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Was a rancher murdered by his missing girlfriend?

Larry Costine

Larry was found shot in his bedroom

CASE DETAILS

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.”

What happened in the trailer that night?

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.”

Melissa Jo Sermons was sighted at truck stops

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.

Update:

Danny Wayne Cerezo, a former boyfriend of Melissa Jo’s, has been arrested for allegedly lying to a grand jury about the murder of Larry Costine and the disappearance of Melissa Jo Sermons. Keep checking back for the latest information.


Watch this case now on Amazon Prime in season six with Robert Stack and in season one with Dennis Farina. Also available on YouTube with Dennis Farina. Various seasons available now on Hulu.

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11 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I am Jo’s nephew, Christopher Freeman. If anyone ever has any information, please feel free to contact me at chrisfrmfl@yahoo.com. Thank you for keeping this page alive, as Cerezo has finally been indicted in my aunt’s murder, as should have happened long ago. Thank you, Chris

    Reply

  2. Carson costine

    Hey I’m larry costines great nephew I don’t really know how but I just want something to be found out other then allegations

    Reply

  3. LUIS FREEH

    THE GUY LOOKS LIKE HE’S POLICE! HE WAS PLAYING UNDER COVER AND GOT FOUND OUT. WELL! NO! HOW! TWO “POLICE GUNS” IN HIS TRAILER! WHO FOUND THE GUNS? FOUR TIMES WHAT CAME OUT OF HIM? HIS GUN OR DIFFERENT?

    Reply

    • Carson costine

      He was a simple down to earth rancher not police even though some costines serve in the military or are friends with police he wasn’t

      Reply

  4. Theresa Mask

    I keep checking back for updates on this case and answers as to why Danny Cerezo walked out of jail the next day after lying to the grand jury????

    Reply

  5. Lisa Reaves

    I pray Ms June will find some answers I honestly believe she will, I also believe a lot of people owe some apologies to this mother… I could not imagine what it would be like to first find out your daughter is missing and her date has been murdered, (this would be more than most could handle) Then the Polk County authorities put it in the papers that her beautiful daughter could be the killer… THEN… then the mother is accused of hiding her daughter….. Then… She never gets closure and its 20 plus years later! How many of us could have gone through what she has ans still be here??? Please pray for her and the costines to have closure… ….. God can do the punishing and we can pray for both familys to have answers.

    Reply

  6. Theresa Mask

    Just to update people on this, Danny Cerezo was arrested for lying to the grand jury but was out of jail the next day. So much for justice. He has gotten away with it all these years and continues to get away with it. I would love to see Unsolved Mysteries do another story on this case and see if they can get any answers as to why a man that lied to the grand jury and was suppose to face 15 years in prison walked out of jail the next day not to mention why he hasnt been arrested for these two murders.

    Reply

  7. Melissa jones

    I have a wealth of information. I sent you a phone number Chris

    Reply

  8. Chris Freeman

    I am happy that my aunt will finally have justice. Cerezo has finally been indicted in Bartow, FL after all of these years. Thank you for keeping this on your site.

    Reply

  9. Tammy Thomas

    If nothing had happened that night, Jo still wouldn’t have “come home all night” as her mother claimed, because they didn’t even get to his trailer until 4:30 am. Isn’t it funny that she (the mother) called that night? I find it hard to believe that this was the first time she had spent the night with Costine. I think Jo is involved and her mother helped her disappear and her phone call to the uncle was part of the cover up.

    Reply