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Deadly Rampage

Carr lived as he died: in violence

By JEFFREY GETTLEMAN, JO BECKER
and GEOFF DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 20, 1998


TAMPA -- Everyone who knew Hank Earl Carr could hear the time bomb ticking.

He bit ears during barfights and liked to talk about guns and running from the law. He was accused of stomping puppies to death and shooting neighbors' dogs. He had a lengthy rap sheet in two states.

And recently, authorities had investigated two complaints that he abused his girlfriend's 4-year-old son -- the boy who became the first casualty in a violent day that also saw three police officers killed and Carr himself end up dead.

photo
People who knew Carr were not shocked at his rampage. [Times photo: Ken Helle]
Carr was a 30-year-old martial arts expert who couldn't keep a job or stay out of trouble, those who knew him said. Born in Atlanta, he shifted from place to place and woman to woman, often using different names and offering different stories about his background.

Though Tampa is still in shock from Carr's rage, people in Marietta, Ohio, the quiet community where his record mushroomed in the few years he lived there, said they saw it coming.

"We were surprised that we hadn't heard something about him lately," said Jeff Seevers, a detective with the Washington County Sheriff's Office. "Something violent."

• Detective hailed as hero, professional, friend

• Among police, 'the world is paralyzed; everybody is crying'

• Trooper had been on job less than year

• Detective Bell just weeks away from 'dull' job

• Carr lived as he died: in violence

• Made-for-TV tragedy unfolded too quickly for live reports

• Caseworkers received allegations of abuse

• Handcuff procedures questioned

Signs of Carr's anger date back to the mid-1980s, when his name started to pop up with increasingly frequency on jail logs in Sarasota County.

In 1986, just two months after his 18th birthday, Carr was sentenced in Sarasota to state prison on charges of burglary, assault and grand theft. Carr earned an early release but was back in prison less than a year later for violating the terms of his probation, said Department of Corrections spokeswoman Ginny Maddox.

Carr was back behind bars again in April 1989, this time for 4 1/2 years on charges of cocaine possession, resisting a police officer with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer. In 1990, Maddox said, Carr was set free as part of the state's provisional release program.

Later that year, Carr, who was then living in East Tampa, attacked a man in his house and threatened "to gut" him with a dagger. He was charged with his most violent crime yet: aggravated assault with intent to commit a felony. That offense was his 22nd arrest in the past five years. He was sentenced to two years of community control.

It was while serving that sentence, Maddox said, that Carr disappeared.

A warrant was issued for his arrest on Feb. 25, 1992.

Florida officials lost contact with him, but Carr soon surfaced, violently, in Marietta, an industrial town in southeastern Ohio.

"Apparently he had stomped a puppy to death in front of some kids," Seevers said. "That information was so unusual that it was given to one of our detectives."

Because of that, detectives decided to find out more about Carr. They did a background check and spoke with Sarasota County authorities.

An 18-year-old girl had just been stabbed to death, her body found in a cemetery. Carr had moved in the same circles, and detectives identified him as a suspect, Seevers said.

In Ohio, it wasn't just authorities who noticed Carr's behavior.

William Carpenter, 63, who lived next door to Carr in 1992, said he was crazy.

"He had a ponytail and an attitude," Carpenter said. "I just stayed away from him."

About this time, Carr met Bernice "Denise" Bowen, a married woman with two young children. Bowen had been married to Joseph Bennett, a dishwasher in a town near Marietta, for several years.

The two divorced and Bernice Bowen started seeing Carr about the same time she came into a large amount of money, a settlement from a hospital that allegedly had misdiagnosed her father, said Bowen's mother, Shelba Jean Bennett.

"Joey said it wasn't no use trying to hold her because she told him that she didn't love him no more, that she loved that other man," Mrs. Bennett said.

Carr made sure Joseph Bennett didn't try to reconcile with his wife. "That man threatened my son, threatened to kill him because he wanted Bernice," Mrs. Bennett said.

The threat was taken seriously; Shelba Bennett said Carr was known around town as a man with a "famous punch," a man who broke people's ribs.

Carr and Bernice Bowen moved to Tampa with her two children, Kayla and little Joe. But Shelba Bennett said Bernice Bowen had agreed to give custody of her children to her mother, Connie Bowen.

"That way the kids would be happy. They'd see their two grandmothers and their father and there'd be no trouble," Mrs. Bennett said, crying. "Looks like we was wrong."

According to authorities, Carr had been living in Tampa for about a year on Crenshaw Street.

Neighbors reported behavior similar to what had been observed in Ohio. Neighbor Mike Foy said another resident told him Carr shot a neighbor's dog. Another remembered him showing off his expansive collection of pistols and rifles and talking about outrunning the cops.

"He'd go off on a story ... about running from the cops ... having shootouts with the cops in different states," said Patricia Mercer, 22, who lives on Crenshaw. "He's a control freak ... mental ... crazy."

On Tuesday, Carr and Bernice Bowen brought 4-year-old Joe, wounded from a gunshot to the head, to a Tampa fire station. Later, when police handcuffed Carr for questioning in the boy's death, he already was facing four warrants: three from Ohio and one from Tampa for violating parole. TV cameras captured him being tucked into a squad car.

And of all the violence that erupted in the moments that followed, people who knew Carr still couldn't believe the event that began it.

"I can't see him up and shooting that little boy," said Shelba Jean Bennett, the boy's grandmother. "Even as mean as he was, I don't think he'd kill a little kid."
-- Times staff writers Jeff Testerman and Larry Dougherty contributed to this report, as did Roger Kalter of the Marietta (Ohio) Times.

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