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Knock on the door leads to attack on 83-year-old

Police say a man trashed his next-door neighbor's house and later stabbed the widow living there with scissors.

By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published May 26, 2004

TAMPA - The knock came before dawn Tuesday, but it didn't alarm Florence Chiszar, an 83-year-old widow.

Her son Daniel had left for work a few minutes earlier, so Chiszar figured he might have forgotten something and come back.

But when she opened the door of her 1950s ranch house near the Hillsborough River, she came face to face with an irate stranger who wanted to get inside.

Police say the man was next-door neighbor Gregory B. White, a convicted murderer who had spent 12 years in prison before he was released into a supervised curfew and drug-testing program in mid 2002.

White, 5 foot 9 and 225 pounds, pushed his way inside and knocked Chiszar down, said Tampa police spokesman Joe Durkin. "He starts breaking things, just ransacking the place," Durkin said. "Our victim is just terrified, she's yelling at him to leave."

As White continued trashing the well-kept home that Chiszar and her husband, Alfred, bought in 1986, she saw a chance to escape.

She hurried outside, but White quickly caught up to her, Durkin said. Police say he dragged Chiszar to a spot in the grass beside her house, then pulled out a pair of scissors he'd brought from home and began stabbing at her.

She put up her arms in defense and screamed as loudly as she could, alerting neighbors who called 911 as they looked outside in horror.

When Tampa police officers arrived almost two minutes later, they found Chiszar on the lawn, where she'd crawled under a bush to hide from White. White, meanwhile, had gone to 403 W Sitka St., where he tried unsuccessfully to break open the front door, Durkin said.

When officers confronted him - scissors still in hand - he surrendered, according to a police report.

Chiszar had minor cuts and scratches on her hands, and was treated at the scene.

"She was very courageous to stick up for herself and try to fight him off," Durkin said. "But as you can imagine, she's very shaken."

White was held without bail in the county jail. He was charged with armed burglary, aggravated battery on a victim over 65 years old, armed kidnapping and attempted armed burglary.

"His only explanation for all this was that he'd been smoking rock cocaine," Durkin said. "Hopefully, with all these charges and the fact that he was on house arrest already, he won't be getting back out."

State corrections records show White was sentenced in 1990 to 27 years in prison for second-degree murder, after pleading guilty in the December 1989 shooting death of a man in the College Hill area. Police said the shooting happened after a dispute over a $10 crack cocaine sale.

The murder conviction followed a string of arrests dating back to 1983, on charges including grand motor vehicle theft and robbery, state criminal records show.

According to officials with the Department of Corrections, White was released in June 2002 after serving 12 years. But he was also sentenced to 17 years of "conditional release supervision."

Joe Papy, spokesman for the Corrections Department, said the program essentially gave White a curfew. He had to be inside his residence at 402 W Sitka St. between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. He also underwent monthly drug testing.

In October 2002, White was arrested and charged with violating the supervised release agreement, after a drug test came back positive for cocaine, Papy said. He was released two months later into state custody, and served another two months in the Hillsborough Correctional Institution, records show.

Residents of the neighborhood, called Purity Springs Heights, said they had no idea a convicted murderer was living among them.

The neighborhood north of Sulphur Springs is well-established and quiet, a mix of longtime elderly residents and new families enticed by its proximity to the Hillsborough River.

"I suppose something like this could happen anywhere," said Elizabeth Harris, who has lived nearby with her husband James for 47 years. "But having a criminal live next door doesn't feel very good."

Mavis Douglas, 73, said she's never felt afraid during the nearly two decades she's called the neighborhood home.

"But this is frightening," she said. "I don't know whether to sit on the porch by myself anymore."

- Times staff researcher Kitty Bennett contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 226-3373 or svansickler@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 26, 2004, 01:00:46]


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