New Year’s Eve, 1984.
Ronald Reagan was getting ready to enter his second term. In Mobile, people were excited about the Admiral Semmes Hotel re-opening in downtown and were closely watching the corruption trial of City Commissioner Gary Greenough, prosecuted by young U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions. And across the Gulf Coast , people were going out to celebrate the new year.
In Pensacola, 23 year old Tonya McKinley and some friends went to the then-popular Darryl’s Restaurant and Bar near University Mall.
She’d never be seen alive again.
“My aunt and my uncle came to the house and told us that they had identified Tonya and that she had died,” said Renee McCall, Tonya’s sister who now lives in Jay, Florida. “I didn’t believe them. I just couldn’t believe them.”
Tonya’s partially-nude body was found on New Year’s Day, 1985, on the side of Peacock Drive, a block off Scenic Highway. She’d been strangled with her panty hose. Police say Tonya was killed elsewhere and dumped on the road.
The case quickly went cold. Police have DNA in this case that’s been entered in a national data base but it’s never matched a criminal in another case.
Three-plus decades after the crime, Tonya’s sister Renee says she will always hold out hope that the killer will be found.
“She would fight for me,” Renee explained. “She would fight for me and I have to fight for her. There are people out there that know. I’m positive of that. And if they have anything inside them, they’ll speak up. They will.”
Another murder in 1985 might end up solving Tonya’s case. Three months after Tonya’s murder, another woman, 29-year-old Patty Lyn Stephens’ body was found – also partially nude, also dumped from a vehicle. That murder is also unsolved but police believe it’s possible the same man committed the crimes and so a break in either cold case could solve the other.