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A body, an arrow and few clues

A $5,000 reward is offered in the case of a traveling evangelist, whose body was found floating in a Citrus County cove.

By CARRIE JOHNSON

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2001


A $5,000 reward is offered in the case of a traveling evangelist, whose body was found floating in a Citrus County cove.

CRYSTAL RIVER -- Kenneth R. Richardson was a modest man who wore long trousers while mowing his lawn, even at the height of summer.

A traveling evangelist, he stapled a poster-size copy of the Ten Commandments on the front gate of his Homosassa home to give passers-by a small dose of Scripture.

Friends and neighbors described the 59-year-old as friendly but quiet, the last person you would expect to find in the middle of a mystery.

But when Richardson's body was discovered in a shallow cove off Fort Island Gulf Beach the morning of Aug. 27, his death became the focus of one of the stranger criminal investigations in Citrus County in quite a while.

When deputies pulled Richardson's body from the water, they found an arrow piercing his torso.

Ronda Hemminger Evan, a spokeswoman for the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, wouldn't release the size or type of arrow "because it is considered information that could identify how or why Richardson was killed."

Over the past two months, investigators have questioned more than 36 people from four states in an attempt to determine what led to Richardson's demise. It is labeled a "suspicious death" because other than the arrow, there is no evidence of a homicide, Evan said.

So far, those interviewed include family members, people who were fishing near the boat ramp the morning Richardson's body was discovered and those who have called the Sheriff's Office tip line with information, Evan said.

The investigation is currently focused on a dark-haired man with a mustache, who detectives believe was with Richardson shortly before his death.

"This man is not a suspect," Evan said. "We think he may have important information and we just want to talk to him."

A composite sketch of the man was drawn, but detectives still have not made contact with anyone who matches the description. The man is thought to have been driving an older, light blue midsize car or station wagon.

The Sheriff's Office didn't release the information about the arrow until Oct. 19, when it was announced in an attempt to shake loose clues. It also is offering a $5,000 reward to anyone who helps them find the person responsible for the death.

The grisly detail shocked neighbors in Richardson's quiet Homosassa neighborhood. Murder mysteries are rare in semirural Citrus County, known mostly for its manatees and retirees.

Rumors have circulated since the killing. What was Richardson doing at Fort Island Gulf Beach, a man-made strip of sand miles from his house?

Some speculated Richardson was killed by a hunter, but bow-hunting season didn't begin in Citrus until Sept. 22, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Others thought he may have been attacked by a someone who objected to his preaching. But despite his evangelical zeal, Richardson was known as a mild-mannered fellow who didn't press his hand.

"It's amazing," said neighbor Diane Kirk, who used to chat with Richardson during her daily walks. "You get one story, and then all of a sudden you hear something different."

Richardson was from Paragon, Ind., a tiny farming community of 515 people about 30 miles southwest of Indianapolis.

He visited his brown and white Florida home about once a month, neighbors said. He occasionally was accompanied by his wife, Wanda, but often came by himself. He was alone the weekend of his death.

Dorothy Williams, who lives next door, said Richardson was trying to persuade his wife to retire and move to Florida permanently, but she wasn't ready to quit her job.

Richardson was a retired construction laborer and a minister, according to obituary information. His wife works in Martinsville at the Harman-Motive Inc. factory, which produces sound systems for automobiles.

Paragon Town Clerk Evelyn Zoller said the Richardsons were longtime residents of the tiny community and lived in a mobile home.

"They've been here as long as I have, and I've been here 36 years," Zoller said.

No one was more surprised about the cause of death than Samuel Force, a Homosassa fisherman who discovered the body while fishing with his wife near the public boat ramp.

He said Richardson's body was floating face-down in ankle-deep water with his arms crossed underneath him and a hole in the back of his head. He didn't see an arrow in the man's torso.

"I know what I saw," Force said. "I was only 3 feet away from him."

Force and his wife, Patty, had just started fishing when an elderly man approached him and said a dead manatee had washed up on shore.

Force investigated and quickly discovered it was no manatee. He said the man lying in the mud was wearing a white, blood-splattered T shirt, dark shorts and black socks.

Richardson's red Chevrolet S-10 pickup truck was parked on the beach near where the body was found, a few miles from the Crystal River Nuclear Power Plant.

Force said the truck was loaded with clothes and shoes: men's, women's and children's. There were also a lot of papers, cologne and a Sony Walkman, he said.

But while Force described a silver dollar-size hole near the base of the man's skull, Evan said there were no wounds other than the one caused by the arrow.

Force refuses to believe it.

"I know a hole in the head when I see one," he said. "I don't know why they're trying to cover it up."

Force said he has also been frustrated by what he sees as a lack of progress in the Sheriff's Office investigation. After contacting the detective five or six times, he has yet to receive a return call.

Homosassa neighbor Allen Wilkins said he doesn't know what prompted Richardson to visit Fort Island Gulf Beach the morning of his death. He didn't hunt and was never seen using a bow and arrow, Wilkins said.

Wilkins said Richardson was a very religious man who used to listen to gospel music while working on his yard. He enjoyed ministering to other people, and Wilkins thinks that may have been what got him into trouble.

"You hear about missionaries going somewhere and ending up as martyrs," he said. "I think that's what must have happened here. He may have been trying to witness to some guy who was really, really antiestablishment."

Still, Wilkins was unsettled by news of his neighbor's unusual death. The two were cordial although they never developed a close friendship.

"You never expect something like this to happen, especially to someone like him," Wilkins said.

"At least from what I know of him, that is."

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