State prisoner No. 006436 died alone on June 20. No obit, no press release, no surprise.
Kate Gasque learned about it in a form letter, a single paragraph with a standard caveat about confidentiality laws concerning medical matters. That didn't really matter. She knew Dewitt Addison was among the oldest state prisoners. She knew he had been sick.
She had tried to avoid thinking about him at all during the 50 years since he murdered her husband. But every time the state considered parole or moved him to a different facility, she got a form letter.
"Now I can finally let it go,'' Mrs. Gasque said from her home near Daytona Beach.
Her daughter, Katherine, turned 60 on Friday. She considered the news a birthday present.
"I know it sounds bad, that you are glad somebody is dead,'' she said from her home near Atlanta. "But I've lived with this my whole life. This finally closes the door.''
Addison, 84, spent his final days at the geriatric care center at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution, just down the road from the hometown of the man he shot to death: Florida Highway Patrol Trooper Eddie Gasque.
On Oct. 26, 1961, Gasque (pronounced gas-kew) cornered two robbers hiding in some palmettos near Jacksonville. One of them surrendered. Addison, a small-time criminal who had been drummed out of the Navy, fired his rifle, striking Gasque in the chest.
Last August, as I prepared a story about the half-century anniversary of the murder, Addison agreed to an interview at the Columbia Correctional Institution near Lake City. He sat in a wheelchair and complained about his pain and prison conditions. He said he often thought about Gasque and that he was sorry for the killing. "I took his life,'' he said, "and ruined mine.''
But even after all these years, Addison still offered an excuse.
"He committed suicide,'' he said. "When he cocked that shotgun, I had no choice.''
This story has fascinated me since a Dade City old-timer told me about Eddie Gasque a few years ago. He lamented that Eddie, just 30 when he died, seemed forgotten with time.
I set out to get to know him. His grandfather built the landmark Edwinola Hotel in 1912, but his father, an alcoholic, was hardly ever around. Eddie worked in citrus groves starting at age 12 and gave his earnings to his mother, who also raised four daughters.
At Pasco High School in 1948, Eddie was the most popular senior boy. His baseball talents earned him a scholarship at the University of Tampa and eventually a pro contract with the Cleveland Indians. He pitched in the Army and in the minor leagues, including at Indianapolis where he roomed with future Hall of Famer Roger Maris.
After Kate and Eddie had their second child, he decided they needed more security than baseball could offer. He graduated tops in his highway patrol class.
Gasque worked out of the Daytona Beach office, but always considered Dade City home. His sister, Mary Louise Brock, remained there until her death in May at age 79. Mrs. Brock was well-known for her community involvement. She and her husband, Pete, had three children, including local lawyer Hutch Brock, who also served as the city's mayor.
Hutch said the October story brought longtime residents together to talk about the days when Dade City was so small everybody knew each other — the days when a tall, handsome boy at the high school could throw a baseball through a brick wall.
Fifty years dulls memories, but Eddie Gasque, a hero who died too young, belongs to Dade City.