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Body raises specter of notorious case

A body found in 1982 is similar to Oba Chandler's three victims. Officials wonder: Is he their man?


© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 22, 2001

Twelve years ago, in one of the most horrific crimes in local history, Oba Chandler raped and killed three women from Ohio. He tied concrete blocks to their necks with rope and tossed them into Tampa Bay.

Now investigators are wondering whether Chandler also killed a fourth woman whose body was found floating off Anna Maria Island in 1982. A white rope tied to a concrete block was looped around her chest and waist.

"Obviously, that matches the Oba Chandler M.O. (method of operation) in terms of what he did with the Rogers people," said St. Petersburg police Sgt. Mike Puetz, head of the city's homicide squad.

Chandler killed Joan Rogers, 36, and her daughters, Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14. He was convicted in 1994 and is on Florida's Death Row.

Manatee County investigators recently reopened the case of the mysterious Jane Doe found in the Gulf of Mexico in September 1982 nearly 27 miles northwest of Longboat Pass.

St. Petersburg police will search their files to see where Chandler was in the summer of 1982 -- specifically, whether he was behind bars at the time.

"If he was out and about at that period of time, it's certainly not out of the realm of possibility that he would be a suspect in that case," Puetz said.

They'll pass along their findings to Manatee investigators. However, linking Chandler to this fourth killing would be a challenge, Puetz said.

The dead woman has never been identified, and Chandler has never admitted killing the Rogers women. Even as he awaits execution, he has maintained his innocence.

"Without an identity, it makes it extra hard to trace her last steps," Puetz said. "It's a daunting task without a victim identification and with an uncooperative suspect."

But the District 12 Medical Examiner's Office in Bradenton still hopes to identify the woman.

Last week, officials removed her body from its grave, hoping to link the remains to a Pasco County 16-year-old who has been missing since April 1982. Wendy Huggy was at a friend's apartment in Clearwater and was expected back at her grandmother's in Holiday, but she never came home. She is Pasco County's only longtime missing child case.

Forensic dentists compared Huggy's dental charts to the murder victim's skull, but decided they were too different; the woman was not Huggy.

Investigators aren't giving up. The woman's bones will be taken to the University of Florida next week to be examined by a forensic anthropologist.

The woman's right hand yielded five fingerprints. The Manatee County Sheriff's Office entered the new prints into state and local databases but didn't find a match. Detectives are working to get them entered into fingerprint databases maintained by other states and the federal government.

The cases of the Rogers women and the Jane Doe found in 1982 appear similar, but there is one difference. All the Rogers women were stripped from the waist down, and the Jane Doe was wearing jeans.

Chandler was living in Florida in 1982; federal agents arrested him in Orlando for counterfeiting that year. Chandler later served time in a federal prison in Texas before returning to Florida to serve a prison sentence for robbery.

-- The Sarasota Herald-Tribune contributed to this report.

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