TAMPA —After masked robbers shot the ice cream man for $12, Michael Edward Keetley hired a felon bodyguard to ride in his truck with a gun.
That's according to the bodyguard, David Beckwith, who told detectives Keetley was on a mission: Pose as a cop, find his shooters and "make 'em disappear."
One summer day, the bodyguard saw Keetley turn his investigation to a girl buying ice cream; Keetley thought she looked like a woman involved in the robbery. The bodyguard watched Keetley ask the girl, who was about 13, if she had a sister.
Keetley wanted to see a picture. The girl resisted, but Keetley became irate, impatient.
"He had her almost in tears when she finally took out her wallet and showed a picture," Beckwith told detectives.
"And Mike goes, 'Oh, that's not the girl.' "
The ice cream man was unravelling, witnesses would tell detectives. Intent on vigilante justice.
By the end of the year, 40-year-old Keetley would be behind bars, accused of shooting six innocent men in Ruskin and killing two, and facing the death penalty.
Prosecutors released 937 pages of documents Thursday in their case against Keetley — a victim whose case went cold, but a suspect whose trail led Hillsborough County detectives right to him.
• • •
In the early hours of Thanksgiving, some men sat on a porch at 604 Ocean Mist Court, drinking Corona and Olde English and eating peanuts, when they were interrupted by a man with a gun, wearing the word "Sheriff."
The man asked for "Creeper."
Nobody went by that name.
The man asked for everybody's identifications, then refused to take them. He ordered the seven to lie face down. And he began shooting, right to left.
Blood splattered the railing.
Casings littered the scene.
The dark van sped away.
Two brothers died that night, 28-year-old Juan Guitron and 22-year-old Sergio Guitron. They went by Magic and Spider.
Neither the dead men, nor the four injured ones, nor the one who survived unscathed, were connected to Keetley's robbery, deputies said.
Nor was the man Keetley sought, who goes by "Creep." There are no suspects.
But in the days that followed, a cell phone photo circulated the neighborhood with an accusation: This … shot magic & spider, it said.
It was Keetley.
He hadn't been arrested.
That was a matter of days.
• • •
Deputies heard from a man on Thanksgiving, Esteban Rivera.
Keetley had approached him months earlier, Rivera said. He offered Rivera $1,500 to bring him his attackers or "take care of this" for him, and he offered to outfit Rivera with a bulletproof vest and sheriff's shirts. He showed him jail mug shots of men he considered suspects, Rivera said.
And he mentioned a "Creeper."
"I didn't take him serious at the time," Rivera told detectives. "But he had a cold face."
Detectives spoke to a woman Keetley dated, Norma Towers. She said he once took her near the scene where he was shot and asked her to write down vehicle license plate numbers and descriptions.
She was so afraid, she said, she asked him not to do that again.
She said they watched a television marathon of old movies by Charles Bronson on vigilante justice, like Death Wish.
One day that fall, she said, they went to a gun show, and he purchased a .45-caliber handgun.
• • •
Documents say ballistics connect Keetley to the murder scene.
A photo from a recent Halloween party showed him in a shirt that said POLICE/K9.
A notebook, found in his home, contained the name "Creeper."
And on Dec. 1, a deputy went to St. Joseph's Hospital to meet with one of the men who had been shot, but survived, and showed him a photo lineup.
When Keetley's came up, Gonzalo Guevera started shaking the photograph. Tears came to his eyes. His monitor alarm went off as his respiration, pulse and blood pressure climbed. "This is him," Guevera said. "The one that shot me and killed my friends."
Keetley was arrested the next day.
But five days earlier, he gave detectives an interview, in which he stammered an alibi.
"Um, I went to see, ah, um, there's a party down in, ah, Palmetto, but I don't really know the guy, I just followed some other people down there, so, and, um, people that I met, um, when I was doing karaoke, I came home."
He said he spent Thanksgiving at his sister's in Seffner.
The detective asked, "Did you have anything to do with the incident that happened in Ruskin?"
"No," Keetley replied. "No, absolutely not."
"Okay," the detective said. "I just wanted to ask you."
The transcript recorded laughter. "Okay," Keetley said.
"Because, um, I know," the detective said, "there's some people saying that you did …"
"Right," Keetley responded.
"… have something to do with that."
"Right," Keetley responded. "Well you know, it's funny, 'cause a friend of mine, he, he didn't call me 'cause he was like, 'Ah, man, like, you didn't go over there and just like turn ballistic, like, buy a wig or something you know, he's like…" The transcript noted more laughter, and Keetley continued. "I was like, 'no, no. …' "
"That's crazy," a detective asked. "Why would he think you'd go over there and shoot up Ruskin for?"
Keetley began to ramble.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3354.