Dig in yard yields decomposing body

A neighbor's tip about a possible corpse leads police to an empty house in Sulphur Springs.

Published May 24, 2007

TAMPA - Police dug up the decomposing body Wednesday of a woman who had been buried behind a vacant home in Sulphur Springs.

Investigators began looking into the home after someone in the neighborhood tipped officers on April 26 to the possibility of a corpse in the yard at 8217 N 18th St. Police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said detectives and a forensic team used shovels to dig around the property earlier this month but found nothing.

They went back a short time later with cadaver dogs from Sarasota County to search again, McElroy said, and the dogs "alerted on one area in the back yard."

Police used a backhoe on Wednesday to search that spot. Nearly six feet into their digging, they found the body.

"At this point, we're focused on trying to identify the victim," McElroy said. "She's so badly decomposed, it's not clear what age she is, how she died, her race or how long she's been there."

Detectives have a possible ID, McElroy said, but they plan to wait for the Medical Examiner's Office to use fingerprints or dental records to be sure. Police are also combing through their missing persons cases for a possible match, McElroy said.

Hillsborough County property appraiser records list the Bank of New York as trustee for the two-bedroom home on a corner lot. A "for sale" sign in the front yard gives a number for Coldwell Banker real estate agents. An agent handling the sale of the property declined to comment on the house or the police investigation.

More than a dozen people in the neighborhood gathered as investigators worked. Some climbed into trees to get a peek over the wooden privacy fence surrounding the back yard.

Leda Williams, 30, moved to the block less than six months ago. Most of the homes that line the street where the body was found are vacant, she said.

"I'm ready to move now," she said. "I didn't know Sulphur Springs was this dangerous."

McElroy said she was unaware of any history of police having to respond to the home.

"We're talking to anyone who has a connection to that house," she said.

Anyone with information about the investigation can call Tampa police at 813 231-6130.

Kevin Graham can be reached at (813) 226-3433 or kgraham@sptimes.com.