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Landscaper charged in Manatee slayings

Despite an arrest, the investigation of the killings of a woman and her two daughters continues, sheriff says.

By LEANORA MINAI and MIKE BRASSFIELD

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 28, 1999


BRADENTON -- On one side of the media room sat Albert Dewey Brannon Jr., sobbing, breathing heavily, rubbing a small picture of his two slain daughters.

Across from him sat Robert Meyer, stone-faced and ashen, restraining his grief over the loss of two granddaughters and his daughter, Sherry Brannon.

The men barely acknowledged one another.

Into this tense silence walked Manatee County Sheriff Charles B. Wells to announce the arrest of Larry Parks, a Manatee County landscaper, in the Sept. 16 slayings of Mrs. Brannon and her daughters, Shelby and Cassidy.

But, Wells said, the investigation is not over.

"We will seriously be attempting to determine if Parks acted alone or if he conspired with anyone to commit this crime," Wells said.

Authorities say Mrs. Brannon's estranged husband, Dewey Brannon, and others are still being investigated in the case.

"I cannot eliminate Mr. Brannon," Wells said.

The announcement of Parks' arrest brought some relief to the relatives of Mrs. Brannon, 35, Shelby, 7, and Cassidy, 4. But it also raised scores of new questions about motive and possible accomplices.

"We still have many unanswered questions and are unable to find any reason and any real peace in the arrest," said Mrs. Brannon's mother, Dolly Meyer of St. Petersburg, during an impromptu memorial service Wednesday evening.

Wells said Parks, of Myakka City, has made statements to others about the case.

"And those people are cooperating with us, and that gives us reason to move on and to at least look at the possibility that he was assisted in this case," Wells said, refusing to elaborate.

Parks, who was already being held in the Manatee County Jail on an unrelated sexual battery charge, was charged at 9:45 a.m. Wednesday with three counts of first-degree-murder.

A father of two and a former husband, Parks has five domestic violence cases filed against him in Manatee County Court.

"He is like a walking time bomb," said Susan L. Moore, an ex-girlfriend.

Ex-wife Deborah Jean Parks asked for a divorce in 1985, citing Parks' "ungovernable temper," "psychological abuse," "neglect" and "impatience with our daughter."

She died this past March in a traffic accident in New York. Other family members of Parks could not be reached Wednesday.

Parks worked as a laborer for Tropicana Products in Bradenton before he started digging retention ponds.

Former girlfriends described Parks as a heavy drinker with an "attitude problem" and a propensity for violence.

"Larry pulled an open 4-inch pocket knife, put it up to my throat and verbally threatened to kill me and hide my body where no one would ever find me," said former girlfriend Brenda G. Canaday in court records.

Manatee County investigators refused Wednesday to discuss specific details of the Brannon killings or why Parks may have killed the family.

They did reveal that Mrs. Brannon and her daughters suffered multiple stab wounds and that their throats had been cut. They were not sexually assaulted.

Dewey Brannon has told authorities he found his wife and daughter, Shelby, dead in the house on Sept. 16 -- Mrs. Brannon's 35th birthday. Cassidy died later at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

Mrs. Brannon, a nurse at St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, where she grew up and where her parents live, filed for divorce Aug. 13.

Since the killings, Manatee investigators have logged more than 60 tips, conducted more than 200 interviews and submitted 40 samples of DNA for testing.

But it was Parks' arrest Friday on a sexual battery charge that linked the 45-year-old to Mrs. Brannon and her daughters, said Maj. Connie Shingledecker.

Until then, Shingledecker said, "he was another name on the list."

The evidence: Yellow twine used in Friday's sexual battery case matched twine found at the Brannon's home the day of the murders. A bloody shoe print in the Brannon home matched tread from a pair of shoes found at Parks' home. Hair and blood drawn from Parks matched DNA recovered from the Brannon crime scene.

On Friday, investigators say, Parks assaulted a Bradenton woman he knew at gunpoint at 3:30 a.m. in her home. He wrapped the woman's ankles and hands with silver duct tape and tied her down on a bed with yellow twine.

"Parks started ranting that he had done something terrible and was going to be a dead man, but before that happened, he would fulfill his sexual fantasy," records say.

Detectives refused to speculate about the comment.

Parks knew the Brannons, a lawyer for Dewey Brannon said. The week of the murders, he did landscaping work in the pricey Panther Ridge subdivision where the family lived, detectives said.

Dewey Brannon's divorce lawyer, Julian Finley Broome Jr., said that in the months before the killings, Parks dug the pond in front of the Brannon's $350,000 home. Broome said Dewey Brannon recognized Parks.

Broome also said Parks dated a driver for United Parcel Service, which also employs Dewey Brannon.

"He would have known Dewey and his wife were separated," Broome said.

Parks would talk with Mrs. Brannon, a nurse, about his heart condition. Investigators refused to say how Parks got into the Brannon home, but friends of Mrs. Brannon's say it was not uncommon for her to trust people.

A co-worker recalled an incident a few summers ago when Mrs. Brannon was driving along U.S. 19 in Pinellas County's rush-hour traffic and came across an elderly man walking in the heat. She pulled over.

"She got out. Talked to him and ended up calling the police," said Barbara Emmert, who worked with Mrs. Brannon at St. Anthony's Hospital for 12 years.

Mrs. Brannon's family will continue to pray for an end to their nightmare.

Robert Meyer, her father, says detectives will keep looking at other potential suspects in the crime.

"I really can't say what's in my heart," he said Wednesday evening. "I know those questions will be answered, and I know it will be soon."

In the 42 days since the slayings, the Meyers have held nightly vigils along State Road 70 east of Bradenton, the route Sherry took to work. Each night, they've placed a pink ribbon on a utility pole, vowing to continue until Mrs. Brannon's killer was arrested.

They go out there and remember their daughter, the sweet child who grew into a woman, who had moved her own daughters out to the country to have horses and grow up around nature.

Coping with news of the arrest, the Meyers stood at the 42nd pole Wednesday night. They brought all the ribbons they had, and three dozen of Mrs. Brannon's relatives and friends. They stood in a semicircle on the roadside, holding each other.

One by one, each took a ribbon and climbed a ladder. As dusk fell, the gray metal pole turned pink.

Near the top hung a big pink, aluminum bow that read: "In memory of Sherry, Shelby and Cassidy."


-- Researchers Cathy Wos and Kitty Bennett contributed to this report.

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