TAMPA — Before they became the focus of a notorious unsolved mystery, Dennis Byron and Scott D. Overbeck were known for disrupting their upscale waterfront community with revolving parties that drew police hundreds of times. Cocaine was plentiful. They had so many women at their home that one friend likened it to a brothel.
Then Byron told detectives that Overbeck was responsible for disposing of 5-month-old Sabrina Aisenberg's body in crab traps in Tampa Bay in 1997. The allegation figures in new inquiries in an investigation that has never answered what happened to the Valrico infant.
Most of the people who know both men seem disinclined to believe Byron's claim. They describe him as a scam artist and Overbeck as a big talker known to boast of terrible crimes.
"I think he's just running his mouth," friend Rory Kline said of Overbeck, "and Byron's trying to get out of jail free."
Some acquaintances, however, believe Overbeck could be capable of such behavior. Hillsborough sheriff's detectives aren't talking, but have spent months chasing the allegation. Byron's attorney says the sheriff's official leading the investigation told him there is independent corroboration of Byron's claim.
What is publicly known so far suggests the latest thrust of the investigation may hinge on the credibility of two school dropouts whose own friends call into question their truthfulness. Both men are addicts whose memories could be hazy from drug use. Both are felons with reasons to lie.
Can either be believed?
• • •
Acquaintances of Overbeck describe him as "demented" and an adrenaline junkie drawn to trouble by too much time and money.
He was friendly with Willie Crain, a fisherman now awaiting execution for the 1998 murder of a 7-year-old girl, said a former friend. Prosecutors believe Crain disposed of the girl's body in one of his crab traps in Tampa Bay.
Overbeck denies having anything to do with Sabrina's body. In a sworn jailhouse statement last month to the Aisenbergs' attorneys, he said he merely has a hunch that he bought a boat from Marlene Aisenberg the week before she reported her daughter missing. At one point, he calls the baby "Christina."
Detectives floated their own theory to him, he said, suggesting that he had an affair with Marlene and sold cocaine to her and her husband, Steve.
Overbeck, 44, admits he had several girlfriends at a time but says Marlene wasn't one of them. He has been convicted of possessing cocaine but never of selling it.
He inherited his Dana Shores home from his father, a construction company owner who bequeathed him property, two Harley Davidsons, a Rolex, a boat and a hefty supply of cash. Scott Overbeck, already considered the rich kid who drove a Corvette at 19, drained his windfall on women, drugs, friends and the Outlaw biker gang, friends said.
"It was out of control, man," Kline said. "The guy had stupid money. And when you have stupid money, you have a lot of friends."
Alba Achin, who lives two doors down, said her yard man found a woman lying in her driveway last year, begging for help. The woman said she had been kept inside the Overbeck home too long and offered the yard man sexual favors in exchange for a ride.
Byron also said Overbeck, whose biker nickname is "Tombstone," was a "money man" for the Outlaws, buying them bikes and a house in Daytona or sometimes giving them cash.
Overbeck, who has been arrested in Florida at least 17 times since 1987, bragged about crimes that never appeared on his record. His demolished Oldsmobile Cutlass disappeared after Overbeck claimed he killed a man in a hit-and-run in the late 1980s, according to former friend Thomas Obenski.
Kline said Overbeck took credit for the 1989 murder of an Ohio woman and her two daughters in Tampa Bay, even though another man is sitting on death row for the crime.
Byron said in a sworn statement that in 2005 at their house, Overbeck told him he picked up a boat with Sabrina's body inside from the Aisenberg home and disposed of the baby.
Byron believed it was at the request of Overbeck's father, who was doing a favor for a man named John E. Tranquillo. He was a friend of the Overbecks who lived around the bend on Eden Roc Circle. He also worked as an investigator for Barry Cohen, who would become the Aisenbergs' attorney.
But Byron also said in his sworn statement that Overbeck never told him outright of his father's or Tranquillo's involvement.
