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13 YEARS LATER, THE HUNT CONTINUES // Girl's slaying still stirs up leads

In eight days, Hernando Detective Mike Nelson has received five tips on the slaying of Jennifer Odom, a 12-year-old girl taken from a rural eastern Pasco County school bus stop in 1993 and dumped in a Hernando County orange grove.

And those calls were coming in even before the Sheriff's Office held a press conference Tuesday to scare up new leads.

There's something about Odom's case that keeps the leads trickling in over the years - leads from current and former residents, some as far away as Wyoming.

"Of the cases we have, this is the one case we manage to consistently get lead information on," said Nelson, who is working 11 other unsolved murders going back to 1972. "It's because it's a murder of a child," and because it took place in a rural area unused to crimes like this, he said. "This is something that showed up on our doorstep and said that this can happen to anybody."

When he takes evidence to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement crime lab in Tampa, Nelson said, the technicians always perk up and take special note. No one involved in this unsolved murder considers it just another case.

At the press conference Tuesday, the Sheriff's Office announced that it had enlisted the help of the FBI in the case. Much of the physical evidence is being reprocessed in the hopes that DNA technology advances will yield new clues.

But the thrust of the press conference was to reach out to anyone in the public.

"Nothing will bring her back, but whatever we can do to bring her closer to resolution . . . we just want to

say thank you and please contact the task force," said Jennifer's mother, Renee Converse.

Jennifer's family attended the press conference and sat in front of a bay of cameras. Friend Michelle Sample came with her father. She was on the bus with Jennifer the last time anyone saw her alive.

The case has generated 6,000 tips in 13 years. Capt. Michael Maurer said all have been followed through to their "logical conclusion."

"I still have reason to believe - I know this in my heart - that there are people out there who have information," Maurer said. "Someone knows something."

In the first 10 days after the slaying, the sheriff's offices in Pasco and Hernando received some 1,000 tips, many of them dealing with the blue pickup truck that was thought to be cruising for children.

The Hernando Sheriff's Office has put together a Web site with information about Jennifer Odom. It includes a slide show with photos of Jennifer playing by the water, swinging a baseball bat and opening Christmas presents.

The case has always been on the FBI's radar, but recently the FBI's National Center for Analysis of Violent Crime contacted the Sheriff's Office to advise them how to reinvigorate the case.

Nelson's goal is to reach out to anyone involved in the case who might be holding back information. "If we hit the right part of this person's heart they might say, "I've been living with it for 13 years, and I've just got to tell someone.' "

Authorities ask that anyone with information call toll-free 1-888-785-8308.

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