Murder suspect found - but he's 25 stories up

A Clearwater man authorities were seeking in the slaying of his ex-girlfriend turns up atop a crane in Atlanta.

Published May 27, 2005

Carl Edward Roland's life recently had shown signs of unraveling.

On Thursday he was atop a crane 25 stories above a busy Atlanta street, wanted on a first-degree murder charge.

Since March, the 41-year-old Clearwater man had quit his job as a computer software salesman, filed for bankruptcy with just $40 in the bank and talked about moving to Las Vegas.

He also wanted to get back together with his former girlfriend, Jennifer L. Gonzalez, 36, authorities said.

Last week, Roland dropped by the pool at her Oldsmar apartment complex to bring her food and rub her feet. A few days later, Pinellas County sheriff's detectives say, he asked an acquaintance for a gun to kill her.

Authorities now say he returned and strangled her, leaving her body in a retention pond near her apartment. A witness saw him run away, leaving his sandals behind, detectives say.

It was the start of a bizarre odyssey that officials say took Roland from Pinellas County to a construction crane high over Atlanta.

Perching on the crane's boom for more than 24 hours Wednesday and Thursday, Roland snarled traffic in Atlanta's busy Buckhead business district and confounded those who thought they knew him. He remained there late Thursday night.

"Sugarfoot, it's your baby sister," yelled Tawanna Roland of Atlanta, who came to the crane after getting a call from detectives, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Please come down."

She borrowed a hand mirror to try to flash signals to him and asked for a megaphone to call to her long-lost brother.

"It took me eight years to talk to him because I did not know where he was," she said.

* * *

Carl Roland and Jennifer Gonzalez had dated on and off for three or four years, Gonzalez's older daughter told investigators. Gonzalez, a divorced mother with two girls, 4 and 14, had tried to break off the relationship.

Friends remember Gonzalez as a stunning woman who loved to dance and worked two jobs to support her daughters.

A graduate of Pinellas Park High School, she was adored by the toddlers she taught at A Child's Choice day care in Pinellas Park, where she worked about eight years. She left three years ago but kept in touch with her co-workers.

"She is hilarious," said the day care's owner, Angie Lincicome. "She is so quick-witted."

Neighbor Leah Serrano, 27, said Gonzalez broke up with Roland and started dating someone else. Roland asked Gonzalez to move to Las Vegas with him, Serrano said, and she said no.

Two weeks ago, Gonzalez went boating with friend and former co-worker Belinda Hubbard. Roland tried to call Gonzalez, leaving messages that he wanted to get back together. Gonzalez avoided talking to him, Hubbard said.

But Gonzalez wasn't afraid, friends said. A week ago, Gonzalez and Serrano were at the pool when Roland dropped by with food from Chick-fil-A. She opted for his soda instead.

"He was massaging her feet," Serrano said. "You wouldn't think he'd hurt her."

Others told detectives they saw a different side of Roland.

On Sunday, Roland told a man from his Clearwater apartment complex and the man's girlfriend that Gonzalez was cheating on him, authorities say.

He asked the couple if they could get him a gun so he could kill her, according to a four-page affidavit from sheriff's Detective Michael Bailey.

Roland returned to the Westminster apartments about 4:50 p.m. Tuesday, asking Gonzalez to speak to him outside.

By the pond, detectives say, the 6-foot-2, 240-pound man strangled Gonzalez, who was 5-feet-5 and weighed less than half as much.

Serrano's 3-year-old son was at Gonzalez's home, playing with her 4-year-old daughter, when she heard a neighbor shouting to call 911.

The boy cried that his playmate's mom was in the water. Serrano pushed past a maintenance man and saw Gonzalez in the pond, wearing green shorts and her red Target work shirt.

Investigators found a man's black-and-white Adidas sandal, size 12, on the bank near Gonzalez's body. The second sandal was in the pond. In Gonzalez's apartment detectives found a picture of Roland wearing the same type of sandal and learned Roland wore size-12 shoes.

On Wednesday night, detectives obtained a first-degree murder warrant for Roland and asked for the public's help in finding his 1999 silver Toyota 4Runner.

By then, Roland was already in Atlanta, hundreds of feet in the air.

* * *

About 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Roland drove to the construction site and told a worker to get out of the way, that he had "already broken the law and hurt someone," Atlanta police Chief Richard Pennington told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Roland then took the crane elevator to the 25-story-high platform over a high-rise condominium being built on Peachtree Road.

Throughout the night, police negotiators tried to talk Roland down. He refused food or water, but accepted a jacket to warm him during the 50-degree night.

He grew up in Selma, Ala., one of 10 kids. He graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle in 1991 with a bachelor's degree in business administration.

In Washington, where he worked for US Bank, he married, but only briefly, said his former father-in-law. He was too emotional to finish a song he sang to his bride, Jean Marie Noble, in front of their 150 wedding guests in Seattle.

Almost immediately after the wedding, however, Roland began staying out late and coming home drunk, something he didn't do in the year they dated. Six weeks into the marriage, Norm Noble got a phone call from his new son-in-law at 12:30 a.m.

"He said, "Come get your daughter. She bothers me,"' said Noble, who lives in Redmond, Wash. "And I got over there to the apartment, which was close by, and found my daughter in her pajamas sitting on the stairs leading to the second-floor apartment."

Roland's brother said his family hasn't heard from Roland in years.

James Roland, 45, who lives in Washington state, said that his brother had a child with a woman he never married and that he was married at least twice.

"This is kind of shocking to all of us," James Roland said. "... We knew he was down in Florida, but I don't know what he was doing or who he was with."

In March, Carl Roland filed a petition to liquidate his debts under Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy code. He said in his filing that he owed creditors and the IRS a total of $39,123.

About the same time, Roland quit his job as a software salesman for Axiom International in Clearwater.

On Thursday, the president of the company was stunned to hear about Roland, whom he remembered as an average employee.

"What a shock," Axiom president Ed Clark said. "... He seemed like a normal guy."

Times researcher Cathy Wos and staff writers Candace Rondeaux, Christina K. Cosdon, Jeff Testerman and Richard Danielson contributed to this report.