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Unsolved: 2007 murder of Tampa mom found in shallow grave remains a mystery

8 On Your Side

On March 6, 2007, employees of a business on North 71st Street in Tampa made a disturbing discovery.

They found human remains sticking out of the dirt in the back of the parking lot. Someone had been buried in a shallow grave. 

Tampa police sent their homicide squad. 

“There were probably five or six of us. I think the whole squad initially went out on it, but there were five or six of us that worked on it for several weeks,” said Detective Gary Sandel, who was among the first on the scene.

The parking lot is fenced in and behind a locked gate. Detectives initially started questioning employees of the business.

“I believe the company was pretty compliant right out of the shoot, they gave us an employee list. There were several detectives that worked that angle of it with interviewing basically every employee there,” Sandel said.

Tampa police soon identified the victim as 36-year-old Tracy McClelland of Tampa.

Her sister had suspected for some time that Tracy had run into trouble. Lisa Whidden had just given birth to a son and Tracy never showed up at the hospital.

Police believe McClelland had been missing since Valentine’s day. 

“She had went shopping and had bought Valentine’s day gifts for her kids,” said Whidden.

McClelland was the mother of three children. She had been popular in high school and a good student from a middle-class family.

“It was like a ‘Leave it to Beaver’ environment. Our parents were divorced but they had always remained friends,” said Whidden.

She admits her sister was also fighting a dark side. Whidden says their brother committed suicide and Tracy took his loss very hard.

“She felt that at that point she was the last person that had the opportunity to save him,” said Whidden.

Tracy’s family believes she was an early victim of the opioid crisis. She began taking prescription medication to deal with her depression but then moved to street drugs when the pain didn’t go away.

“She told me it numbed her feelings, it numbed her emotions, so she was masking her pain,” said Whidden.

Detective Sandel says McClelland died of “upper body trauma,” but the circumstances of where and how she was killed are still unclear.

Whidden is still hoping for answers.

“Her last hours, the last days. Who murdered my sister? That would be very important,” said Whidden.

Detective Sandel says he needs someone to come forward who knows about Tracy’s last days.

“Witnesses, people – not just people that knew of her or were friends with her – but people. If there is anybody out there that knew anything about any conflicts she was having or any problems she had with anybody – any leads are going to help me,” said Sandel.

Right now, the veteran detective has theories but needs more proof to make an arrest.

He says the death of Tracy McClelland shows what can happen when good people lose their way with drugs.

“This is a prime example of addiction and it’s a horrible thing because she was well-liked by everybody,” said Sandel.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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