A specail report

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

ABOUT THE STORY

This series is based on court documents, public records, interviews with law enforcement officials, prostitutes and others related to the civic and criminal life of Ken Hardcastle. Times staff writer Anne Hull met with Hardcastle in the fall of 1993, but he declined to be interviewed for this story, as did his wife.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Anne Hull grew up in St. Petersburg. She joined the Times as feature writer in 1985. Her series Metal to Bone won the 1994 Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. She was named a 1994 Nieman Fellow to study at Harvard University.

The series was edited by Chris Lavin, Sunday Floridian and Discovery editor.

 

Part Three: A Secret Life

In the courtroom, the legal odyssey begins.

Jodi Bennett was sinking fast.

She was smoking $250 worth of crack a day and drinking pints of vodka to smooth out the rough edges. Red welts blossomed on her face. Her hair was matted against the pale skin of her neck. A butane lighter had scorched her thumb. She was still feisty, though, like a raggedy cat that kept running. A blue star was tattooed on her left hand and a string of 18 aliases swam in her head.

After Jodi was arrested for the robbery at the El Rancho Motel, the state attorney's office had given her two choices: testify against her old friend, Ken Hardcastle, who faced charges of having sexual relations with a 15-year-old prostitute, or go to prison.

Jodi signed the form. She agreed to testify against Hardcastle.

But she had no intention of helping the state.

When she skipped her meeting with her probation officer, a warrant was issued for her arrest in April 1992.

She was living at the Dutch Motel on Hillsborough Avenue. Her roommate was a drug dealer called Bear. He sold to the girls who didn't feel safe going into Riverview Terrace, a public housing complex a few blocks away. With Bear, Jodi's supply was dangerously steady. She smoked with a fury. When her body couldn't take anymore, she nodded off to sleep.

Bear would shake her gently, take the pipe away and slide a bucket of Colonel Sanders in front of her.

"You fell out,'' he'd say. "Eat this chicken.''

As the days glided together, Jodi started hearing voices. Even in her threadbare condition, she knew the voices were a bad sign.

Just before dawn one day, after a long binge, Jodi was jerking down the sidewalk like a marionette, headed back to the Dutch. Her straw hair flopped across her angular face. She wore black tights and a harlequin-pattern shirt that smelled of old cigarettes. The moon was a silver charm in the sky. It was nearly 6 a.m.

A police car rolled by. Jodi thought she was in the clear until she saw the red flare from the brake lights. He was circling back.

"What's your name?'' the officer asked.

For once, she didn't pull an alias from her vault of lies.

"Jodi Lee Bennett.''

Riding in the back of the police car, she saw the pink neon windmill of the Dutch Motel pass by. She had lived in almost every run-down motel in Tampa during the past eight years.

When Jodi became a prostitute at 13, she was fresh and unused. With her slender hips and lush mouth, she was half-girl, half-boy, drifting in that ambiguous zone of childhood that some men find highly desirable.

In those days, Jodi could command $80 for an hour of her time.

Lately, she'd been lucky to get $20.

She took a good last look around.

By the time Hardcastle's trial rolled around, Jodi had been sentenced to six years in a state prison for the robbery at the El Rancho Motel, including vehicle theft and cocaine charges.

Hardcastle's case was scheduled to go to trial June 1, 1992. From the moment he was arrested, he maintained his innocence, denouncing the charges against him as "total fabrication.'' He had claimed his relationship with the 15-year-old prostitute named Jayna was just a casual friendship.

Once again, the case would come down to his word against the word of a juvenile prostitute. Jayna was now 17 and living in a foster home, expecting her boyfriend's baby.

But the day before his trial, Hardcastle settled for a deal.

He agreed to plead guilty to procuring a person under the age of 16 for prostitution if the state dropped the other charge, performing a lewd and lascivious act on a child.

Hardcastle stepped before Judge Bob Anderson Mitcham for his sentencing.

Mitcham had a thick Georgia accent and soft, snowy hair. He was prone to giving old-fashioned sermons. Mitcham didn't permit shorts in his courtroom. He liked things quiet and orderly. "Oughta put a bottle in that child's mouth,'' he'd mutter as an infant cried from the hallway outside.

"S'cuse me, suh, you keep ya voice low while I'm talkin','' he'd scold another.

His nickname around the courthouse was "the Preacher.''

