tampabay.com

Man taps missing woman's funds

Police are looking for a masked man who was seen using Sandra Prince's ATM card after her disappearance.

By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published February 2, 2006


TEMPLE TERRACE - Investigators are seeking a masked man they say withdrew money from Sandra Prince's bank accounts several times in the days just after she went missing.

More than a month after Prince was last seen, Temple Terrace police on Wednesday released video and photographs of a man with his face covered approaching ATMs at Temple Terrace and North Tampa banks.

Prince, 59, was last seen Dec. 30 at the Agency for Community Treatment Services in Tampa, where she was employed for about 30 years as a social worker.

"I'm not sure I'd classify it as good news," Temple Terrace spokeswoman Paula MacDonald said, though the development marked the first major public break in the case. "It's certainly interesting that this person has obviously been able to access her card and her accounts."

Police describe the man as a white male with a large, stocky build and dark hair on his arms. In the photos, he has no visible rings, jewelry, or tattoos and is wearing dark pants, a light-colored, thin-line, plaid shirt, and some kind of mask, possibly green.

The man was driving what appears to be a light-colored, mid-sized American-made four-door vehicle - a description that sounds similar to Prince's white 1994 Buick Park Avenue, though police are not linking the two. Prince's car is parked in her garage. Police said early on that they thought she might have driven it to North Florida over New Year's weekend.

Additionally, the man investigators want to talk to might also have been wearing a neck brace or collar that moves stiffly behind him, according to the black and white images police obtained.

Police have released few details about the case since Prince's disappearance New Year's Eve weekend. Her door was unlocked and her purse missing, they said, but her home had no signs of struggle.

Even as investigators posted the new images at www.templeterrace.com/police/case06_00030.htm on Wednesday, MacDonald said she wasn't able to make public the dates or times of the withdrawals, the banks where the images were taken, or how much money the man may have obtained, citing the ongoing investigation.

"As things progress, they (investigators) may be more specific about the information they give," MacDonald said.

Investigators subpoenaed Prince's financial records, which led them to the bank surveillance tape. MacDonald said Temple Terrace police have had the financial records for a couple of weeks. Investigators spent last week working with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to enhance the video evidence before releasing it, she said.

Wednesday's development was both welcome and unwelcome news to those who know and love Prince. They were glad for a break in the case and the possibility that someone would recognize the man. But they were unsettled by images of a someone disguising himself to access Prince's money.

"I just have a pit in my stomach," said Teree Miller, 38, Prince's neighbor in Temple Terrace's tight-knit Teresa Arbor subdivision.

Miller stumbled across the ATM videos during what has become her regular check of the Temple Terrace Web site for any news in Prince's disappearance. "I think anyone who would be using her teller card with a mask over their face is just . . ." she said, trailing off into a groan.

At the ACTS, Inc. offices on N 56th Street, an investigator stopped by Wednesday to show the video to employees to see if they recognized anyone. Julie Reynolds, attorney for the non-profit substance abuse treatment center, said they weren't able to identify the man.

But Reynolds urged anyone with information to come forward.

"We don't want to speculate or rush to any conclusions," she said when asked what she felt this meant for her friend's well-being. "We're just trying to work with the police to help them do their job."

Also on Wednesday, Prince's family raised the reward offered for information leading to Prince's whereabouts from $50,000 to $75,000.

Prince, an only child, grew up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina and graduated from Duke University. Twice divorced, with no children, her closest relatives appear to be her mother, Dovie Hamby, 91, of Boone, N.C., and a cousin, Jim Moore, 68, who resides in Virginia.

Prince is often described as kind and giving, but also very private, independent and professionally driven. Public records from 2004 show she was the second-highest paid employee at ACTS, which she co-founded after getting her master's degree at Florida State University. She oversees staff development at ACTS, drawing a salary of $112,095, the 2004 records show.

Over the years, Prince acquired many properties, including rentals and Section 8 homes.

Hillsborough County public records show she owns 12 properties assessed at a combined $1.3-million. She co-owns five of those with ACTS executive director John Marrocco and two with Jeffrey Haynes, head of Tampa non-profit Haynes Service Corp. Additionally, Prince recently accumulated nine properties assessed at a total of $318,200 in the Lake Panasoffkee area of Sumter County. Prince also has land in North Carolina.

In the weeks after Prince's disappearance, longtime friend Jerry Horton, 53, of Venice recalled Prince telling him that she bought a place at Lake Panasoffkee with a man she was dating.

Records show she co-owns a small tract of land there with Tampa contractor Earl Pippin. Pippin, 52, who records show is married, has said the two of them are not dating. Pippin has done construction work at Prince's property as well as at ACTS, according to public permits.

Police searched one of the Sumter tracts in the week she was declared missing. A spokesman there said they recovered nothing.

Times news researchers Cathy Wos and Angie Drobnic Holan contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or 813 226-3383.

TO HELP

Anyone with information about Sandra Prince or the man in the video should call Det. Darrin Berberat at (813) 989-7118 or, after hours, (813) 989-7110.