New interest in missing woman's boyfriend
Earl Pippin III is the sole beneficiary to the estate of Sandra Prince. He has stopped answering their questions, police say.
By REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published September 14, 2006
TEMPLE TERRACE - Earl Pippin III seemed like a grieving boyfriend when he showed up at Cafe Don Jose on March 24, Sandra Prince's 60th birthday.
Prince's friends gathered there that day to remember the Temple Terrace social worker. She'd not been seen since Dec. 30, and information from investigators had been scarce.
Luke Horvath, Prince's ex-husband, said Pippin arrived after the news media had left. Though Pippin and Prince had been dating for five years, according to police, it was the first time most of her friends had met the 52-year-old Tampa contractor.
Now, Temple Terrace police are calling Pippin a "person of interest" in Prince's disappearance. He is the sole beneficiary to her estate and, in the past two weeks, stopped answering questions from police, Temple Terrace spokesman Michael Dunn said.
"If he is the person, he managed to dupe us," Horvath said on Wednesday. "He presented himself as a grieving boyfriend."
When police began their investigation of Prince's disappearance, they said her door was unlocked and her purse missing, but there was no sign of forced entry at her home.
They revealed Wednesday, though, that a large amount of Prince's blood was found in the trunk of her white 1994 Buick Park Avenue, which was parked in her carport after her disappearance.
It was the same car captured on ATM surveillance photos in the days following her disappearance, when a masked man leaned from the window and tried to withdraw money from her accounts using her ATM card, Dunn said.
Though police said the blood, video and financial information is enough to suspect foul play, Prince's case is still only considered a "missing and endangered person" case. The FBI is assisting in the investigation, Dunn said.
Prince was an executive at the Agency for Community Treatment Services Inc., a substance abuse center she helped found three decades ago.
Public records show that Pippin worked on Prince's house, located at 11507 Moffat Place, and performed a contracting job at ACTS.
Records also show that Pippin is married and owns a house with his wife of 20 years, Gale Pippin, at 4007 W Inman Drive in Tampa. Gale Pippin filed for divorce from her husband on Aug. 21, according to court records. Neither she nor her attorney could be reached Wednesday.
Earl Pippin has been residing at property he owns on Lake Panasoffkee in Sumter County, Dunn said.
Sumter County sheriff's deputies searched property in Lake Panasoffkee a couple of times, according to spokesman Lt. Bobby Caruthers. In January, cadaver-sniffing dogs searched Prince's property at 4746 County Road 300.
Earl Pippin could not be reached by phone Wednesday, but he has declined in the past to talk with the St. Petersburg Times about his relationship with Prince. Police said he has retained an attorney, but the Times could not determine who his attorney is. Pippin has no criminal record in Florida.
His father, Earl Pippin Jr. of Tampa, said on Wednesday that he hadn't spoken to his son in a few days, and learned from television news that investigators were labeling him a person of interest.
To Luke Horvath, the news that she had made Pippin her sole beneficiary seemed out of line with what he knows about her. "I don't think it's something she would have done," he said. "Sandra was very, very careful with money and partnerships."
There is an $80,000 reward for information leading to the location of Prince. Anyone with information is asked to call Detective Michael Pridemore at 813 989-7110.
Times researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3383.