tampabay.com

Man mysteriously disappears Feb. 6

Glasses, cigarettes and slippers are the only traces found of the 53-year-old Dover man.

By BEN MONTGOMERY
Published February 23, 2007


DOVER - The sky was dark, and the dog was barking. Ronnie Staggs, wild eyes, nine fingers and recently baptized, said he heard something. He grabbed a shovel and walked into the night.

His wife barely noticed.

When the sun came up and the horses started to stir, Brenda saw that Ronnie wasn't home. She headed for the porch, for the steps, for the lawn, and there they were.

His slippers. Black, size 9.

* * *

Ronnie Staggs loved this place so much he wore a T-shirt that said Dover to his wedding.

He used to swim in the sawmill pits and cruise town in a Chevy Nova with Mike Machado and a billy goat named Suzie.

Everybody knew Ronnie and, if not, they knew Donnie, Danny, Dennis or Mack, his brothers.

He met Brenda when she was 14. Her mama made him cut his hair and bought him his first pair of glasses.

He left town only to work in a cotton mill in Alexander City, Ala., and again to work on the oil derricks in Kermit, Texas. But he always came back.

"This is all he knows," Brenda said. "It's not like him to leave."

The mobile home is paid off. The grandbabies are fond of him.

He and Brenda had their troubles, but 32 years can test anybody. She loved him so much she pawned her Dodge pickup to hire him a lawyer. And he called her Big Mama and helped her with her socks every morning.

Brenda didn't call the sheriff for nine days because Ronnie sometimes smokes crack. And sometimes he doesn't act like himself and he'll stay over with Uncle Larry or Little Al.

But lately he's been different, she said. He got baptized at the church up the road. He was talking about remodeling the house. He had big plans once he got his money from the settlement.

"I think something mighty bad's happened to him," said his brother, Mac Staggs. "Two days prior to him going missing he was telling me and his friends what he was gonna do with that money."

Ronnie was impaled in the groin in a tree-trimming accident. His workers' compensation settlement was $16,000, and it remains with his lawyer.

"He come up missing the same day the money came in," Mac Staggs said. "Fifty-three years and this never happened to him before, then the day he gets $16,000 he disappears?"

It's possible he could have owed someone, Mac Staggs said, but why would anyone kidnap Ronnie before he got the money?

The sheriff's detectives came and took notes, Brenda said. A flier was e-mailed to the media.

Missing since Feb. 6: White male, 5-feet-11, 165 pounds. Last seen wearing tan and green striped shirt and tan pants.

They searched along the creek nearby and let the dogs loose in the woods.

Brenda found his glasses and cigarettes on the grass around the corner.

Ben Montgomery can be reached at bmontgomery@sptimes.com or 813 661-2443.