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Transient charged in Brooksville businessman's death to be in court Friday

BROOKSVILLE — The two men occupied different worlds.

Steven Van Slyke owned a business and served prominent roles in the community. He wore designer clothes and lived in an old neighborhood, paved with bricks and shaded by oaks.

Monty Albright was a vagabond. Homeless, he slept in the woods or sometimes squatted with others. His life story is murky but partly traced through arrest records.

Earlier this year, their paths crossed with tragic results: Van Slyke strangled and Albright charged with murder.

Police initially gave little in the way of explanation. Just the alleged facts:

Van Slyke's body was found in his home at 27 Cherry St. at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 20. The day before, Albright entered the home, tied Van Slyke to the bed, took his bank card, strangled him and went on a drug-fueled spending spree.

But newly released evidence obtained by the Times suggests a more complicated relationship between the men.

In a lengthy interview detailed in the documents, Albright — who will appear in court Friday — tells an ulterior tale, at times blatantly untruthful, at others apparently honest. It conflicts with what Van Slyke's friends recall. And for every question the documents answer, more are left behind.

• • •

Van Slyke, 58, lived alone and managed his property appraisal business, Van Slyke & Jessop, from his home on the north side of Brooksville.

His business partner, Eric Jessop, talked to him at 10 a.m. Jan. 19, the Monday of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Van Slyke said he felt sick. The conversation lasted 41 seconds.

The only other person who reportedly talked to Van Slyke that day called at 12:49 p.m. Yolanda Darby, a client, told authorities that Van Slyke seemed curt. He told her to e-mail him the question.

In the time line investigators constructed, Van Slyke died a minute later.

They believe Albright, 35, entered the home sometime after the 10 a.m. phone call and restrained Van Slyke. He likely held the phone during the Darby call, police said.

Albright took Van Slyke's Wachovia bank card and demanded the access code. He left Van Slyke tied up and went to the SunTrust Bank downtown. He withdrew $400 at 12:21 p.m. Bank videocameras confirm Albright made the transaction.

According to police reports received through a public records request, Albright returned to the house and strangled Van Slyke with a designer necktie that was attached to a bedpost.

A neighbor who lives behind Van Slyke told authorities four days after the killing that she heard him scream.

As Emily Vance left her apartment on Oak Street, she thought she was hearing a fight. She drove by Van Slyke's house and saw a man "looking crazy," running his hands through his hair and kicking the dirt in the front yard.

Authorities gave her a handful of photos and told her to identify the man she saw. She pointed immediately at Albright's face.

"Definitely him. I'm 110 percent sure," she told police.

Friend's discovery

Jessop talked to Van Slyke by phone numerous times each day.

He looked after his friend and business partner. Nearly four years ago, after Van Slyke suffered a heart attack, Jessop told Van Slyke that if he didn't hear from him for 24 hours, he would drive to Brooksville to check on him.

"I had done it several times (with no problems)," Jessop said in an interview with the Times at his Tampa home.

But this time, "I walked in … it was tough."

Jessop discovered his friend's body at 1:30 p.m. Jan. 20. A neighbor found Jessop lying facedown on the sidewalk wailing.

Police arrived to survey the convoluted scene.

In the living room, they found Albright's black backpack and a power cord that appeared tied and cut. Cigarette butts littered the floor and a knife was stuck between the cushions of a green cloth chair.

In the master bedroom, Van Slyke's body lay partly under the bed with scrapes on his hands and chest. A necktie knotted around his neck matched part of a tie still attached to the bedpost. Additional neckties coiled his ankles. A white T-shirt under the dresser showed the spatter of blood.

Police believe Albright tried to clean up the scene before leaving the house.

Albright, meanwhile, drove around town in Van Slyke's car and began spending his money.

Later that evening, as authorities identified him as a suspect, Albright spent nearly $1,400 to buy miscellaneous items and jewelry at Wal-Mart. An hour later, he returned four rings worth $1,263 and received a cash refund. All told, he took at least $2,200; he later told authorities he spent the money on crack cocaine.

A day after they found Van Slyke's body, police located Albright at a home on Independence Circle where he had stayed the night. The resident, Kelly Dougherty, said Albright told her his name was Steve Van Slyke.

Relationship questions

Albright told authorities he had known Van Slyke for three weeks. But the extent of the relationship remains undetermined. It is probably the biggest question at the center of the investigation.

Albright's four-hour statement to authorities, which is partly redacted, indicated he met Van Slyke while standing on the side of the street with a sign asking for food or money.

He said Van Slyke hired him to clean the house and do laundry. But Albright also said Van Slyke paid him for sex, which he described as affectionate and nothing weird.

Throughout the interview, Albright maintained that Van Slyke let him stay at his house after he left on a trip to Georgia. Then Officer Shawn Terry, who conducted the interrogation, confronted Albright with the news of Van Slyke's death.

From there, Albright's original story began to unravel. He said "something happened" and nobody would believe him because he is homeless. But he maintained that they engaged in a money-for-sex relationship.

His assertions about a sexual relationship with Van Slyke are questionable in the minds of investigators and deemed bogus by Jessop.

"He made up this story because it's easy," Jessop said. "There's no way."

Jessop said he knew the details of his friend's life and that Van Slyke never mentioned Albright. "I knew everything," he said, exasperated. "We tell each other everything."

Jessop said Van Slyke was gay. He described him as a flower, a romantic girl.

"He's scared of homeless people," he said. "He would never talk to a homeless guy."

He also told authorities Van Slyke was claustrophobic and wouldn't let someone tie him down. He said Van Slyke hired escorts sporadically in the past, but said they were "top dollar" — not people off the streets.

In an interview with the Times, Brooksville police Chief George Turner said Albright "can't be believed."

"You start lying so much you don't know what the truth is," he said.

The medical examiner's preliminary report on Van Slyke does not suggest any recent sexual activity, but lab results to confirm the findings are still outstanding.

Some evidence, however, alludes to the notion that Van Slyke and Albright were close. Specifically, Albright said he called Van Slyke at 2 a.m. Jan. 19 and asked for $40. He said Van Slyke drove the money to him. Bank records confirm a withdrawal from Van Slyke's account for $60 at 2:09 a.m.

Turner said he doesn't consider whatever sexual relationship might have existed "relevant to the homicide, but obviously it is relevant to connecting the dots about how these two knew each other."

"No one can tell us how they met," Turner added. "We know they knew each other, (but) the relationship between them is really undetermined. The only one who can say anything is the suspect. No one else knows."

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

Transient charged in Brooksville businessman's death to be in court Friday 03/29/09 [Last modified: Sunday, March 29, 2009 7:42pm]

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