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Woman's death shocks quiet Dunedin street

The woman was killed in her apartment. Some neighbors said crime has been increasing in the area.

By CHRIS TISCH
Published August 27, 2003

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DUNEDIN - Neighbors didn't know much about the quiet woman who lived in a triplex on their street. Maybe they said hello, watched her water a potted tree on her stoop or fetch her mail.

They were disturbed to learn Tuesday that the 33-year-old woman had been killed inside her home.

Pinellas sheriff's officials said Patricia A. Wheeler's body was found by friends who worried when they did not hear from her for several days.

Sheriff's officials would say only that she suffered "upper body trauma." No arrests were made.

"It's sad," said Cheryl Ferreira, who lives across the street from Wheeler's triplex. "I'm scared to be here anymore."

Wheeler lived at 3075 Park Lane, just east of Belcher Road in the Dunedin area.

While some neighbors said the street was peaceful, others said crime has plagued the area recently.

"There's been more crime on this street in the last eight months than in the 11 years I've lived here," said Lisa Mooney, 43, who lives down the street.

Ferreira said she plans to buy a gun or a dog.

Neighbors reported breakins, drugs, vandalism and even a stabbing in the last several months.

Some neighbors suspect Wheeler knew her attacker.

"I fall asleep with my doors open," said neighbor Kathy Morales, 46. "It had to be someone she knew."

Sheriff's officials said Wheeler was found by two friends who had last spoken to her about noon Friday.

They went to the one-bedroom unit early Tuesday afternoon and found the doors locked. They called the fire department to help get inside.

Neighbor Ralph Mendenhall said he saw the two friends, a man and woman, pull up to the house in a white pickup. He also saw the fire truck pull up, then saw a firefighter grab an ax and head for the door.

"I heard quite a few whacks," he said.

Moments later, the male friend exited the home.

"He came out holding his head, basically breaking down," Mendenhall said.

Detectives took the two friends to the Sheriff's Office to be interviewed.

Sheriff's officials said there were no signs of forced entry. Wheeler apparently had been dead for some time.

Neighbors, who said they thought the woman lived alone, said they had not seen or heard anything unusual at the home in recent days.

They did not see much activity at the triplex, where they said the woman had moved only a few months ago.

Detectives towed Wheeler's car, a Toyota Camry, and removed parts of the front door to be analyzed.

Anyone with information about the homicide can call Crime Stoppers at 1-800-873-TIPS.

- Chris Tisch can be reached at 445-4156 or tisch@sptimes.com

[Last modified August 27, 2003, 02:32:16]


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