SUN CITY CENTER — Jane Meek, gravely ill, wanted to wear her wedding ring one last time.
But the 92-year-old widow feared the ring was gone forever, stolen from her home with other jewelry Saturday while she lay in a hospital bed suffering from cancer.
Mike Massimei, 47, heard about the case Monday and was determined to make Meek's wish come true.
The Hillsborough County sheriff's detective quickly homed in on a suspect: a hospice worker who had delivered equipment to the woman's home.
Within hours, Massimei had a confession and the jewelry in hand. Soon, he was walking up to Meek's Sun City Center home to return 22 pieces of jewelry, including the ring her late husband had given her.
She was so elated she couldn't stop crying.
The detective choked back tears of his own. They talked for two hours, but Massimei mostly just listened as Meek described the life behind her necklaces, bracelets and rings, some collected during travels to Egypt and India.
It made him think about his own memories: his wife's smile at their wedding, dancing in the kitchen at Thanksgiving.
"I've seen a lot of things," said Massimei, a 21-year veteran of law enforcement. "This one really touched my heart."
His talk with Mrs. Meek stayed with him.
"I know that I am going to treasure everything that comes past my eyes," he said. "It makes you look at your heart."
The man he arrested, Jason B. Russell, 27, was charged with third-degree grand theft. He was released Wednesday from a Hillsborough County jail on $2,000 bail.
Massimei said Russell is a former military police officer.
The LifePath Hospice worker admitted he stole the jewelry, worth about $4,000, the detective said. While delivering equipment, Russell asked Meek's family for water. Left alone, he went into her bedroom and emptied her jewelry box, Massimei said.
The detective said nine other pieces of jewelry were found with Russell and that he is a person of interest in similar cases.
Patty Klein, a spokeswoman for LifePath, said Russell is no longer with the company. She said LifePath conducts a rigorous background check on all employees before hiring. Russell had never been arrested in Florida.
Massimei said Russell confessed quickly.
"He knew he did wrong, and he wants to work through it," the detective said. "He was extremely remorseful."
The detective shared that with Meek.
She said she hopes Russell gets his life back on track.
Danny Valentine can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3386.