Murder suspect found dead

Police believe he shot himself after killing his estranged wife on Tuesday.

By CASEY CORA, Times Staff Writer
Published December 6, 2007

TAMPA - Humberto Cruz walked into the small front office Tuesday, demanding keys to his estranged wife's apartment, claiming he wanted to install a plasma television. It was going to be a surprise. For the holidays.

"He was so persistent about getting in that apartment," said Vanessa Pacheco, the assistant manager who denied his request. "Something just didn't seem right."

Four hours later, police arrived at a macabre crime scene in the couple's Old Seminole Heights neighborhood, where a holiday display twinkled in the front yard and an outdoor speaker chimed Christmas songs. Mindrey Sanchez-Rodriguez, a 30-year-old mother of two, lay gunned down in the doorway.

Cruz, her husband, was found dead about 7 a.m. Wednesday on a patch of dewy grass between River Shore Drive and the banks of the Hillsborough River, about a half-mile from home. He had a gunshot wound to his head.

Police suspect Cruz, 65, killed Sanchez-Rodriguez, then killed himself. They leave behind two daughters, ages 4 and 8.

They were married for about 11 years, police said. Records show Cruz divorced a previous wife in the late 1990s.

Sanchez-Rodriguez sued him for child support in 2002. He was arrested Sept. 27 on a domestic violence charge, accused of choking his wife, records show.

About a week later, she moved out of their house and into a two-bedroom unit at Dauphine Apartments, near Hillsborough and Armenia avenues. She brought the couple's two daughters with her.

Staffers at the apartment complex said she was friendly. Her two girls, adorable.

They believed Sanchez-Rodriguez had moved into the apartment to get away from the wiry older man who popped in their office Tuesday.

"I can tell you this," Pacheco said. "She was petrified of him."

As squad cars rushed to the home at 204 W Flora St. Tuesday night, they found Sanchez-Rodriguez's body in the doorway. Her white Toyota Camry was parked in the driveway. All four windows were down. The house was empty.

Moments before, neighbor Beth McCormick fielded a phone call. A woman named "Marty" was on the line, calling from a South Carolina phone number. The caller seemed worried because her father's cell phone was turned off. He lived across the street, the caller said. She wanted McCormick to see if he was okay.

McCormick says she walked across the street, knocking once on the white door. Then she took a step back. Through the door's paneled glass, she saw a body on the floor.

Then, she saw Cruz leaving through a side door.

Startled, she handed him the phone. He conversed in Spanish with the woman who had called McCormick, then hopped into the passenger seat of a waiting pickup truck and left.

Passers-by found his body the next morning. He left no note. It's unclear when he shot himself but he appeared to have been dead several hours, Tampa police Cpl. Jared Douds said.

Douds said relatives were caring for the children, who did not witness the shootings.

Recently, the Dauphine Apartments began collecting holiday toys to distribute to the children of tenants.

The Cruz girls had been added to the list only the day before.

"So they can get something for Christmas," Pacheco said.

Times news researchers Shirl Kennedy and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Casey Cora can bereached at 813 226-3386 or ccora@sptimes.com.