In Mitcham, it would seem Hardcastle finally had met his match.

The two were contemporaries. They were similar in age, both were Southerners and both were influential men in town. Each morning, Mitcham presided over a ragged parade of defendants, the majority represented by public defenders. When he looked down and saw Hardcastle standing before him, he saw the extraordinary.

Mitcham took a moment to recognize Hardcastle's achievements. With the exception of this offense and his arrest in 1986, Mitcham called Hardcastle a "credit to the community.''

As part of the plea agreement, Mitcham withheld a formal finding of guilt. He sentenced Hardcastle to a year of house arrest, four years of probation, a $600 fine and 100 hours of community service. Hardcastle was told to stay away from the victim.

His house arrest was custom-made:

He was permitted to leave the country for business. He could attend church and church-related functions. Judge Mitcham also granted Hardcastle's request to play tennis three times a week.

Hardcastle also was ordered to submit to random urine screenings to test for the presence of drugs. The tests were routinely ordered for offenders on probation. For non-drug users, they were minor inconveniences.

For drug users, they were something to fear.

At first, Hardcastle seemed the model of compliance.

On several nights, probation officer Christine Robbins made surprise visits to his home. Without fail, he answered the door in his pajamas, and Robbins would record that her client was at home as ordered by the court. When she checked on him at the yacht club, she found him on the tennis courts.

Hardcastle performed his community service hours at the Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, painting and refurbishing the nursery, eager to take on new tasks.

But by August 1992, one of his long-held secrets became public.

On a random drug screen, he tested positive for cocaine in his system.

He quickly entered an outpatient substance abuse program in Hyde Park.

Hardcastle had to appear before Judge Mitcham in a hearing. Mitcham withheld any punishment. He warned Hardcastle that any future violations would result in serious consequences.

As Hardcastle's drug use emerged, his attorney would try to re-package her client. She would take the spotlight off his sex offense with a teenage prostitute and turn it toward drug addiction, for which she felt he deserved compassionate treatment.

A savvy defense, except for one problem: Hardcastle's drug use was increasing.

He still was hiding it from most people. He was not a twitching mess. He appeared neat and clean and composed. His new probation officer, Charles Edwards, simply could not picture a man like Ken Hardcastle involved in the crack culture, "scoring a nickel from the homies on Albany Avenue.''

So the months rolled by without Hardcastle being evaluated for drugs. He was out-smarting the system set up to monitor him.

In early January 1993, his probation officer finally decided it was time for Hardcastle to submit to a drug test.

"Can't be,'' Hardcastle said when he was told cocaine was found in his system. "It's impossible.''

Another court hearing was scheduled.

As the hearing date neared, Hardcastle checked into the Care Unit of South Florida, a $12,000-a-month residential treatment program in Tampa.

He did not appear in court for his hearing. His attorney said he was under a physician's care at the drug treatment center.

Judge Mitcham's tone grew icy. He ordered the police to arrest Hardcastle at the treatment center and to take him to jail.

"I gave this man a break the first time, and I gave him a break the second time,'' he said. "I'm going to treat him just like I would anyone else.''

Vivian Maye, Hardcastle's attorney, argued that Hardcastle was a first-time offender and should be allowed to remain at the treatment center.

Judge Mitcham cut her short.

"He's not a first offender,'' he snapped. "Next case.''

Hardcastle was arrested. At the jail, he handed over his Rolaids, hankie, watch, comb, wallet, credit cards and clothes.

Four days later, Hardcastle was back in front of Judge Mitcham. He asked to be released from jail. A counselor from the Care Unit appeared at his side.

"He is addicted to crack cocaine,'' the counselor testified. "We have broken through the denial.''

Judge Mitcham leaned back in his chair. "I really have no sympathy for him.''

He set bail at $25,000, five times the amount the prosecution recommended.

Within three hours, Mia Hardcastle posted the bond.

Hardcastle was ordered to stay at the drug treatment facility until his next court appearance, where he would face charges of violating his community control.

In disbelief, Victoria Vore tossed the Tampa Tribune down on her dining room table. How could Hardcastle be allowed to hide in a fancy treatment center? When her daughter, Melissa, was arrested, she had been ordered to remain in jail until a slot opened in the county-run drug program. She waited in jail 131 days.

Vore thought about the years she had wasted following Hardcastle around. She went to the cabinet, found some blank paper and sat down with a pen.

