SUN CITY CENTER — Authorities are searching for a rogue pest control worker who walked into at least four homes, sprayed the residents with a liquid and took off with thousands of dollars of cash and jewelry.
The suspect in all the incidents targeted senior citizens after they returned home from grocery stores. Three of the cases were in the Sun City Center area, said Hillsborough County sheriff's Deputy Rob Thornton.
In all the cases, which started Feb. 3, a man pulled up in front of the house in a small tan sedan, walked into the open garage or carport and entered the home through an unlocked door, he said.
In the first case in Sun City Center, the homeowner immediately confronted the man and asked what he was doing, Thornton said.
The man, holding a pump, said he was conducting the community's pest control service, Thornton said. When the homeowner challenged him, he sprayed her on the arm, apologized profusely and offered to help her wash her arm at the sink.
He helped her take off her diamond ring, then offered to retrieve a balm from his car, and next thing she knew, he and her ring were gone.
In the second case in Sun City Center, the man walked into the house through the garage, first waving to the husband who was working in the yard – and was given permission by the wife to spray the house, Thornton said. Then she heard drawers being opened and closed in a bedroom.
When confronted, the man sprayed her on the arm, he said. While helping her rinse off, he tried to take off her bracelet, but it wouldn't come off. He promised to find something to treat her skin, and ran out of the house. A bracelet and thousands of dollars that had been in the bedroom were taken.
On Monday, the man walked into a Ruskin woman's home, Thornton said. He said he was there to spray for bugs, but when the woman argued with him, he sprayed her on the hand, Thornton said. While trying to rinse her skin with orange juice, he removed several of her rings and then disappeared with them.
Saundra Amrhein can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 661-2441.