COLD CASE: Unsolved murder began 15 years ago with Freeport discovery

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FREEPORT, Fla. (WMBB) — When Billy Evans saw a wake of buzzards swarming near his home, it led him to a mystery that’s lingered over Freeport for the last 15 years.

“I got to looking out there, and I thought somebody might have throwed fish heads or a dead dog out because they do that, you know. So I got to looking and I seen a black spot and it looked like boots were sticking out,” Evans said.

The remains of Manuel Mozqueda Ruiz were left decaying on the edge of Magnolia Lodge Road, just off of Highway 3280 and right outside Billy Evans’s home.

He reported the death on August 16, 2004. But Walton County investigators are still trying to piece together what happened to him.

“The body was already in a state of decomposition,” Investigator Steve Sunday said. “So he had been out there probably several days. And that leads us to pretty much right now.”

Sunday and his team were able to identify Ruiz by his ID card. They only have one photo of him, and leads are lacking as well.

Ruiz was from Mexico and had only been in the country for about one month. He was working odd jobs in the construction field of both Freeport and Atlanta. An autopsy on his body later revealed he had also been shot.

“Information pretty much shows that he was with some other migrant workers that were traveling kind of back and forth to Atlanta doing different odd jobs, construction, I think he may have been in the sheet rock business,” Sunday said. “So we hope that this information can get to those people and if they remember him or if they know anything, we want to hear that information because it could help solve who murdered this man just cold-blooded and then dumped him like he was trash.”

Deputies believe Ruiz was last seen around convenience stores in Freeport, but his whereabouts leading up to his murder have not yet been confirmed. Evans’s recollection has helped guide investigators so far.

“Best I remember, he had them combat boots on and a pair of green shorts I believe, Bermuda shorts, and a red t-shirt,” he said. “You could see where somebody had turned around here in the road, you know. Actually I don’t know if they dumped him out in the daytime or at night, you know, because you had people coming out all the time turning around and going out. But this one had turned around right here.”

Evans also says that the area was full of trees at the time, but the landscape has changed over the years. Timber and other vegetation has since been cleared, and he believes Pine trees have been replanted.

“It looks a lot different than it did then. It was bushes and trees out there, you know. And if he’d been another 20-foot out there, I’d have never seen him,” Evans said.

If you’ve ever worked with Ruiz or know anything about him, Walton County Sheriff’s Office is asking for your help.

“So something happened. That’s what we want to try to figure out is what happened what,” Sunday said. “Who did he meet up with? Did he have a fight with someone? Did, you know, did they see him get in with a vehicle, someone I think knows what happened, they know what happened to him. And that’s why we really need for them to come forward and tell us what they know and then let us go from there with it.”

For News13’s Spanish-speaking audience, we’ve included a translated excerpt by Walton County deputy Pablo Buduen near the end of the video above.

If you have any information, please call the Walton County Sheriff’s Office at (850) 892-8111 or remain anonymous by calling CrimeStoppers at (850) 654-TIPS.

You can also report tips anonymously online at www.emeraldcoastcrimestoppers.com.

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