Dear Judge Mitcham:

I have turned this man in for 3 to 4 years to the police dept. and to the detective's division. No one would do anything.

Finally, Judge Alvarez accepted a list from me - with which Ken Hardcastle's name was on (to be sent to the chief of police.)

I have found Hardcastle in my house numbers of times procuring my daughter. (At that time a teenager.) I have called his office many times telling him to stay away. He offered her drugs in his own office.

Looking for my daughter in her addiction days - in the drug holes of Tampa - I have seen Ken Hardcastle hundreds of times in the same hole - same house - apts & boarding homes in search for drugs and girls.

Please don't let him get away with this because he has fellow judges who are his friends.

I'm sure many mothers would thank you. And my daughter.

Vore dropped the letter in a mailbox. She didn't hold too much hope. If the police didn't take her seriously, why would a judge?

A few days later, the letter crossed Judge Mitcham's desk.

The singular voice of this unknown citizen - Victoria Vore - whispered in Judge Mitcham's ear, suggesting that Hardcastle's destructive behavior crept into other lives.

But on the day of his hearing in late March 1993, Hardcastle was prepared to remind the court of all that he had given to his community. His attorney handed the judge a list of civic posts and business affiliations that filled two pages.

It was a stunning compilation of achievements, yet it only served to add to the puzzle: How could so much darkness be tangled with so much goodness?

Past president of Hillsborough County Mental Health Association. Past chairman of the board of trustees of Hillsborough Community College. Past chairman of the board of trustees of Eckerd College. Past member of Congressional Action Committee of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce. Volunteer counselor for Suicide and Crisis Center of Hillsborough County. Past president of the Ybor Rotary Club. Past member of Young Presidents Association. Past member of the board of directors of Southeast Bank of Tampa. Past member of the board of directors of Reeves Southeastern Corporation. Elder at Hyde Park Presbyterian Church.

Maye also pointed out that Hardcastle had been married for 37 years and that he owned real estate and numerous businesses in Tampa.

Then his attorney added a new twist to Hardcastle's evolving defense of emotional chaos.

During his recent residence at the drug treatment center, a doctor had diagnosed Hardcastle with bipolar disorder, a condition can cause hyperactivity, irritability, low frustration tolerance and poor impulse control.

"His poor impulse control has greatly added to his addiction on cocaine which was difficult to control without proper treatment of his mental illness,'' wrote the doctor, who found that Lithium helped moderate Hardcastle's condition and dramatically reduced his craving for cocaine.

Judge Mitcham ordered Hardcastle to spend 90 days in the county jail. He also sentenced him to two years of Community Control II, which required Hardcastle to wear an electronic monitor, further restricting his mobility.

But not long after, Hardcastle's attorney reappeared in front of Judge Mitcham. She asked that her client's sentence be reduced to time served. Mitcham granted the request.

Hardcastle had spent a total of 13 days in jail.

So there was Hardcastle, tethered to his home by an electronic leash, permitted to leave only for work and court-approved Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

His lawyer later would tell Judge Mitcham that during this time, Hardcastle successfully was completing his community control. He was attending weekly sessions with a therapist who was treating him for sex and love addiction. And every day, he was attending AA meetings.

"He was well on his way to recovery,'' Vivian Maye would say.

But not long after his monitor was bolted on, Hardcastle's drug supply moved closer to him.

A dealer Hardcastle knew from a seedy part of Nebraska Avenue rented a duplex in Hyde Park. That made it easy for Hardcastle. The duplex was right on his route to work.

With thick blond hair and a boy's face, Doug Pasley looked more like a Cub Scout leader than an undercover cop. He possessed a slow demeanor, as if he didn't have a care in the world. His blue eyes seemed flat and uncomplicated, but they were magnets for details.

As a member of the police department's Selective Enforcement Bureau, Pasley worked undercover on prostitution and drug cases. He generally rode the bleak strips along Florida and Nebraska avenues. He knew all the motels where prostitution thrived, and he had seen the inside of too many rooms to count.

"They're smells you remember all your life - mildew, musk and sex,'' Pasley said.

Where there was prostitution, there was crack.

One day, Pasley arrested a girl with straw hair and green eyes. She reeked of beer and sweat as she sat handcuffed in the back seat of a police cruiser. Her eyes remained glued on the officer who was going through her small purse.

