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Safe helped crack murder case

Police say a couple's personal trainer killed them to get at its contents - and sought help to carry it off. That started a string of tips.

By JOSE CARDENAS
Published August 19, 2006


photo
[Handout photo]
An undated photo shows Frank and Linda Deluca with their personal trainer Richard Robards, right.

Richard T. Robards is accused in the murders of a Clearwater couple.

CLEARWATER - At 5 feet 10 and 220 pounds, personal trainer Richard T. Robards is powerfully built, but even he couldn't hoist a stolen 500-pound safe by himself, police say.

So Robards called a friend.

That call, plus publicity about the safe and a lucky find by some city recycling workers, led detectives to charge Robards with two counts of first-degree murder on Friday.

A onetime male revue dancer, Robards, 39, of Clearwater was charged with fatally stabbing Frank and Linda Deluca at their home on Murray Avenue on Aug. 1.

"This is a story of avarice, of betrayal, of a man who was used to a finer lifestyle than he has been enjoying lately," Clearwater police spokesman Wayne Shelor said.

Robards had lived in a house on Treasure Island and worked as a personal trainer to business executives and pro athletes, police said.

In 1995, he won the heavyweight and overall titles at the Tampa Bay Classic body-building competition. As a dancer, he used the name Damian, and at one point he advertised his Seminole fitness business at www.supremetotalbody.com.

But by the time Robards was arrested, he was moving among cheap hotels and friends' homes.

"He fell on (hard) times financially, and started taking advantage of friends and situations that led to this burglary and theft, and it led to murder," Shelor said.

Robards had worked as a personal trainer for the Delucas, who kept a lot of cash - plus jewelry, collectible coins and a gun - in a safe at their home.

Before the Delucas were slain, Robards approached an acquaintance and asked him to help him burglarize a home to steal a safe, police said. But the friend didn't join him.

On Aug. 1, the Delucas had plugged in a pot of coffee and retrieved the newspaper when Robards arrived at their home, police said.

Robards stabbed both victims in the upper chest and neck, police said. Frank Deluca, 60, had defensive wounds on his hands, while Linda Deluca, 59, was stabbed in the back.

Robards then used newspaper and gasoline to start a fire in their home office that he hoped would destroy evidence of the crime, police said.

The next day, a friend called police after finding the Delucas dead in the house. Because the house was closed up, the fire ran out of oxygen and burned itself out.

Investigators noticed fresh drag marks on the driveway between the Delucas' two cars leading to the street. Police thought the killer moved the safe out of the house after the stabbings.

Later, detectives learned that on the day of the murders, Robards asked a friend to bring a sport utility vehicle, and later a trailer, to help him move the safe. Police said Robards told his friend it was his safe and he had lost the combination.

The friend did not know about the bodies in the home, police said.

Within hours of releasing photos of a similar safe, investigators received numerous tips from people who kept bringing up Robards' name.

During the two-week investigation, tips eventually led detectives to the safe at the Palm Harbor home of Robards' friend.

During the investigation detectives also developed a more complex image of the Delucas.

People interviewed by police told them there were rumors of marijuana being sold from the Delucas' house. Investigators discovered that Frank Deluca had a federal conviction for selling marijuana out of his paint business in the early 1990s.

City recycling workers alerted police when they found a purse and other personal items in a cardboard recycling container on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard.

The purse belonged to Linda Deluca, and the personal items belonged to Robards. Detective Christopher Precious thinks Robards took the purse from the Delucas' home and disposed of it and a shirt in an attempt to eliminate evidence of the crime.

Undercover detectives arrested Robards on felony marijuana charges on Aug. 7, and he remained at the Pinellas County Jail until being charged with murder Friday.

When he was taken into custody, Robards was living in a Motel 6 on U.S. 19 in Clearwater. Police say they found a hunting rifle with a scope and about 11 pounds of marijuana in a rental unit in his name.

They are still investigating whether there is any connection between the large sums of money in the safe, the rumors that the Delucas sold marijuana and the marijuana found on Robards.

[Last modified August 19, 2006, 01:33:26]


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