This story is part of a collaborative project between Project: Cold Case and a University of North Florida Journalism class. The student credited above wrote this story as a class project.
Mark Brotherton served in World War II under General George Patton, but his biggest sources of pride were his three children and his devotion to the United Methodist church. By any of those standards, he was a hero. But to his family, he was the ideal patriarch.
On July 30, 1971, that family changed forever when Mark Brotherton was fatally shot. His case remains unsolved.
“Someone has to know something. After all this time, somebody knows what happened,” said Laura Collins, the youngest of his children.
That night, as Brotherton was closing up shop in Lake City, Florida at one of two Standard Oil service stations he owned, two men with guns entered the store about 11 p.m., ripped the phone out of the wall and began to rob the store. The two suspects shot both Mark Brotherton and a customer, a young Navy man, in their legs.
While the Navy man would survive his injuries, Brotherton would not.
The customer had broken down on the interstate that night, and two men stopped to help him. They drove him to Brotherton’s service station, and probably saw the suspects lingering before the robbery and murder. Police searched for the men as witnesses with no luck, according to a News4Jax story which detailed the police report.
The Columbia County Crime Stoppers described them as “two long-haired boys driving a Volkswagen van,” and they towed the sailor to the service station. The customer described the van as “possibly cream-colored with black curtains and a Budweiser label in the back window.”
The two men in the Volkswagen stayed at the service station briefly, and police believe that the suspects arrived around that time. Police believe the suspects didn’t rob the store until the van and the men departed, according to the News4Jax story.
“The thing is, my father had already put the money from the cash register into his glove compartment, so they got basically no money,” Collins said.
The bullet that ended Mark Brotherton’s life hit an artery and he bled to death.
Mark Brotherton was 56 when he was killed.
“There was a young couple that came in, and they were able to go to the gas station across the street and call 911, but it was too late,” said Collins.
The Navy man suffered a flesh wound and was able to provide detectives with a description of the two shooters after they fled. Both suspects were young men likely in their early 20s and African American. One was around 5 feet, 10 inches tall and had two scars under his right eye and one scar under his left eye. The other suspect was around six feet tall.
Collins was in high school at the time and had plans to attend Emory University when she graduated. Hearing what happened to her father during that 3 a.m. phone call changed her life completely.
“Losing my father at 17, it changed the course of my life forever,” said Collins.
“My other brother had a financial career forever, and his second career was a minister. He has a lot of forgiveness in his heart, but I just want to know something,” she said.
Her brother Steve said that his father’s death didn’t influence him to become a pastor, but it would impact the kind of pastor he’s become. Steve Brotherton was attending college at Florida State University when he got the phone call. Today, he says he has no room for hatred in his heart for the men who took his father’s life that night in 1971. He does, however, feel a sense of helplessness and sorrow for them.
“As a young person, I was very angry about what took place as a young man being passionate about the death penalty. Over the years, the anger subsided,” Brotherton said.
“Maybe it goes beyond forgiveness to sympathy for having to live 50 years with that kind of guilt,” he said.
While detectives utilized a K-9 to track the two suspects down the road, the trail went cold, and ultimately, so did the case. Interstate 10 was incomplete at that time and ended just outside of Lake City, but the suspects were able to flee quickly, leading Sgt. Jimmy Watson with the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office to believe the men were locals. He told First Coast News he thinks they knew how to exit the area via backroads.
Long before the murder, Mark Brotherton had retired from the Jacksonville Electric Authority (JEA) when he was approached by a friend about a business opportunity. He would soon become a franchise owner of two service stations, one being on the corner of U.S. 441 North and I-10 in Lake City.
As a teenager, Steve used to work with his father in the summer at that gas station. “It was great. I really learned a lot from him, from being an auto mechanic, to customer relations, to business,” he said. Steve remembers those summers fondly — he loved his father’s ability to provide unwavering support, compassion, and overall, his ability to teach.
Steve said he will never forget the lessons that came from the man who dedicated his life to fatherhood, family, his church and his country.
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Mark Brotherton, please call the Columbia County Sheriff`s Office at 386-752-9212. To remain anonymous and possibly be eligible for a reward, call Crime Stoppers of Columbia County at (386) 754-7099.
Research and Impact
Project: Cold Case is dedicated to ensuring that families have an outlet to tell their loved one’s story. We strive to have a balanced relationship between the surviving family and the news outlets that are charged with interviewing and showcasing the family’s story and struggles with the unsolved case, with expectations that no additional trauma be left for the family.
A 2016 research was published detailing the “relationship between cold case homicide survivors and the media,” detailing the “persistent interactions” that families typically deal with following their loved one’s murder.
With the number of unsolved homicides hovering above 250,000 in the United States, the ability to respectfully and ethically interact with cold case survivors is incredibly important. The paper details recommendations for journalists to ensure better interactions take place and all parties are left satisfied.
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