The officer found a Marlboro box. He flipped the lid back. Inside, bundled in a piece of tissue, was a short glass pipe, caked with white crystals. It was still warm.

Watching the discovery, the woman began to scream. White foam crested in dead peaks in the corners of her mouth. Pearls of sweat fell from her chin. As the pipe disappeared into an evidence envelope, her last hope of smoking vanished.

"Pretty please, let me go home,'' she shrieked, her head twisting at impossible angles. "I got three children at home.''

This was a typical morning for Pasley.

What wasn't typical was the phone call he received May 19, 1993. A mother reported that she was afraid her daughter was working as a prostitute in Hyde Park, near Swann and MacDill avenues.

"You're sure it's Swann and MacDill?'' Pasley asked, making certain he had heard correctly.

The corner of Swann and MacDill was known more for luxury car collisions than prostitution. It was not far from the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club.

Pasley and a partner drove to the south Tampa neighborhood. They interviewed a business owner who said that prostitutes were working out of the pink apartment at 3007 W Swann. The women were strolling along Swann.

"They are out here hooking in the middle of the day,'' he told Pasley.

"Hyde Park, do you believe it?'' Pasley said to his partner. The officers wanted to use a parking lot for surveillance. No problem, said the business owner. But one other thing.

"When are you going to get that Ken Hardcastle?''

For several weeks, the business owner said, Hardcastle had been visiting the pink apartment. He stopped by two or three times a day. He usually arrived around 8:30 a.m., disappearing inside briefly before hurrying back out to his Cadillac. He often returned around lunch.

Pasley wondered how Hardcastle could be wearing an electronic monitor and go undetected if he stopped at the apartment so often. But Hardcastle was allowed to roam out of range at certain times of the day - when he traveled to and from work, and when he attended his noon AA meetings.

Pasley began to stake-out the apartment on different mornings. Parked across the street, sitting in his unmarked car, he watched but saw nothing.

On the morning of June 8, he didn't have to wait long.

At 8:36 a.m., a 1984 beige Cadillac Sedan DeVille pulled up. A man in his 50s hopped out of the car and hurried around to the back of the duplex.

"Got him,'' Pasley said, opening his car and starting toward Hardcastle.

Through the trees, Pasley could see Hardcastle at the back door. Suddenly, Pasley remembered he didn't have his gun or badge on him. He dashed back to his car. By the time he returned, Hardcastle was almost to his Cadillac.

Technically, Pasley had witnessed nothing illegal.

Pasley displayed his badge and identified himself.

Hardcastle looked startled. He was wearing a tan embroidered shirt. Under his trousers, the electronic monitor was clamped to his ankle. Pasley asked Hardcastle to empty his pockets.

Hardcastle pulled out keys and pills from his trouser pockets.

"Mr. Hardcastle, you got anything on ya?'' Pasley asked.

"What do you mean?'' Hardcastle said. He had emptied all of his pockets except for the front one.

Pasley would later testify that he saw the outline of crack cocaine in the front pocket of Hardcastle's shirt.

"Mr. Hardcastle, what's in your pocket?''

Pasley gestured to the pocket and Hardcastle pulled away. Pasley circled Hardcastle in a bear hug. With his hand, he felt the pocket. He emptied out three "nice-size'' pieces of crack cocaine.

Hardcastle denied the drugs were his.

"Mr. Hardcastle,'' Pasley said, "I got you.''

In his previous arrests, Hardcastle remained carefully silent. He let his lawyer sort out the details later. But this time, in his rattled state, he talked.

He said that he had been smoking a lot of cocaine and that he hadn't had a urine screening in three or four months.

When Pasley asked how he got started on crack, Hardcastle gave a one-word answer.

"Prostitutes.''

Except for its Hyde Park address, the pink duplex apartment looked like any other naked space used for drugs and quick sex. There was no furniture, just a few dirty cushions scattered around. Women's clothing, aluminum cans and sandwich wrappers littered the wood floors. The drapes were drawn.

A skinny man named Hershall Hinton was inside. The police defined him as a pimp, but those who knew him disagreed. The drugs he sold kept the prostitutes orbiting around him.

As one prostitute explained, "Hershall didn't run girls; the crack in his pocket did.''

Hinton said he met Hardcastle when he lived in a house off Nebraska Avenue. Hinton kept it dark and allowed people to smoke crack there. He didn't smoke cocaine himself. He listened to Beethoven on his yellow Walkman and usually wore a knit cap. He owned a blond chow dog named Psycho.

