SJSO Major Crimes Unit (MCU) Detectives Announce a Major Development in a Decades Old Homicide Investigation

SJSO Major Crimes Unit (MCU) detectives have announced a major development in a decades old homicide investigation. On April 10th, 1985, a group of construction workers digging the footing for a beach walkover discovered human remains in a shallow grave on Crescent Beach in southern St. Johns County. The initial investigation revealed the victim was a white female, possibly between the ages of 30 and 50 at the time of her death. Due to the circumstances, the manner of death was determined to be homicide.   

Over the years, the case grew cold and the victim remained unidentified. In 2011, the victim’s skull and mandible were sent to the Florida Institute for Forensic Anthropology and Applied Science at the University of South Florida, where experts created a facial reconstruction graphic of what the victim may have looked like. This image generated a few leads, but the victim continued to remain unidentified.

In 2023, detectives collaborated with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) Forensic Services Regional Laboratory in Jacksonville. The decision was made to send portions of the unidentified remains to Othram, a private lab in Texas which specializes in advanced techniques in forensic genetic genealogy. The Othram team was able to develop a DNA extract and build a DNA profile for the victim. The profile was submitted to consumer genealogy databases where users have submitted their DNA and provided consent for comparison searches. This search resulted in possible relatives of the victim.

MCU Sergeant Gene Tolbert traveled to North Carolina and Virginia to meet with potential relatives. The details of the investigation were discussed, and they were provided the facial recognition graphic to review. Reference DNA samples were collected from relatives and were sent for comparison. In January of 2024, detectives received confirmation of a match and the victim was positively identified as Mary Alice Pultz.

Mary Alice was born in Rockville Maryland in 1943 and has two living relatives: a son (Norman Jenkins of Yuma, Arizona) and a sister (Patricia Allamong of Winchester, Virginia). She was last seen by her family in 1968 when she left with her boyfriend, John Thomas Fugitt, and became estranged from her family. Detectives learned that Fugitt, who was known to go by an alias of Billy Joe Wallace, was sentenced to death in Georgia related to a 1981 murder of a male roommate. Fugitt died in prison prior to his execution.       

Further examination of Mary Alice’s remains revealed three surgical burr holes in her skull. Burr holes are used to help relieve pressure on the brain in the event of a brain bleed or other build up of fluid. Based on interviews with family, this would have occurred after 1968 when Mary Alice left her family. Detectives believe she was involved in some type of event that caused the traumatic injury and would have required hospitalization.

Wendolyn Sneed, M.D., Chief Medical Examiner for the District 23 Medical Examiner’s Office, had the opportunity to examine the remains recently. Dr. Sneed observed multiple fractures of the nasal bones, healed fractures of multiple ribs, and healed fractures on the lower legs. Dr. Sneed advised these injuries, in addition to the surgical burr holes, are indicative of severe trauma that would have required hospitalization such as being involved in a vehicle crash or being struck by a vehicle. Additionally, Dr. Sneed discovered evidence of an abscess in the upper gum line of the skull that would have caused discomfort and pain. The analysis provided by Dr. Sneed is for historical purposes and are not related to the cause of death at the time of the homicide.

“This investigation is a powerful example that we will never give up. The combination of highly skilled detectives and advanced DNA technology has given Mary Alice’s family some answers about her disappearance close to 40 years ago. Our Major Crimes detectives are some of the best in the business and I am proud of their dedication to be a voice for homicide victims and their families as we seek closure for loved ones.” -St. Johns County Sheriff Rob Hardwick   

MCU detectives are actively investigating the homicide of Mary Alice Pultz. Although a significant amount of time has passed, detectives are hopeful that the information developed so far will result in a lead(s) that brings final closure to the family. John Thomas Fugitt (Billy Joe Wallace) is a person of interest in the death of Mary Alice, but other possibilities cannot be ruled out. If you have any information related to Mary Alice Pultz or John Thomas Fugitt (Billy Joe Wallace), please contact SJSO:

Crime Stoppers 1-888-277-TIPS (8477)

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