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"Never pick up a hitchhiker": Charlotte County detectives solve 1988 murder case

Posted at 5:35 PM, Apr 24, 2024

CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla — After decades of mystery, detectives have finally solved the murder of 58-year-old Robert Hecht, who was found dead in his Punta Gorda home in 1988.

The Charlotte County Sheriff's Office held a press conference on Wednesday, detailing how DNA evidence and years of investigation led them to conclude who was behind the murder.

In late November of 1988, deputies discovered Hecht's body at his Rio Togas Road home in southwest Charlotte County.

He was murdered shortly after meeting a man who went by the name Ray. Detectives at the time could not determine who Ray was and were never able to link anyone to the killing.

But clues around a cigarette butt led detectives to find the man who killed Hecht.

"He had been murdered by the use of an ashtray, a big heavy ashtray that was found in the house. Found on the back of his leg was a burnt matchstick and a cigarette butt on the floor," an investigator explained as he recalled how the case began to unwind.

Hecht's car was also stolen that night. Investigators eventually found it in North Carolina, and inside, they found a cigarette.

Investigators explained that Hecht had only recently purchased the car, and that he would allow people to smoke in the house - but not in the car.

The case went cold until 2021 when investigators conducted a DNA test on the cigarette and found a match on another cigarette that was found at the crime scene in Hecht's home.

The DNA on both, investigators say, belonged to a man named Kenneth Ray Miller. Miller had a criminal past and died in 2006.

"The chances are higher than 50/50 that Ray was in the house, Ray killed Mr. Hecht, Ray stole his car and drove it to North Carolina, and Ray's our killer," a detective explained.

Solving cold cases like this brings mixed emotions to the families involved, detectives explained.

"You know you're going to be able to call a mother, sister, brother, a relative and say hey – we know who killed your child, brother, father, and we know that's going to bring them some peace," explained Detective Mike Gandy.

Gandy has served with the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office since the beginning of the case.

"It won't bring closure; I don't believe in closure, but it'll bring them some peace," Gandy explained.

CCSO says this case is a testament to the hard work of their detectives and wants people to know that any tip can solve the next case.

"There's no such thing as a tip that's not warranted," Detective Kurt Mehl said.

He added, "We ask that the public give us those tips and let us make the decision on whether it's legitimate."