St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

St. Petersburg homicide rate is way up

Although there have been 15 homicides so far - compared to nine at this time last year, officials say it is too soon to draw conclusions.

By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 2, 2002

Although there have been 15 homicides so far -- compared to nine at this time last year, officials say it is too soon to draw conclusions.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Homicides in the city are sharply higher so far this year, including one just a few days ago.

Detectives have no theory on why the numbers are up by two-thirds over the same period last year, but they caution that several months of data say little about trends.

"You could look at this situation right now and say the homicide rate has gone up," said homicide Sgt. Mike Puetz. "No, it hasn't. We may go into the next four months and have far less homicides."

Through the last day of May, there have been 15 homicides in the city, compared with nine over the same time last year. In four cases, there have been no arrests.

Nearly half of this year's homicides involve some type of relationship conflict, though they cannot be directly attributed to domestic violence. Other motives include drugs or fights.

"There are fluctuations in the rates and types," Puetz said. "There's really no driving force behind it."

St. Petersburg's homicide rate has jumped around over the years. The most homicides -- 44 -- were in 1989. Last year, there were 21 homicides. In 2000, the city had 14 homicides. The numbers had not been nearly that low since 1975 when there were 16.

Criminologists say rates and patterns fluctuate, and it is too soon to draw conclusions from this year's St. Petersburg statistics.

"If this increase sustains itself over time, that's when we can start to look for some more definitive correlations," said Dwayne Smith, chairman of the University of South Florida criminology department in Tampa.

Sharon Russ, 41, one of the most outspoken residents on city violence, does not agree with the experts. She said she sees more violence related to drug dealing and more of a disregard for law enforcement than in years past.

"I think this area has definitely become more violent, and I think that we deserve an explanation to know what is happening," said Russ, a Bartlett Park resident. "Are these drug wars?"

Six of the 15 homicides in St. Petersburg have domestic overtones.

Sgt. Katy Connor-Dubina, who supervises the personal violence unit, pointed out that only three of those cases are directly linked to domestic violence.

Domestic violence-related killings have gone down, she said. Over a year in the mid-1990s, St. Petersburg had 15 to 16 homicides that were related to domestic violence.

The city has made arrests in most of its homicides. Only four -- Jean Ault, Jerome Bolden, Patricia Hodges and Diallo Brown -- remain open.

The homicide of Ault, 74, is a complete mystery.

Since March, her daughter, Sue McLeese, has been trying to figure out who would want to kill her mother, a Lakewood Estates crime watch member who played tennis and belonged to a camping group.

"A lot of it points to someone she must have known, simply because there was no evidence of struggle anywhere in the home," said McLeese, 47. "Was someone knocking? Did she answer the door?"

Ault was last seen March 23 at her Lakewood Estates home getting ready for a camping trip. Two days later, her body was recovered at Coquina Key Park. She had been fatally beaten and her legs and hands had been tied. Her 1994 Chevy Jayco was missing and later recovered at Queensmark Apartments off 54th Avenue S.

Police have no suspects in the case and did not recover anything in the camper that led to substantial leads.

"It's very disturbing that they can't find who it is," said McLeese, the daughter. "I'm hoping this will bring the subject back to the surface so anyone who might have seen anything or knows anything will please come forward."

Since her mother's death, McLeese has been working on closing her mother's estate. She has found family keepsakes like crayon drawings of giraffes McLeese sketched when she was a little girl.

"It's like a walk down memory lane," McLeese said.

Anyone with information about the Ault case is asked to call detective Glen Henry, (727) 551-3058.

There is a homicide case that is even older. On Jan. 26, Jerome Bolden, 33, who was called "Zeke," was shot about 2:45 a.m. in an alley north of 4435 18th Ave. S. Neighbors heard loud voices and then several gunshots. Bolden, who lived nearby, suffered gunshot wounds to his upper body and died before paramedics arrived.

His sister, Linda Bolden, 46, said Bolden was in the wrong place at the wrong time. After her brother's funeral, she said she heard that men were planning to rob a house and that her brother ran into them and was shot.