Instead, Byron claimed that Overbeck said, "I did things for my dad nobody else would do. When there was a situation, and it needed to be handled for friends of my father's, nobody else did what I did."
Jeff Johnson of Odessa inherited Overbeck's father's business and has known Scott Overbeck since they were teens. He thinks Overbeck is just looking for "his moment of fame."
"Scott," he said, "wants to be somebody."
• • •
According to friend Rory Kline, "Bopper is a scammer."
Nicknamed by a mother who loved the music of early rock 'n' roller Big Bopper, Byron, 33, now evokes strong opinions from people who know him.
Kline says he first met Byron more than five years ago in Daytona. They were doing landscaping work after a storm rolled across the coast. But when Kline heard talk that Byron took deposits for jobs he never completed, Kline said he wanted nothing to do with him.
John Doyle, 60, a longtime friend of Overbeck's father, said Byron used to borrow his garden tools and never return them.
"Not a character I'd want to hang around … ," Doyle said. "If he's in jail, that's where he needs to be."
Byron knows the inside of a jail. He has been arrested at least 31 times going back to age 19, state records show. Cocaine possession. Aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. Burglary.
"I've been a lifetime addict myself, okay?" Byron said in a sworn statement last month.
His mother, Josephine Byron, 70, said she doesn't know what happened to her boy. The second youngest of five, Byron is a sixth-grade dropout and the only child with a lengthy criminal record.
"We've all given him chances," said Josephine Byron, a slight, white-haired widow.
She ended all communication with her son in the winter, after she said he squandered yet another chance.
That chance came in November, and it started with a photograph of a baby.
Byron was in prison, sentenced to three years for aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. Hillsborough sheriff's detectives heard from an inmate that Byron might have details on the Aisenberg case. He wouldn't talk without an attorney.
Eventually, Byron said detectives came waving a picture of his newborn daughter and only child. Born Aug. 3, 2007, this baby represented hope.
"My daughter changed my life," Byron said.
Though in prison, he was eager to have some contact with his daughter, now in foster care.
Detectives seemed to offer him what he wanted. He told attorneys last week he had the impression "that they could possibly help me get my daughter back."
Byron recounted what he knew. Detectives would move him to a jail cell, where he would wear a wire for 34 days and talk with Overbeck about the Aisenberg case. In exchange, his sentence would be reduced.
And that's how it went.
His three-year prison sentence became two years of house arrest, as long as he lived at a drug treatment program.
But a day after his release, he took off. Rearrested, he was sent back to prison.
"You don't understand what a big letdown that was," his mother said this week, tearing up as she talked. "I was so excited and they were going to keep the baby. I wanted them to do well. … There were too many heartbreaks and too many letdowns."
Kline has little good to say about Byron, so he finds it hard to believe Byron could be motivated by love for his daughter.
But he does think Byron is capable of retelling Overbeck's wild stories for his own gain: "Get out of jail free card, turn in a murderer, even if he ain't a murderer. You think you're going to get out of a three-year sentence on some house arrest, you'd at least conform."
But the mother of Byron's child, Carrie Leece, backed Byron's account in a radio interview this week.
"I'm very scared of Scott," Leece said on the Bubba the Love Sponge show.
• • •
Byron made a sworn statement on July 23 from the Gainesville Correctional Institution. Overbeck made a sworn statement on July 25 from a jail in Pinellas County, where he is being held on federal weapons and explosives charges.
Both men gave their accounts after hours of questioning by Barry Cohen, attorney for Steve and Marlene Aisenberg. During those interviews, both men said they had no firm knowledge of any involvement by the attorney or his investigator Tranquillo.
John Doyle, the friend of Overbeck's father, is surprised anyone is giving credence to anything either of them has to say.
"I wouldn't believe a drug addict with anything," Doyle said. "With these people, I wouldn't trust 'em. I think Dennis Byron is looking for a deal like Mr. Cohen said on TV. And I think that is what it's all about."
Times staff writers Jeff Testerman and Michael Van Sickler and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.