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Missing woman's mom dies

Sandra Prince's mother, 92, still believed a detective could solve her daughter's case.

By ALEXANDRA ZAYAS and REBECCA CATALANELLO
Published March 17, 2007


The 92-year-old mother lived 673 miles away. But Dovie Hamby never gave up on the search for her daughter, Tampa social worker Sandra Prince.

About every two months since Prince's disappearance, Hamby travelled from Boone, N.C., to Temple Terrace. Each time, she insisted on speaking privately with a detective, not even allowing the niece who drove her down to see her anxiety.

Hamby was a true Southern belle, formal and reserved, hiding her vulnerability with a keen wit, sharp mind and impeccable clothing and jewelry.

But Hamby died last week after she fell in her garage. Boone police found her March 9, lying in the cold with broken bones. She was still alive, but with a very low body temperature.

Hamby was hospitalized, and died Sunday, never knowing what has become of her only child.

*   *   *

Hamby grew concerned in late December 2005 when she didn't get her weekly Wednesday telephone call from her daughter.

On Jan. 3, police found the back door of Prince's Temple Terrace home unlocked, her purse missing and blood inside the trunk of her car. Her cell phone, almost always on her hip, lay on the kitchen counter.

Police released their strongest clue the following month: video footage of a man with his face deliberately hidden, withdrawing money from Prince's accounts at local ATMs after her disappearance.

They named her boyfriend of five years, Earl C. Pippin, a "person of interest" in September, and said he was the sole beneficiary of her estate.

Police have released little more in the past half year. But Hamby had the utmost faith that Temple Terrace police Detective Michael Pridemore would get her the answers.

*   *   *

Pridemore was home with his family Sunday when he got the call that Hamby had died. It stung.

"I just felt it was my responsibility to bring her closure," Pridemore said.

John Marrocco, who worked with Prince for 30 years, said he was shocked when he heard Prince's mother had died. Though she was in her 90s, Hamby looked anything but weak.

"The last time I'd seen her, it looked like she'd last forever," he said.

Together, Marrocco and Prince founded the Agency for Community Treatment Services, which assisted people with drug and alcohol addiction.

Marrocco recalled Hamby's yearly visits to Florida, lunching with mother and daughter at the Colonnade Restaurant in South Tampa.

In the 1970s, Hamby used to tease her daughter about the torn jeans and tattered Florida State University baseball cap Prince wore to work at the Salvation Army. He said Prince once gave in to her mother's nagging and sent the jeans to Hamby for repairs. Her mother threw them away.

"They used to fight like daughter and mother," Marrocco said. "But I know she loved her very much."

*   *   *

Helpless after her daughter's disappearance, the mother did what she could. She offered $80,000 to anyone who could find Prince.

And she paid someone to maintain her daughter's newly-remodeled home and gardens.

"She said she wanted to keep everything exactly how Sandra left it so it would be nice when she returned," said Prince's friend Susan Horton.

Hamby will be laid to rest on her daughter's birthday. But her mission will live on.

The handyman said he will continue to toil at the residence, blowing leaves from the roof, straightening the yard, maintaining the pool.

And the detective who once worked to give a grieving mother answers said Hamby's death has only strengthened his resolve to solve this case.

Said Pridemore: "I don't know if it could get any stronger."

Alexandra Zayas can be reached at 813 226-3354 or azayas@sptimes.com.