Melissa Jo Sermons

Sermons, circa 1992; Larry Costine, circa 1992

  • Missing Since 05/03/1992
  • Missing From Lakeland, Florida
  • Classification Endangered Missing
  • Sex Female
  • Race White
  • Date of Birth 08/13/1965 (58)
  • Age 26 years old
  • Height and Weight 5'10, 175 pounds
  • Clothing/Jewelry Description A black shirt, turquoise pants, white or gray boots, a horseshoe ring with diamonds, a rope chain and a black watch.
  • Distinguishing Characteristics Caucasian female. Blonde hair, green eyes. Sermons has a scar under her nose and her ears are pierced. She may go by her middle name, Jo, and may spell it "Joe." She may also use the name Pauline Crouse.

Details of Disappearance

Sermons was last seen in Lakeland, Florida on May 3, 1992. She worked with horses and was involved in the rodeo culture. That evening, she attended a rodeo in Dade City, Florida with 31-year-old Elwin Lawrence "Larry" Costine Jr. A photo of him is posted with this case summary.

Costine and a friend were in a team roping contest at the rodeo; they won and split the $350 prize. At 2:00 a.m. the next day, Sermons and Costine went to breakfast with a friend. The couple is believed to have gone to Costine's home at 4:15 a.m. Authorities determined that Sermons never returned to her own Lakeland residence. She has never been seen again.

Sermons and Costine's families both filed missing persons' reports with law enforcement when neither of them showed up for work the next day.

Costine's nude body was discovered inside the bedroom of his unlocked trailer home in the 12600 block of Moore Road in Lakeland on May 5, 1992, two days after he and Sermons were last seen. He had been shot several times in the head and back. One of his guns was missing, but there were no signs of a struggle or a robbery at the scene. His bed had not been slept in.

There was no trace of Sermons inside Costine's residence. There have been reported sightings of Sermons alive and well at truck stops in Florida, Kansas and Texas since her disappearance, but investigators don't believe the stories are reliable.

Investigators initially believed Sermons might have been involved in Costine's killing, but Costine's family always thought she was innocent.

In July 2013, authorities named Danny Cerezo as a suspect in the murder and Sermons's disappearance. He dated Sermons and they lived together for about a year, but she ended the relationship in April 1992 and moved out of his house.

Cerezo kept in touch with Sermons's family after the breakup and asked about her other relationships. The day before she disappeared, Sermons spoke to him on the phone and told him she was dating Costine now didn't want to see him.

Police stated they had physical evidence that linked Cerezo to Costine's shooting. He has not been charged in either the murder or Sermons's disappearance, however; both her case and Costine's death remain unsolved.

Investigating Agency

  • Polk County Sheriff's Office
  • 863-534-7222
  • 863-533-0344

Updated 5 times since October 12, 2004. Last updated July 9, 2013; details of disappearance updated.