"There's somebody around here who knows what's going on," she said. "But people just ain't talking, but the word is, Jerome was walking in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Anyone with information on the Bolden case is asked to call detective Michael Kovacsev, (727) 892-5129.

In addition to the Ault case, Detective Henry is working on finding who killed Patricia Hodges, 64, on April 18.

Hodges, a grandmother of nine, lived alone in an apartment at 6100 Dr. M.L. King (Ninth) St. N and was found dead in her bedroom by her friend and neighbor, 77-year-old Vivian Heacox.

At the time, Heacox said nothing appeared to be disturbed in Hodges' apartment -- the door was locked and there was no obvious sign of a struggle.

St. Petersburg police have not said how Hodges died and have said little else about the case. Detective Henry and Puetz, the homicide sergeant, would not discuss details of the case for this story, saying revealing theories would hurt the investigation.

Hodges' family has posted a reward in the case.

"She was the kind of person who always had the door locked. She never answered the door for a stranger," her youngest son, Shawn Gertsch, 34, told the Times shortly after his mother's death.

Anyone with information on Hodges' case should also call Henry.

The city's latest and 15th homicide claimed the life of Diallo "Duke" Brown, 20, on Wednesday.

Brown was shot at the Amoco gas station, 900 22nd Ave. S. He pulled up to the station in his car and got out to buy something. He and someone at the station talked, and then there was gunfire. Brown was shot once in the upper body. He ran to the rear of the gas station, where he collapsed and died. Police said crack cocaine was found on him.

Brown's mother, Annie Thurman, 40, said she knew her son lived a street life. About 11/2 years ago, he intervened in a fight and got slashed across the stomach with a knife.

"I said, "Baby, that's a warning from God,' " Ms. Thurman said.

Anyone with information on Brown's case is asked to call detective Gary Gibson at (727) 893-7512.

The victims

Here is a list of homicide victims so far in St. Petersburg this year. There have been arrests in all but four cases. When the police homicide unit lists a motive, it is included.

Borun Sath, 21, was stabbed with a switchblade at 1738 11th St. N on Jan. 1 during a New Year's Eve party. Motive: dispute.

Deon "Cheese" Clinton, 21, was shot with a handgun at 2010 30th St. S on Jan. 24. Motive: dispute.

Jerome Bolden, 33, was shot in an alley north of 4435 18th Ave. S on Jan. 26. Motive: drug/robbery. No arrest.

Gregory Shannon, 18, was decapitated with a machete at 1635 39th St. S on Feb. 4. Motive: domestic overtones.

Josephine Dallas, 35, was shot with a handgun at 25001/2 12th Ave. S on Feb. 13. Motive: domestic overtones.

Katherine Hicks, 50, was stabbed with a knife at 11451/2 16th Ave. S on March 7. Motive: domestic overtones.

Eric Eure, 43, was shot with an assault rifle at 6571/2 29 Ave. S on March 16. Motive: drug/robbery.

Jean Ault, 74, was beaten at 3595 Locust St. SE on March 23. Motive: Possibly robbery. No arrest.

Darlene Harmon, 44, was shot with a handgun at 4200 54th Ave. S on March 25. Motive: domestic overtones.

Jacobie Spradley, 24, was shot with an assault rifle at 1040 Melrose Ave. S on April 8. Motive: unknown. One arrest made; other suspects sought.

Curtis Barber, 51, was slashed with a knife at 790 22nd Ave. S on April 13. Motive: domestic overtones.

Zollous McCullum, 30, was shot with a handgun on April 13 at 1032 Granville Ct. N. Motive: dispute.

Patricia Hodges, 64, was found dead in the bedroom of her apartment at 6100 Dr. Martin Luther King (Ninth) St. N on April 18. Motive: unknown. No arrest.

Darria Wilkie, 37, was strangled with a belt at 28621/2 Second Ave. S on May 19. Motive: robbery.

Diallo "Duke" Brown, 20, was shot at a gas station at 900 22nd Ave. S on Wednesday. Motive: unknown. No arrest.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.