in DNA technology may prove useful. The billboards also give her hope.
"In most of these cases, the suspect has confided in someone after all these years," she said. "Sometimes it's more than one person (who committed the act). Sometimes they brag."
Ault was found with bruises on her torso and with her legs tied. Police believe she was beaten to death. The van was found a few blocks away a few days later.
Police have not revealed if there are suspects, but say that Ault's killer most likely lived near her Lakewood Estates home, or knew the area well.
An avid camper, Ault had been scheduled to meet friends for a weekend trip in Manatee County. A retired state unemployment counselor, she was active in her neighborhood crime watch.
Police believe Ault ran errands for her camping group on the day she was killed. She visited a supermarket at 62nd Avenue S and 10th Street, and a bakery on 22nd Avenue N near 28th Street.
To Forcinito, she was a favorite aunt. He began sending her letters when he was 5. She always wrote back. After Ault's death, Forcinito, who lives in New Jersey, found the letters in a box in her home. She'd saved every one.
"A piece of me is gone," Forcinito said.
Reach Luis Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)892-2271.