By David Swets
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
To the average visitor, the worn coat seems little more than a vintage Orlando Magic jacket that employees at Bruster’s Ice Cream put on when they enter the walk-in cooler.
But that simple blue and black jacket hanging on a hook near the freezer is really the heart of the shop on the corner of Atlantic and Kernan boulevards.
It’s been at the store as long as it’s been open. It belonged to Chris Devenny, whose idea it was to open the ice cream shop that is now owned and operated by his family.
Now that store – and its well-worn jacket – are a memory of a young man who lost his life nearly two decades ago.
Devenny was 27 years old when he was found dead April 5, 2000, in the home he was renting on South Jacksonville Beach.
According to the Jacksonville Beach Police Department, he was shot during what appeared to be a struggle inside his home. Once inside, police also discovered pot-growing equipment and marijuana plants.
Although no one has been arrested in the murder, the case eventually led police to a drug-trafficking operation in the Jacksonville Beach area.
Devenny’s landlord was one of four people who were arrested in the case several years after Devenny’s death, but police said there was no connection between the two cases. Police also have not received any new information concerning the murder case.
On the day he died, Devenny was supposed to be taking his niece and nephew to Adventure Landing. He never showed. His mother got worried when he didn’t answer his phone, so she drove to his home.
“By the time she got there, a friend had already found his body and the police had taped off the area and they wouldn’t let her in. Thank goodness for that,” said Susan Sciolino, who is Devenny’s older sister.
“I was at work when I got the call. My stepfather called and said ‘Chris is gone.’ I was like ‘Chris is gone? Where did he go?’” Sciolino said. “He repeated himself and from the tone in his voice I could tell what had happened.”
Devenny was the youngest child in the large family that grew up in Arlington.
“We were known as the Brady Bunch ’cause there were six of us. Three boys and three girls,” Sciolino said. “We were all very close and that continued after Chris died. After his death, the siblings that moved away moved back to Jax and we all still live here except one of our sisters who is in Atlanta.”
Devenny went to Bishop Kenny High School where he graduated in 1990.
“He had so many friends in high school,” Sciolino said. “He was such a likable guy and was on the baseball team, so he knew so many people. His funeral was standing room only.”
Devenny stayed in the Jacksonville area after high school to take care of his mother, Celeste Devenny Murr, after she got a divorce from Devenny’s father.
“He was such a mama’s boy,” Sciolino laughed. “He loved my dad, but he really, really loved his mom.”
Devenny had his own fencing company, All State Fence and Deck, but was looking for something more. The family found this out when they discovered an application to own a Bruster’s Ice Cream in his room after his death. So they decided to open one up in memory of Chris.
“We had no idea what we were doing,” said Devenny’s older brother, Tom Devenny. “But we were so busy.”
And they continued to stay busy, which has kept the store in the top five of the franchise’s sales.
Devenny’s impact on the store is still very evident. There is a picture memorial to Devenny hanging in the back that each new employee is shown when getting trained. The jacket Devenny owned is still hanging by the walk-in freezer, where Tom put it the day the store opened.
“Everyone that goes into the freezer uses that jacket,” Tom Devenny said.
“They don’t really understand it until they meet the family,” he continued. “My mother, who is 78, still works here. Every year, all our employees are invited to Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner. Once they become a part of our Bruster’s family they understand.”
Tom Devenny started to speak about the day his brother had passed away and then shook his head.
“We’re gonna have to do that part some other time,” he said.
Tom and Chris Devenny were the two youngest children in the family and the closest in age.
“We did everything together. We had a basketball hoop and played basketball all the time and we wrestled in the front yard. We were brothers and competitive, so yeah, we got into it a few times, but we pretty much got a long really well,” he said.
What would it mean to have Devenny’s case get solved?
“It would mean that, although we know that God is our ultimate judge and jury,” Sciolino said, “that while we are here, in our lifetime, we could see justice prevail for our brother, who didn’t deserve to die because he trusted others who used him and didn’t value his life.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Chris Devenny, no matter how small, please contact the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-1157 or email JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. Those who wish to remain anonymous and possibly receive a cash reward up to $3,000 can call Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS (8477).
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