UNSOLVED FLORIDA: Father found murdered behind the wheel on Tallahassee’s southside

26-year-old Cedric Hayes, Jr was shot and killed in 2016
A silent summer night. A man found behind the wheel. The case goes unsolved five years later.
Published: Jul. 29, 2021 at 11:26 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - It was a silent summer night in 2016 when he was noticed behind the wheel. As deputies responded, they realized something was terribly wrong.

26-year-old Cedric Hayes Jr. had been murdered in cold blood. Five years later and detectives have exhausted all leads.

June 12 of that year was one of the deadliest days in American history. 49 people were killed at Pulse Nightclub, only about a four-hour drive from Tallahassee. The mass shooting dominated headlines that day and overshadowed Hayes’s story in local news reports.

“He would always come up and give you this hug that only he could give,” Freda Thomas told investigative reporter Katie Kaplan.

Thomas is Hayes’s aunt. The Wakulla County native was a family man and the memories of him are fresh, even years after his death. His family now honors those memories by wearing black and red; the colors for murder victim awareness.

“He was a very fun jokester,” said Hayes’s brother, Terrell Sharp. “If we know what took place, it would be a little easier to deal with.”

It’s been five long years since Hayes was taken. Five long years since a son was taken from his mother. A father taken from his son.

“He was one, he didn’t have any memories of his father,” said Hayes’s mother Tina Jackson of her grandson.

Hayes was a man of faith who had been baptized in the Wakulla River. He was a standout baseball player and Rickards High School graduate, and the first man in his family to earn a college degree. Ironically, he studied criminal justice. His mother said he wanted to be a lawyer and had just gotten engaged when the unthinkable happened.

“Imagine getting that call,” she recalled.

WCTV’s cameras were there that morning as investigators worked the scene and loved ones gathered to grieve nearby.

“We are going to find out what happened to my nephew,” another aunt, Carol Hayes, had told a WCTV reporter at the time. “We are going to find out what happened to my nephew.”

Now, half a decade has passed and there are still no arrests. The only reminder of what happened on Ross Road near Crawfordville Road all those years ago is a flyer with Hayes’s picture and the offer of a reward.

In a Facebook post on the ‘Justice for Cedric Hayes page’, the detective in charge recently called it a “cold” case.

The morning of June 12th, 2016 will stand out in my memory for the rest of my life. It was the second eeriest feeling I'...

Posted by Justice for Cedric Hayes on Saturday, June 12, 2021

However, a Leon County Sheriff’s spokesperson said there is still work going on behind the scenes.

“Leads and tips, in this case, have come in as late as this month, last month and in the last year, so we are actively working this case,” said deputy Shade McMillian.

The lead detective nowadays was back then a deputy and the first to arrive at the scene around 5 a.m. after a passerby, whom the family said was a newspaper delivery person, had noticed Hayes’s gray, Ford Mustang lingering at the stop sign with someone behind the wheel. The detective remembers sitting in silence with Hayes’ body until backup arrived.

“Responding deputies found the gentleman deceased inside his vehicle,” McMillian said.

Very little information has been made public about why Hayes was in the area or what he was doing in the hours leading up to the shooting. The Sheriff’s Office has remained tight-lipped about the case and would not let WCTV speak with that lead detective.

When asked how Hayes was killed, McMillian responded, “At this time, that’s confidential information in the case.”

It is not known how long Hayes had been at the intersection before his idling vehicle was noticed. His fiance, who did not want to go on camera, said he had been out club-hopping in Tallahassee with his best friend Tracy the night before. The pair reportedly stopped at Top Flight and The Moon before there was some sort of issue. Members of Hayes’s family said Tracy’s grandmother had lived nearby where Hayes’s body was found. His fiance recalls having to identify a bag of Hayes’s jewelry at the Sheriff’s office.

When asked if Tracy had been cleared as a suspect, the sheriff’s office did not respond.

A public records request of the case file was heavily redacted. Only half a page was released out of nearly 1,500. The rest was completely blacked out. Hayes’s Mustang is still in the LCSO impound lot. The medical examiner said Hayes’s autopsy report is being withheld by the State Attorney’s Office. The consolidated dispatch agency said 911 calls are only kept for three years, so records from Hayes’s murder have since been deleted.

“It’s very hardening. Very hardening. Especially not knowing the who’s, the why’s or what, what even happened,” Jackson said.

Despite the lack of information, there was one big clue in all that blacked-out paperwork as to what happened. A note about the weapon being a gun- Cedric Hayes Jr. had been shot. It is information McMillian would not confirm, but that Hayes’s family said an investigator had previously told them.

“The way the detective described it to me, she said he didn’t have a chance,” Jackson continued. “It was like someone walked up to him or it was totally unexpected. There was no struggle or fight or nothing.”

WCTV file footage of the crime scene shows Hayes’s vehicle being towed from the scene. The driver’s side was visible and does not appear to show any bullet holes or broken glass.

“Just imagine,” Jackson said, “It could be your loved one next week.”

Someone knows something. The family is hoping that person will step up and help to provide some closure.

The reward for information leading to an arrest in the murder of Cedric Hayes Jr. has been increased in recent months to $5,000. Anyone with information is asked to call Big Bend CrimeStoppers at (850) 574-8477. Tips can remain anonymous. Crimestoppers will pass along the tip to the police, but not your personal information.

Have an idea for a future ‘Unsolved?’ Email Katie at katie.kaplan@wctv.tv

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