They worked together on the graveyard shift, answering phones from nighttime callers who wanted to talk to "live girls" and psychics.
Robert Glenn Temple was 49 and married. Lesley L. Stewart was 22 and married. That didn't stop them from getting together sometimes for sex, becoming lovers without becoming friends.
Until one day when Stewart went to Temple's condo in Belleair, and listened to him talk for hours. Something he said made her want to look in his bedroom.
That, she says, is when she saw the body of Temple's wife, a local real estate agent who was lying on the bed, her skin grayish, the carpet stained with blood.
By Stewart's account, the sight changed her life — defined her life, for more than a decade.
This week, Stewart is scheduled to meet again with Temple, this time in a courtroom.
Stewart is the star witness in the trial, and Temple has decided to act as his own attorney. If the jury believes what she says, Temple will go to prison for murder. But first, Stewart has to take the witness stand.
And the man cross-examining her will be her former lover.
• • •
Rosemary Christensen, originally from Australia, disappeared from the Belleair condo she shared with Temple in August 1999. Co-workers from her real estate office wondered why she hadn't stopped by the annual "beach bash," and eventually called police.
Temple told everyone he was distraught. But he also acknowledged that he made a good suspect.
"She made me the happiest man alive," he said, crying as he spoke for two hours with reporters and photographers at the time. "I would never hurt Rose. I know it looks bad. With my history and everything else, I would suspect myself if the situation was reversed."
His history included previously being charged with domestic battery against Christensen, and an involuntary manslaughter conviction stemming from the death of a girlfriend's 18-month-old child.
Not only that, but the carpet had recently been ripped up in their bedroom. He acknowledged Christensen's blood was on the carpet because she had recently hurt her knee. And he had just bought a lot of cleaning supplies.
The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office considered him a "person of interest." But they didn't have enough evidence for nearly a decade.
And then Stewart came forward and spoke to detectives. Her transcribed depositions to lawyers run 450 pages and form a preview of the testimony she is scheduled to give this week. They also form the basis of this story. Her comments are not proof per se — they are evidence the jury must consider, along with other factors, before deciding whether Temple is guilty.
• • •
Stewart, now 34, was born in Ocala, attended Citrus High School in Inverness, and started at St. Petersburg College. She lived her whole life in Florida before meeting Temple.
She was married in 1995, but she and her husband decided to have an "open marriage." They lived together, but saw other people.
Stewart describes her relationship with Temple as casual. "It wasn't like boyfriend-girlfriend, let's spend hours talking to each other to get to know each other really well on a deeper level."
• • •
Aug. 26, 1998, was the day Stewart went to see Temple at the Belleair condo, and this time he did go on talking. About strange things — like how he supposedly killed a hated officer in Vietnam, and the other soldiers became his "buddies for life." About how there was really no such thing as a witness protection program.
"Where's Rosemary?" she asked, and Temple said she was in the bedroom. This didn't make sense — Stewart and Temple had been in the condo for hours.
The first thing she saw in the bedroom was Christensen's legs, and then the whole body on the bed, and eventually her stab wounds.
"I just started to shut down and go into shock," she said.
She says Temple told her his wife was actually trying to stab him — but after a struggle, she fell on the knife and died. And then Temple told Stewart that she was mixed up in it, too.
"No one will believe you that you had nothing to do with this; you're looking at 30 years."
She was scared by things he told her — that there was no witness program to help her. That his Vietnam buddies would do anything for him. Later, she says, he told her, "My connections will find out where your daughter goes to school … and I guarantee you that — that she will be dead."
She said, "I had no friends, and I knew I had nobody to confide in, and I — at the time I believed nobody would believe me."
When he suggested burying the body on her father's property near the Suwannee River, she went with him.
They drove from there to a motel. "He watched TV and I buried my face in the pillow and started bawling. ... I said, my life will never be the same. .. What happened was horrible."
They returned to Pinellas County. But first, she said, Temple drilled her on what to tell police, so they would keep their stories straight.
They also spoke separately to attorneys. Stewart confided in Jay Hebert, a Clearwater lawyer, but was too scared to tell detectives the truth. Because lawyers are not allowed to reveal their communications with clients, Hebert was in a bind. He could not reveal Stewart's secret until she did.
• • •
The Sheriff's Office zeroed in on Temple, but did not have enough evidence. So detectives investigated, and waited.
Temple decided he and Stewart needed to leave town. It was the start of a nomadic decade.
They stayed with Temple's ex-wife and daughters in Decatur, Ill. Then they drove to Baja California, in Mexico, looking for work. Once, she said, they stood beside a cliff on a mountain in Mexico and he grabbed her from behind.
Nothing happened, but that night, after some drinking, he admitted he had thought about pushing her off the cliff, because "he is so worried that I'm going to break and confess to what happened to Rosemary."
They moved around, and she often worked as an apartment manager, while he stayed home — in Texas, Arizona and California. "When Robert would drink and he was unhappy with me, he would hold the knife up against me," she said.
In 2008, they were living in California and, by this time, had a daughter. He got so mad that he grabbed a knife — she described it as a spiky, wicked "Klingon knife" — and put it close to her face, telling her, "You're better off dead," and that he could find a better mommy for the daughter, who was also in the room.
Not long after, she called Hebert, the attorney she had spoken with in Clearwater shortly after the murder. "At the end of that conversation … I agreed to turn Robert in for what he did to Rosemary."
She spoke to detectives, and told them where Christensen was buried — on property her father owns beside the Suwannee River.
The trial begins today with jury selection. Temple, now 61, has decided to act as his own attorney, so he will be the one questioning jurors. Later this week, he can question Stewart when she testifies against him.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8232.