A DeLeon Springs man has been charged with second-degree murder after a joint investigation by sheriff’s detectives from Volusia and Flagler counties led to his confession.
Ronald H. Collins Jr., 51, was arrested Thursday night at the Volusia Sheriff’s Office District 2 headquarters in DeLand, after an interview with detectives from both counties.
The investigation started Monday in Bunnell, where Flagler deputies responded to a report of a body found rolled up in a comforter and placed on a futon inside an RV at 163 Ohio Ave. Collins was identified as the renter of the property, but he was not on scene.
On Thursday, the victim was positively identified as Jillian Petrotto, 31, who had frequently been seen with Collins in the past.
Collins came to the Sheriff’s Office on Thursday afternoon and confessed to killing Petrotto inside his residence at 4856 U.S. 17 in DeLeon Springs. Petrotto had been staying with him recently and the two were in an occasional romantic relationship. Collins said he’d blacked out during the incident and did not remember it in detail, but said he killed Petrotto because he was angry she was going out to get money to buy drugs. Petrotto sustained blunt force trauma to her head and was strangled.
“Our detectives and CSI did a great job and worked through the holidays,” said Flagler Sheriff Rick Staly. “Within a few hours FCSO detectives developed a person of interest and immediately worked with the Volusia Sheriff’s Office to jointly solve this case. This should send a message to criminals that regardless of jurisdictional boundaries we all work together and we will get you.”
“Thanks to hard work and cooperation between our detectives, Ronald Collins is in jail where he belongs, facing the consequences he deserves,” Volusia Sheriff Mike Chitwood said. “We hope Ms. Petrotto’s family and friends can find some peace knowing her killer is brought to justice.”
Collins was transported to the Volusia County Branch Jail, where he remained in custody Friday morning with no bond allowed.
The previous story is below.
Sheriff Investigating ‘Suspicious’ Case of Unidentified Person Found Dead at Southwest Flagler Property
December 23–Flagler County Sheriff’s detectives have been investigating a suspicious death in an isolated part of southwest Flagler, since Monday afternoon. The sheriff’s office listed the crime scene as 174 Florida Avenue. In fact, the body was found on a neighboring property on Ohio Avenue. (The mailbox for the Ohio Avenue property is located on the Florida Avenue side because of access.)
There are more questions than answers about the death, including whether the person was a man or a woman, or the manner of death, though no weapons were recovered at the scene. The death appears not to have been recent.
“The body was transported to the medical examiner’s office, they will be conducting an autopsy,” a sheriff’s spokesperson said this morning. “I don’t know when, I don’t know if they’ll do it today. We don’t have any information on the person.”
The spokesperson specified that the body was recovered within a structure at 174 Florida Avenue, though there is no structure listed there on the Flagler County Property Appraiser’s site–just a vacant lot belonging to a Bunnell resident. But the spokesperson verified the address and said that’s where the person was found, in a home there.
“We don’t believe anyone was living in the house, no residents were living there,” the spokesperson said, and the homeowner had not given permission for anyone to be living in the house, suggesting that the person found there was either squatting or had been brought there. Deputies were called to the scene at 4 p.m. Monday. It’s not yet clear how they were informed of the presence of a body at the address.
“It’s our understanding that this was an abandoned structure but the owner owns a lot of low-income rentals in Flagler and Volusia County, from our understanding,” Sheriff Rick Staly said in an interview. “I don’t think there’s anything the community needs to worry about, just the circumstance surrounding it is why we’re calling it a suspicious death investigation, and until the medical examiner does their job we won’t have a lot of information.” He said he expected the autopsy to be conducted today despite most such services slowing down in a holiday week. The investigation, he said, won’t slow down. “Our detectives and CSI probably will not have much of a holiday.”
“This is the very beginning stages of a suspicious death investigation,” he’d said in a brief statement issued on Facebook this morning. “We ask that if anyone has any information regarding this death, please call us.”
The last time sheriff’s deputies and detectives conducted a death investigation in the area goes back to April 2017 when they unearthed the remains of 48-year-old Charles Singer in the backyard of a property on Pine Tree Lane, a few miles west of the Florida Avenue property. Singer had been buried there for two months, with five bullet wounds in his body. His wife, Dorothy, was charged and convicted of the murder, but is scheduled for a re-trial early next year.
Anyone who may have information on the Florida Avenue case is asked to contact the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office at 386-313-4911 in reference to Case Number 2019-118157. You may also contact Crime Stoppers at 1-888-277-TIPS where you could be eligible for a reward up to $5,000.