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Detective in Oba Chandler case spent years working to find killer

LARGO — On a sunny summer Sunday in 1989, Cindra "Cindy" Leedy was a burglary detective enjoying her day off when news stations began reporting that three partially nude female bodies had been found in Tampa Bay.

Ohio tourists Joan "Jo" Rogers, 36, and daughters Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14, had been tied up, weighed down with concrete blocks and tossed from a boat one by one. Investigators believed they had been sexually assaulted before they were murdered.

The next morning, Leedy was assigned to help homicide detectives investigate one of the most horrific crimes in Tampa Bay area history. Leedy's focus on a key piece of evidence led investigators in a new direction that ultimately helped solve the case.

The murders changed the course of Leedy's career. She spent the next three years consumed with the job of bringing the Rogerses' killer to justice.

Leedy and other detectives worked on the case "16, 18 hours a day" at times, she said. They stopped taking vacations.

"I put pressure on myself," she said. "I didn't want to stop until we solved it, because I didn't want that monster out there to do it again."

With no witnesses, no suspect and little physical evidence, the case wasn't progressing when Leedy and fellow detective J.J. Geoghegan were tapped by their supervisor in late 1989 to take another look at old leads and develop new ones.

One of Leedy's first responsibilities was to go through each piece of physical evidence. She zeroed in on a brochure found in the Rogerses' car. On it were handwritten directions to the women's Rocky Point hotel.

"When I first saw that brochure … I thought the same thing the original detectives thought, that this was just someone who gave them directions," said Leedy, who is now a bailiff for the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. "We studied that as a group. The more we looked at it, we knew, at least, this person was the only one who knew where the victims were going to be staying that day."

The handwriting would ultimately give detectives the break they needed. In the meantime, Leedy traveled to Ohio with colleagues in early 1991 and spent 10 days talking to dozens of people who knew the family. She spent six weeks working to compile information to assist the FBI in creating a profile of the killer.

An accomplished rock climber familiar with ropes, Leedy studied the knots used to tie the Rogerses' hands and determined they were all tied by the same person.

She and colleagues canvassed Dale Mabry Highway, where the family first encountered Oba Chandler. They checked handwriting samples of every employee along the corridor to see if it matched the writing on the brochure.

In October 1991, police released a picture of the brochure with the handwriting. The following summer, they posted it on local billboards. Each time, they asked the public to help them identify the writing.

"This isn't usually done. We don't publish evidence in a case, but we were desperate," she said.

The writing was recognized by one of Chandler's former neighbors. Once detectives had a name, the investigation took off, Leedy said. Less than two months later, Chandler was in custody.

Leedy emphasized this week that she was just one of the many people from several agencies who worked on the case at various times.

"The work got done so much faster and better with so many people helping us; plus it was more people to kick ideas around," she said.

Though it's been 22 years since the murders, Leedy remembers even the smallest details about the Chandler case and is able to rattle off key dates like they happened yesterday. She knows what day Chandler got married and can recite down to the minute when he was captured in Volusia County.

Leedy said she's still haunted by thoughts of the suffering and horror a mother and her daughters went through before they were tossed overboard. If they hadn't known their deaths were imminent when Chandler duct-taped their mouths, they surely knew it when he brought out the concrete blocks, she said.

On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott signed the death warrant that set Chandler's execution date for Nov. 15. Leedy said this week that she has no plans to witness his death.

The woman who spent thousands of hours trying to catch him and see him convicted said she's devoted enough of her life to a man who "doesn't deserve to live."

"I really don't think he's worth my time," she said.

Rita Farlow can be reached at farlow@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4157.

Detective in Oba Chandler case spent years working to find killer 10/12/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 12, 2011 10:58pm]

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