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Florida 30-year-old cold case cracked after suspect’s family members talk to police

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Florida law enforcement officials have solved a 30-year-old cold case because the suspect’s family decided to come forward and provide investigators with information related to the death of John Stagner, who was 53 when he died in 1992.

Deputies with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office responded to a home in the early morning hours of Aug. 10, 1992, after Stagner’s wife found him dead in their bed. Orange County Sheriff John Mina said that Stagner had trauma to his face and head, according to FOX 35.

When Stagner died in 1992, Ronald Cates was thought of by investigators to have been a suspect in the case, Mina said during a press conference on Wednesday, adding that he frequently borrowed money and tools from Stagner.

However, Mina said that the sheriff’s office didn’t have enough probable cause in 1992 to make an arrest.

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John Stagner is pictured.
(Orange County Sheriff’s Office)

Mina said that exactly 30 years later, Cates is in jail on a first-degree murder charge.

Investigators said that Cates had a “drug habit” and wouldn’t return the power tools to Stagner but rather pawn them in exchange for money to purchase the drugs.

On the day that Stagner was found dead, investigators say that Cates hid under his house and asked his daughter to lie and say that he wasn’t home. When detectives did get to interview Cates, there were a lot of inconsistencies between “his timeline and what his family members were saying,” Detective Kevin Wilson said during the press conference.

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When Wilson took over the cold case in March, he says that detectives interviewed several of his family members who said that Cates was “very abusive” to them, adding that they lived in fear of him. The sheriff’s office began looking into the cold case after a family member of Cates contacted detectives.

“They were in fear of Mr. Cates their whole lives because he was very abusive to them, and they were in fear of him,” Wilson said.

While Cates was in a hospital in North Carolina in April, he allegedly told a nurse that he killed someone in Florida in 1992 — when Stagner was found dead, Wilson said.

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Salisbury Police Department officers went to the hospital and recorded Cate’s confession on body camera video, and Wilson added that the confession was about 10 or 12 minutes.

Wilson said that Cates is in the Rowan County Jail in North Carolina, pending extradition to Florida.

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