NEW PORT RICHEY — Amy Rose Hurst, a 29-year-old mother of two, disappeared from her New Port Richey home in August 1982. When detectives went looking for her, they talked to relatives who portrayed her husband, William Hurst, as abusive.
But without a body, the detectives had no crime. That would be the case for almost three decades. Then, in July 2011, they got a break when tests put a name to a woman who had been found in the Gulf of Mexico off Anna Maria Island on Sept. 5, 1982, wrapped in a green bedspread and afghan and weighted down with concrete blocks.
Once they knew the woman was Amy Rose Hurst, they went looking for her husband again. It didn't take long for them to charge him with murder. And on Monday, attorneys began the process of fielding a jury for his trial.
Hurst, 61, bald with a thin white mustache, shuffled papers while taking notes on each potential juror. Opening arguments are expected today.
The court file is thick with evidence, gathered within weeks of the identification of the body.
Pasco County sheriff's Detective Lisa Schoneman flew to Waterford, Mich., to interview Hurst's sister, Theresa Allen.
"I knew it," she said to the detective, according to court records. "I always thought he did something to her."
Allen told Schoneman that Hurst had worked on a fishing boat during the time of the killing in Florida.
Allen called her brother in Dawson Springs, Ky., and he denied involvement in the killing. She gave him Schoneman's phone number.
Hurst called his friend Elmer Kruse. He said detectives were asking questions about him.
"I could tell by his voice he was really down," Kruse said in a sworn statement. "He said, 'I need you to come over.' He said, 'I've got something to tell you.' He said, 'It's really, really, really bad.' "
At that point, Kruse didn't know about Amy Rose. He said he went to Hurst's house and found him with his head in his hands. Hurst said his past had caught up with him and he was going to spend the rest of his life in prison, if he didn't end up in the electric chair. He said, "Man, that's 30 years ago,'' Kruse related.
Kruse said Hurst told him he had gotten rid of a body for a drug dealer once, and it must have been found. Kruse listened, and when he left Hurst that day, he made a decision.
"I didn't know him that well," Kruse said, "and I'm not letting nobody get away with murder."
Hurst called Schoneman. He said he was returning a call in reference to "something that happened in St. Pete 30 years ago," according to an affidavit.
Schoneman told him his wife had been found and that someone had killed her.
"Well, I don't know anything about that," he said, according to Schoneman. "She left me 30 years ago with some blond girl from the Piggly Wiggly."
They agreed to meet. Hurst explained that he "came home from work and she was gone" and that he left after detectives questioned him because he had a job as a trucker and needed the money. He assumed his wife had been found, he said.
While Schoneman was at the police station in Dawson Springs, Kruse came to see her. He told her about his conversation with Hurst and agreed to wear a wire for another conversation. When Kruse went back over, Hurst expressed surprise to Kruse.
"Like I said, if they had any hard evidence they'd arrest me when they came to the door," he said. "But they don't, so they have no way of proving I had anything to do with anything. You know, there's no eye witnesses, you know. I made sure of that."
Amy Rose Hurst had two children from a previous marriage. Jeff Earley, now 41, was the catalyst for identifying her. His wife had found the Doe Network, an online database with information about missing people. They noticed the case of an unidentified floating woman and called authorities. The Manatee County Sheriff's Office collected a DNA sample from Earley. It matched.
"He took my mom from me, from my sister, from my aunts, my grandma, my cousins," Earley said about Hurst shortly after he was arrested. "And what did he do? He got to run around for 29 years. He got to see his kids, his grandkids."
Jon Silman can be reached at (727) 869-6229 or [email protected]