After Hardcastle was put on a leash by the Department of Corrections, Hinton moved to the Hyde Park apartment.

"If someone flashes enough cash, I'll move,'' Hinton later told a reporter. "On every job application I've filled out, it asks, "Will you re-locate?' What's the difference?''

Hardcastle was not Hinton's only high-end customer.

"There are people in south Tampa who make my job possible,'' he said.

After he was arrested, Hardcastle was loaded into the back of the police car. He was trembling. His mouth was dry and woolly. Hinton was sitting beside Hardcastle. He realized how badly Hardcastle wanted to smoke.

Hardcastle asked a favor of Pasley. He requested that they stop by his office so he could sign some paperwork before going to jail.

Hardcastle Industries was in a small executive building less than a mile away. Hardcastle worked there alone. Other than a bookkeeper who came in a few times a month, he was undisturbed.

Using his keys, Hardcastle opened the front door. There was a small reception area, then another door that led into Hardcastle's office.

Hardcastle mentioned that he kept a gun, so Pasley said he would have to search the office. Hardcastle couldn't remember exactly where he stored it.

Pasley pulled open a file cabinet drawer. He found a butane Blazer torch, an artifact Hardcastle used years ago to smoke freebase cocaine by mixing powder with ether.

Pasley noticed a bottle of imported vodka. It was half-empty.

"That bottle should be all there,'' Hardcastle said.

With Hardcastle watching, Pasley opened a credenza. He found pornographic videos and magazines, and a variety of sex toys. He found a stack of letters written to Hardcastle from young women. One was from Victoria Vore's daughter, Melissa. There were also several self-help books and cassettes on drug addiction.

Pasley finally saw a gun box. But it was empty.

Hardcastle seemed to be a stranger in his own office, disconnected from its contents. It seemed like a museum where business once was conducted. Yet this was the place that Hardcastle came to every day.

"I don't want you to search anymore,'' he said sharply.

Using the phone on Hardcastle's desk, Pasley called the state attorney's office to initiate orders for a search warrant. Based on the items he had just discovered, he thought he might find evidence that suggested Hardcastle was still engaged in sex offenses with juveniles. He wanted to keep looking.

Pasley assured Hardcastle that a search warrant was imminent. Hardcastle abruptly signed the consent form, allowing Pasley to continue.

Pasley swung around behind Hardcastle's desk, sitting in the leather chair. He slid open a drawer. Inside, he found four crack pipes. There were 20 or 30 used baggies, all dusted with cocaine residue. Pasley also found a few pieces of crack. He picked up the tiny chunks and set them on top of the desk.

"You mean that was in my drawer?'' Hardcastle asked. He could not take his eyes off the rocks. While the police rummaged through the fragments of his hidden life, all he seemed to care about were the tiny pieces of crack.

Pasley's knee knocked against something under the desk. He slid the chair back to get a better look. It was an elaborate mechanical device mounted to the underside of the desktop. It appeared to be homemade. Ingenious, Pasley thought. The machine was built to simulate oral sex.

Pasley looked at Hardcastle, who still was focused on the pieces of crack. He seemed oblivious to anything else. Pasley let him fill out the deposit slips, and gathered the evidence in a garbage bag.

The last image Pasley saw as he closed the office door was a photograph of Hardcastle as a young boy, standing next to the pyramids, on a golden safari.

Hardcastle spent two months waiting in the county jail. He became a laundry trusty. He had no family visitors.

At a court hearing Aug. 9, his attorney tried to prove that Officer Pasley conducted an illegal search of Hardcastle's shirt pocket.

"You could see crack cocaine in the pocket?'' Vivian Maye asked, with flourishes of disbelief.

"Yes,'' Pasley said, nodding.

"Did you know Mr. Hardcastle owns a diamond mine in Brazil?'' Maye pressed, suggesting that Pasley could have mistaken gems in Hardcastle's pocket for rocks of cocaine.

"No.''

Maye suggested Pasley detained and questioned her client based on a feeble tip.

"A frail 60-year-old man,'' she said, shaking her head.

Judge Mitcham ruled against her.

"I wasn't born yesterday,'' he told Maye, at one point.

Maye promised she would appeal the judge's ruling.

