By Sara Crouch
This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class.
Christmas was always the most wonderful time of the year for the Taylor family – two parents and five beautiful daughters who called Jacksonville home. The family matriarch, Catherine, loved every minute of the holiday. There would be at least 30 people all under her roof and decorations galore. Everyone loved it, but the most distinctive and contagious laugh belonged to Melissa Ellison, known by friends and family as Missy. She was the second oldest of the five girls.
But the Christmas of 1987 would be the last one the Taylor family spent all together, and the last one Catherine Taylor pulled out all of the stops for.
Melissa Taylor was murdered three days later in her Jacksonville home on December 28, 1987. The young mother was killed while she was asleep in her room. Roommates found Ellison’s body as well as her 13-month-old baby. The baby, Casie, was alive, on a couch in the living room surrounded by pillows.
It has been more than three decades since Ellison’s murder and the case continues to go unsolved. The Taylor family has not celebrated Christmas since then.
“Christmas isn’t even a thing anymore. No get-togethers, nothing. I can’t even remember the last time my mom went Christmas shopping,” said Ellison’s younger sister, Catherine Bennett.
Community members were shocked when they heard the news of Ellison’s murder. “Missy’s funeral was standing room only. There were people waiting outside of the funeral home. I was told that there was a four-mile line of traffic all on their way to attend her funeral. We had flowers upon flowers out in front of the funeral home,” said Bennett.
Ellison was an AB honor roll student, a cheerleader, and a huge fan of Prince and the movie Grease. She was very outgoing and had many friends.
“Missy was the glue. She was the one that brought everyone together. If a bunch of us were getting together for a concert or a movie, we would always meet at her place,” said Charles Marshburn, who was friends with Ellison since grade school.
“To know her was to love her,” Bennett said of her sister.
When loved ones reflect on their memories of Ellison, the immediate reaction is always, “She was so sweet.”
Bennett remembers seeing Ellison give a man the only three dollars she had left. It was after Ellison’s separation from her husband and money was tight. Ellison did this kind act knowing she had a baby that needed milk. After watching her older sister, Bennett questioned Ellison as to why she gave away her last bit of money. Ellison responded that you always help someone in need. Ellison said that God would bless her and she knew her family would help her if needed.
The 13-month-old daughter of Ellison is now a grown woman with two kids of her own. The only memories that Casie Ellison has to cling to from her mother are the memories that loved ones have of her. Casie was robbed of her chance to get to know her mother.
Living a life without her mother has been extremely difficult. Casie wrote a book on her experiences called “Waterproof Mascara.”
“Growing up without her has its days. I wish I had somebody to love me in that manner. That I could have somebody to call and talk to about anything and everything. Or somebody to just come over and hang out while I do laundry,” Casie said.
Ellison’s murder caused a wound that has never been able to heal for the Taylor family. The family wants closure more than anything so they can have their peace.
Almost eight years to the day after Ellison was murdered, the youngest Taylor daughter, Ronda, died from cerebral palsy. Ronda was not expected to live past 5 years old. She lived to be 18.
“After Missy, my mom kept going because she had Ronda to take care of. That kind of kept her motivated. After Ronda passed my mom completely gave up her will to live” said Bennett.
It has been a painful and weary 30 years for Catherine Taylor. “Our mom still grieves for Missy as if she was just taken from us,” said the oldest Taylor sister, Lisa. “I pray all the time that her cold case will be a solved case before our mom leaves this world so that she will be able to rest in peace. Her sisters also need some type of closure so that we may begin to heal.”
Unfortunately, Catherine Taylor passed away on April 18, 2019 without knowing who killed her daughter.
Missy Ellison’s case was featured in February 2019 on the UNSOLVED series aired by First Coast News in Jacksonville, Florida.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Melissa Ellison, please call the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-0500. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a $3,000 reward, call First Coast Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS.
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