DADE CITY — James Davis shopped for the tools of his crime at stores spread from Zephyrhills to Land O'Lakes, police said. He wore disguises to cover his tracks, authorities say, and he even took care to scatter his victim's body parts in trash bags miles apart.
Davis, 45, was charged this week with the murder of Stephen Perry, a 56-year-old writer for the 1980s cartoon series Thundercats who had been living in Zephyrhills and battling bladder cancer. Davis and his wife, Roxanne, had been staying with Perry in a rented house on Eighth Avenue.
Court documents released Friday give a detailed chronology of the slaying and the steps James Davis took to hide it. But they also reveal how, in a world blanketed in surveillance cameras, nothing stays hidden for long.
Authorities say Perry was killed around May 10, shot to death. His disappearance went unnoticed for several days until someone reported an abandoned blue Dodge van parked at a Quality Inn at Bearss Avenue and Interstate 275 in Tampa. The van reeked of decomposition and belonged to Perry.
Zephyrhills police went to Perry's house to check on him. What they found, according to court documents, were footprints in white powder leading from the front door outside, and dried blood splatter on the bedroom door and walls inside.
Police and analysts from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement searched the house on May 17 and 18.
"It appeared as though an attempt had been made to clean up the crime scene inside the residence," a Zephyrhills detective wrote in court documents.
Meanwhile, in a Dumpster at the Quality Inn, Hillsborough authorities discovered a plastic trash bag containing a decomposing, severed human arm.
Fingerprints proved a match to Perry.
Weeks later, on June 2, a call came to the Pasco Sheriff's Office reporting a suspicious tarp under a tree on a vacant lot on Foamflower Avenue in Wesley Chapel. Inside: a decomposing human torso missing the arms, legs and head. It was also matched to Perry.
The lot is not far from where Davis' mother lives, the documents say.
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The items Davis bought to try to conceal the slaying became hard evidence of his link to it, according to court records.
Four pairs of rubber gloves were left in the bag with the arm. In the van were a Walmart receipt, a tarp, a box of trash bags and one full and one empty bag of powdered lime, a product commonly used in gardening.
On May 17, Pasco sheriff's deputies found another black trash bag in a Dumpster behind a business on State Road 54. It contained a circular saw with a bloody cloth wedged in it, as well as a bloody pillow with a bullet hole through it.
Where did it all come from?
Video from a Kmart in Land O'Lakes showed Davis buying trash bags, gloves, twine and a tarp, the documents say. Walmart cameras captured him purchasing a circular saw blade, a bolt and a soda there on May 11. A camera from the parking lot showed Davis driving Perry's van.
At a Home Depot in Zephyrhills, he bought two bottles of bleach. Davis had a friend with him on that trip, the documents say: Charles Lumley, who rented a room for Davis at the Quality Inn for the nights of May 14-16.
Another friend, identified in records as Donald Carmichael, lent Davis his Dewalt brand reciprocating saw on May 12. When Davis returned it five days later, Carmichael told detectives it was missing the blade and had white powder, blood and traces of human tissue on the blade guard. A DNA test matched the tissue to Perry, the documents say.
Davis left a trail of images, too, on bank ATM cameras. Five transactions on Perry's bank card — all from after his death — were linked to surveillance videos of a white man withdrawing money while wearing various disguises including a mask, sunglasses, wig, bandanna and camouflaged hat, the court documents say.
When police searched Perry's house again on June 29, they found a mask identical to the one in the video.
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.