Before they shot the man in the grocery store parking lot, or the landscaper mowing the grass, or the cabbie at the gas station, or the babysitter reading on a bench, or the woman at the craft store, or the boy at school, or the man outside the steak house, or any of the others, there was Albert Michalczyk.
He was standing at the seventh hole tee box at Glen Oaks Golf Course in Clearwater. It was about 4:15 p.m. on May 18, 2002, a Saturday.
He felt a thud on his chest. He thought someone forgot to shout "Fore!"
Clearwater police sealed off the par-three course, interviewed neighbors and scoured the scene for clues they'd never find.
No physical evidence at all, but for a 72-year-old tourist from Tucson, Ariz., with a hole in his chest and a blood stain on his golf shirt.
"If I had been standing a different way, it could have hit my heart," Michalczyk, 79 now, said in a telephone interview from his home in Arizona. "I was fortunate."
The bullet sliced clean through the right breast of the retired general contractor, who was in town visiting his daughter. It missed his vital organs.
He was in and out of the hospital in two hours.
"The doctor told me to go home and buy a lottery ticket."
Seven years have passed, and Virginia is expected today to execute John Allen Muhammad, who with Lee Boyd Malvo terrorized Washington, D.C., suburbs that October, shooting 13 people and killing 10 in a three-week span.
Those are documented.
But others, like the Clearwater shooting, may never be solved.
"It is technically an open aggravated battery case," said Clearwater police spokeswoman Joelle Castelli.
In 2006, Malvo reportedly confessed to four additional shootings — including Michalczyk's — during the pair's cross-country trip before the rampage.
Besides Michalczyk, Malvo told investigators the two shot a man in California in February or March 2002, a man in Denton, Texas, in late May 2002, and a man in Louisiana on Aug. 1, 2002.
Malvo, sentenced in 2004 to life in prison without parole in Virginia, would only talk to police in jurisdictions that granted him immunity. The State Attorney's Office here wouldn't make such a concession.
But if Malvo's story is true, Michalczyk would have likely been the serial killers' second shooting victim.
If it's not true, someone shot an old man with a small-caliber rifle in the middle of Clearwater in broad daylight, and got away without a trace.
"Based on the coincidences and the M.O.s matching, we are suspicious that it's related to the D.C. snipers," said Castelli, the police spokeswoman. "It falls in the right time line." Malvo's mother lived in Fort Myers, and Malvo went to school in Lee County.
After the shootings, Clearwater police compared notes with the sniper task force and found nothing that connected the local shooting to Muhammad or Malvo.
Michalczyk? He has no doubts about who was shouldering that rifle.
"It was definitely them," he said. "Everything adds up. For a long time, we were trying to put two and two together and it never made four. Now it makes four."
Castelli says Clearwater police will pursue any new leads that come in, should they come in.
For the record, Michalczyk never played Glen Oaks again, but not out of fear. The course closed.
He says he doesn't think of Muhammad or Malvo often, and that the shooting doesn't haunt him or anything like that.
About Muhammad's execution: "I'm happy about it. I wish they'd get the other one, too. And I hope it's not delayed."
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the scheduled execution by lethal injection.
Michalczyk says he'll be paying attention to the news today, waiting for Virginia to end the life of a man who could have ended his.
If he's not out playing golf.
Information from the Associated Press and the Washington Post was used in this report. Ben Montgomery can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8650.