Sarasota cold case: Husband named person of interest after wife’s skeletal remains identified 16 years later

For 16 years, the Sarasota County Sheriff's Office worked to put a name and a face to skeletal remains found buried in a shallow grave in the woods off of Ashton Court in Sarasota. 

Through advancements in DNA technology, they identified them as Jeana Burrus. Now, the sheriff's office said her husband, James Burrus, is a person of interest in her death. 

Investigators said James left Sarasota abruptly in 2006 – without his wife. Jeana was never reported missing by family, which complicated SCSO's investigation into her death. 

Jeana Burrus with her husband and son. Courtesy: The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office. 

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"They were just struggling at the time, and they had a very volatile relationship," said SCSO Lt. Mark Lefebvre. 

Jeana Burrus' remains were found near a Sarasota auto body shop in the 5600 block of Sarah Avenue. It's the same one where James worked at when the family lived in the county. 

"The bones indicate it was not a natural cause of death," said Lt. Lefebvre. 

While they didn't know who the remains belonged to at the time, Sarasota County deputies never gave up on the case. Calcium on the bones made it difficult to pull DNA. 

Crime scene tape surrounded the wooded are off of Ashton Court back in 2007, where skeletal remains were found. 

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But last November, authorities worked with DNA Labs International Inc., to use advancements in DNA testing and genetic genecology to identify the remains. 

"Once that calcium was removed, they now have a much readable, clear picture of a DNA example," said Lt. Lefebvre. "From there went into the family tree and genetic genealogy to produce DNA sampling for relatives."

Investigators said Jeana Lynn Burrus was 39 years old when she died. She lived in the 6200 block of Pauline Avenue in Sarasota with her husband and their son, James Burrus Jr., authorities said. 

Jeana Burrus was unemployed, but her husband worked at the auto body shop and her son attended Gulf Gate Elementary between 2005-2006, according to investigators. 

Deputies said James crafted stories about where Jeana went. 

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"He had different versions, honestly of what happened to their relationship, but when he sat with detectives he provided no details. He gave no information," said Lt. Lefebvre. 

James also told those stories to Jeana’s aunt and uncle. 

Pictured: Jeana Burrus. Courtesy: Sarasota County Sheriff's Office. 

"It’s something you don’t want to have happen to anybody and hope nobody has to go through this," said Clare Wiedmaier, Jeana's uncle.

Wiedmaier and his wife June Gray spoke with FOX 13 over the phone from Maryland, remembering their niece. 

"She was a very loving, fun, warm person. She really had a lot to do with family," he said.

Knowing what happened to Jeana has caused both of them an indescribable amount of pain, they said. Her uncle hopes the community will step up to help detectives solve his niece's case. 

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Pictured: Jeana Burrus. Courtesy: Sarasota County Sheriff's Office. 

"Someone has to have been told something or know something. People just don’t disappear," said Wiedmaier. 

A woman who rents the Sarasota home that the family used to live in said investigators searched it a few months ago, but found nothing. New management at the auto body shop where her husband worked said deputies also searched the property a few months ago and didn't find anything. 

Authorities said the couple lived in Citrus County as well as Frederick, Maryland before moving to Sarasota County. FOX 13 did make attempts to reach James Burrus, but calls went unanswered. 

The sheriff's office said they're now looking for any information on Jeana Burrus, and her husband, James Burrus. Anyone who may have known the family or may have information about her death is asked to call SCSO Detective Brian Ng at (941) 861-4900.