charles durden jr

Charles Ray Durden

by LaTrania Tolbert

This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.

One November morning two years ago, Annette Durden left her St. Augustine home to receive her weekly dialysis treatment. While en route to the hospital, she saw a vehicle nearly burned to ashes. She had no idea her son’s body would be found among the rubble. She’s been grieving since that day.

The night of the fire, some neighbors were alarmed by a loud bang on Spring Street near Fred Waters Way. The two victims inside were later identified as St. Augustine residents and friends, Charles Ray Durden Sr. and Steffon Larry. The deaths were ruled homicides and Police are still looking for leads. Annette Durden, the mother of Charles, wants the community to remember the life of her only son, “Juvie.”

He was known as an outgoing person and funny. Juvie was kindhearted and loved his family. “Charles Ray Durden had a good heart. If he could help someone he did that. He was a loving son, a respectable son, a loving father. He loved his two boys,” she said. Durden still grieves for her son, and her grief is compounded by the fact that the crime has never been solved.  “He was everything to me. That was a great loss to us, to lose him especially at his age. That was my only child. I’m still grieving; regardless of what goes on in my life, there’s still the void,” she said.

As she leaned back against the couch, Durden recalled the terrible trauma of that day. Soon after her dialysis, a family member called her about the news of her son’s death. She said in that very moment, her life shattered. She said she felt it wasn’t worth living. She hoped that he would appear and she held onto the thought that this couldn’t be true. Then, the detectives arrived.

The graphic account is hard to bear. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. “I had to I.D. my baby’s body by a watch hanging off a skeleton bone and ring. That’s how I identified that was him,” she said.

Consequently, she battles thoughts daily knowing she can no longer see him. Not only is the family blindsided, but his children have been shortchanged of a father. She longs to hear his voice and see his goofy smile.

Durden said Juvie attracted a lot of friends. His gift was being able to always find good in a bad situation. Smiles, laughter, and encouragement seemed to surround him. She gazed up at her ceiling in the living room with a giggle. “Oh yes! He was that person! He’ll brighten your spirit, he’ll lift your spirit. He was just that person you wanted to be around,” she said.

Charles’ first cousin grew up with him in the same household until age 16. Their mothers are twin sisters. She viewed him as a brother and they had a special bond. She said they had a lot of fun growing up because he loved telling jokes and pulling pranks. He also liked to dance and play basketball.

She communicated via text. She said when she verbally speaks about it she breaks down and it’s hard to think about.  She recounts the morning she got the call to come to St. Augustine. She was told that a car was on fire and there were speculations that Charles was in the car. “I dropped the phone and started calling his phone praying he would answer, but sadly he didn’t,” she said. His cousin said her heart is filled with anger and confusion because the way he was taken is hard to grasp. “We don’t know if he was still alive or what. That’s what makes me have nightmares,” she said.

His cousin has a bold message for the community. She wrote, “To the cowards that did this to not only my brother, but his friend as well. You may not have your day in court, you may not ever get caught for what you did, but trust and believe it when I say it judgment day will come. You’ll stand in front of God one day.”

Juvie’s mother said many friends talk about him all the time on Facebook and Instagram. This means a lot to her. She thanks God for the two grandsons he gave her. She sees Charles in their personalities and feels he is still around them.

She wants anyone who knows anything to put themselves in her shoes, especially if they have children of their own. She wants whoever did it to have a conscience and turn themselves in. Robinson said Juvie was friends with the other victim, but that the man was unknown to her and the family.

His cousin said their family will continue to search for answers.

“I just hate the way that they took my child’s life. They took the right for me to lay his body to rest. They took that from me. Not knowing who or why, that’s the most hurting part,” Durden said.

On a Friday evening last fall, as Durden spoke to a reporter about her son’s murder,  police sped down the street. Moments later, she learned that her nephew had been shot. Everyone stood in disbelief. “I’m so sorry all this took place on today. They say my nephew just got shot,” she said.

The family headed one block over to find 28-year-old Lavert Durden had been shot to death. Police said a heated argument occurred between the victim and two other men. For Juvie’s mother, the feelings of grief were very familiar.

In July of 2018, Action News Jax, in partnership with Project: Cold Case, aired a segment asking potential witnesses to come forward. You can view that video here.

If you have any information on the unsolved murders of Charles Durden and Steffon Larry, please call the St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office at (904) 824-8304. You can remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a cash reward by calling CrimeStoppers at  1-(888) 277-TIPS (8477).

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If you have a loved one that is the victim of an unsolved homicide please submit their case here for consideration in a future Cold Case Spotlight post.