Hardcastle looked on silently, his face sallow and his hair thin. He coughed frequently, untrapping a wet roar from the depths of his chest. Mitcham's tone did not offer any hope.

Mitcham ordered Hardcastle back for sentencing the next morning.

"Mr. Hardcastle, come down,'' Judge Mitcham drawled on the morning of Aug. 10.

Hardcastle was pleading no contest to possession of cocaine and to violating his community control. He reserved his right to appeal.

In wrinkled jail clothes and shackled hands, Hardcastle ran a comb through his hair and stepped before the judge.

Mitcham found Hardcastle guilty on both charges.

Hardcastle's attorney spoke first.

Maye insisted that the state had let Hardcastle down by not forcing him to submit to urine tests more frequently. This negligence allowed him to "relapse.'' She also argued against sending Hardcastle to a state prison. She urged that he be allowed to continue his drug treatment at a rehabilitation facility.

Mitcham looked over at Hardcastle.

"Anything you wish to say, Mr. Hardcastle?''

Throughout his legal odyssey, Hardcastle had always remained discreet. He used silence in a way that seemed to reduce the accusations against him. After years of silence, it was time for him to speak.

"Yes, your honor.''

He pulled a pair of reading glasses from his pocket. He balanced a legal pad in his large hands. He cleared his throat.

He sculpted an apology, yet his tone was not begging. Even here, he gave the illusion of complete control.

"Your honor, I want to apologize to you for being in your court again for drug-related charges,'' he read from his script. "I am terribly embarrassed and apologize to you, sir.

"I thank you, and my family thanks you. When I figuratively stood before you 63 days ago, I was a using addict. Today, I stand before you a recovering addict. Let me briefly tell you how I was able to effect this very substantial change. Jail is an excellent crucible for reflection, thought, analysis and reasoning.

"I have a very good and dear friend who's a fine attorney and recovering alcoholic who has a deep and penetrating insight into both addiction and recovery. I would work with him many hours each week and many long hours on the weekend. My friend was demanding, forceful and a tough task master. He demanded I work, write, reason and rethink.

"The alchemy of my lawyer friend's experiences and insights mixed with my great desire for sobriety in the reflective crucible of jail produced the lines of reasons, attitudes, perspectives, points of view and behavior patterns which are the tools, the stanchions, the hand rails, the foot treads of continuing recovery.

"Your honor, these are firmly in place in Ken Hardcastle. I have in the past contributed significantly and substantially to this community. I ask of you with all the resolution within me that that opportunity again be made to me. Thank you very much, sir.''

Judge Mitcham leaned back in his chair, his chin tucked in his hand as he paused to contemplate.

"This court is a firm believer that anyone can do anything they want to do if they want to do it bad enough,'' Mitcham said. "It's just sad that some people have to reach a point where they go through the self-embarrassment that you have gone through and the embarrassment of your family and those loved ones around you. And often times the loved ones and the family suffer as much if not more than the defendant themselves.

"This court recognizes personal tragedy,'' Mitcham said, almost softly. "But I cannot and will not send a message to this community that a person can come before this court and continuously violate rules of this court and not undergo punishment.

"You have had every conceivable type of break that I know, from probation to community control to allowing you to go into programs. So I know I have bent over backwards.''

For the violation of community control charge, Mitcham sentenced Hardcastle to 31/2 years in a state prison. For the cocaine charge, he sentenced him to five years of probation.

"I want to say this to you,'' Mitcham said, looking directly at Hardcastle for the first time. "There've been some people who've been down in their lives. You could become a giant in this community, if you want to. A giant. You could be one of the most well-respected men in this community again. I'm expecting great things of you. Make me proud of you.''

Maye requested that Hardcastle be allowed two weeks to get his business affairs in order before going to prison.

Mitcham granted the request. He issued a few provisions.

"Stay away from drugs or alcohol,'' he said, speaking in a fatherly tone. "You are not to go around Mr. Hinton or any of these projects or dealers in drugs or ladies of the evening.

"I'm not telling you you can't go out to a good restaurant. Be back here Aug. 24 at 8:30 a.m.

"You can go have a nice dinner with your family. You'll be released this afternoon, so call somebody to come and get you.''

Mitcham's reference to "ladies of the evening'' seemed to hang in the air, implying some mythical parlor where misdemeanor sex occurred on satin sheets.

It defied reality.

