William W. Browning, born October 23, 1957, is serving a 150-year prison sentence for the second-degree beating and stabbing death of 44-year-old state social worker supervisor Judson Clements; but today, he is in the custody of the St Johns County Sheriff’s Office and was formally charged with a second murder that occurred in 1981.
In the mid-afternoon of December 12, 1981, while cutting firewood in an area near the intersection of Solano Road and TPC Boulevard in Ponte Vedra Beach, two St Johns County men made a gruesome discovery — the dead body of 38-year-old Ralph Whittemore.
A postmortem examination of Whittemore’s remains was performed by Bonifacio T. Floro, M.D., the Deputy Chief Medical Examiner in Jacksonville the following day. Dr Floro’s findings were that the cause of death was blunt-force trauma and the manner of death was homicide.
Two days later, Whittemore’s abandoned vehicle was located in the 400 block of Atlantic Boulevard in Atlantic Beach.
After being awarded a National Institute of Justice grant last January, St Johns County Homicide Detectives, with assistance from the Homicide Investigations Unit of the State Attorney’s Office, reopened the cold case and determined that potential DNA evidence could be sent for evaluation and testing.
In May, Bode Technology, a DNA testing lab, identified two male DNA profiles which were developed from the victim’s pants pocket. One was the victim’s — the other belongs to Browning. The match was made thanks to the CODIS database — Convicted Offender DNA Index System.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement Crime Lab confirmed the DNA match with investigators in August. Browning was brought back to St Johns County in December and was questioned by local detectives. Browning was indicted by a Grand Jury and was formally charged with the murder of Whittemore today.