Victoria Vore hadn't heard from her daughter in several weeks. The long silences usually meant that Melissa was smoking crack again.

Vore no longer went out looking. It had finally sunk in that she could not control her daughter's addiction. She also allowed herself to realize that her daughter would use drugs with or without Ken Hardcastle.

Vore thought back to something the court liaison, Nancy Weaver, had told her about people who stay clean from drugs but then use again.

"It's not a relapse,'' Weaver said. "It's a choice.''

One night, sitting at her dining room table, Vore tried to get her feelings down on paper.

Even if I'd win the Lotto, I don't think it would help. The drug gets to the brain where she has to fight 24 hours a day to stop the craving. She loves me and knows what she and the drug have done. She is a good person, caring and loving and intelligent. So why can't she control this devil drug? Why can't she erase the feeling it once gave her?

God, please help us.

Watch over my daughter.

Keep her safe and let her live.

At 3:10 a.m. Aug. 31, 1993, the bus pulled away from the Hillsborough County Jail and pushed north through the fog on the empty interstate. Ten inmates sat quietly in the darkness, their faces illuminated every few seconds by a billboard or street lamp. Ken Hardcastle was among them.

With each passing mile, he was leaving behind the fortunes of his life: the spectacular home, his family, their well-earned rank in the genteel society of old Tampa.

In prison, at the North Florida Reception Center in Lake Butler, he woke early and often watched the sun rise over the damp pastures and cyclones of razor wire. Even in prison clothes, Hardcastle possessed the carriage of a relaxed general. His shoulders were square, his gait measured and brisk. He wore his own suede loafers. Wisps of brown hair swept over his tan scalp. At odds with his crisp appearance were his fingernails, which were long and unkempt.

In his pocket, where he once had kept his money clip and credit cards, was a worn cardboard box that contained half-smoked cigarettes and a few matches. In his pocket, he also kept his titanium watch. It had survived the deserts and jungles of the world, but the Department of Corrections had broken the watchband. It still kept perfect time.

Epilogue

This is a story with no ending. If a snapshot was taken in late May 1994, here is the freeze-frame image that would appear:

Ken Hardcastle is scheduled to be released from Charlotte Correctional Institution on Friday after serving 11 months of his 31/2-year sentence. He still faces five years of probation. His attorney, Vivian Maye, is appealing his 1993 drug conviction, contending that Hardcastle was searched illegally by Officer Pasley. If the conviction is overturned, Hardcastle's probation would end immediately.

He returns to his business enterprises, which his wife and bookkeeper have helped manage during his absence.

Jodi Bennett is serving a six-year prison sentence for robbery, vehicle theft and purchase of cocaine. She is completing cosmetology courses and hopes one day to work as a licensed beautician. "I'll be able to do something besides work the streets,'' she says. In prison, photographs of her two children decorate her work station where she styles hair. Jodi has not seen her daughter since two days after the delivery, when a prostitution customer drove her to the hospital for a visit. Relatives have custody of both of her children.

Jodi's tentative release date from prison is December 1996. She will have served more than four years.

Jayna, the teenage prostitute who led the police to Hardcastle in 1991, has a minimum wage job. She has one child and lives in central Florida.

Tampa Police Officer Doug Pasley still works on vice cases with the Selective Enforcement Bureau. On a recent morning, in four hours, his squad arrested eight women on prostitution charges. Six were in possession of crack paraphernalia. Three were HIV-positive.

Hershall Hinton was arrested again in January 1994 at the Alamo Hotel on Nebraska Avenue. (Officer Pasley made the arrest.) Hinton was found in a motel room with crack cocaine and a gun. He also was charged with living on the earnings of a prostitute. The charges were later dropped because of lack of evidence.

Nancy Weaver, the court liaison who helped place Victoria Vore's daughter in drug treatment, has observed an explosion in the number of female offenders with drug problems. Because of a lack of beds in the county residential program, women in Hillsborough County face a grim reality. There are 42 women currently on her waiting list. The majority never will make it into treatment.

Victoria Vore still clips newspaper articles about cocaine addiction and leaves them on her daughter's empty bed, in the event she returns. Vore no longer drives into the crack neighborhoods of Tampa in search of Melissa. A recent recording on Vore's answering machine had this message:

"Melissa's not here, but if you see her, tell her to come home.''

Back to: Part 2

© Copyright 1994 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.