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Injured Moon Lake man tells how online romance went awry on first date

NEW PORT RICHEY — She brought her 16-year-old son and a trash bag full of clothes on the first date.

Bobbie Jo Curtis, 40, told the suitor she met online she didn't have a car. He'd have to pick her up at her motel room.

Joseph Bruno, 44, made the trip in his white utility van. They stopped for pizza on the way back to Bruno's house, sat around the table and got to know each other.

She told him she was being evicted and asked if she could sleep on the couch that night. He never objected. She never left.

Bruno says he had a bad hunch about letting her stay. She was a stranger, but she looked like she was going through a hard time.

Bruno says he just wanted to help. He couldn't have known he'd nearly be killed.

Moon Lake seemed nice, too.

Bruno owned a home restoration company in Virginia until he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four years ago. He moved down to the peaceful, remote west Pasco neighborhood.

But quiet gave way to loneliness. He spent his days on his computer. An Internet pop-up promised a chance to meet "that special someone" for $7.49 a month on singlesnet.com.

He said he met a few nice women over the two years of online dating. None of them came over.

The first weekend in September, he came across the profile of a woman with dark brown hair and light blue eyes. They talked online for a few weeks before he picked up Curtis and her son at the Riverview Inn for a pizza dinner.

They stayed for a week. He said she never showered, never changed out of her red top and blue jeans, never ate his food, never slept in his bed, never kissed him. She was "like a gypsy," he said.

As the week went on, Bruno said, the nice-seeming stranger grew cold. She stopped talking to him. He still can't explain why he let her stay.

"Loneliness," he said later, "will make you do crazy things."

• • •

The first crack on the head was blinding.

Bruno had been watching the Yankees-Rays game on his computer Sept. 14 when he felt it. He reeled in his chair and met the pale blue eyes he'd first seen in the profile.

"What the hell?"

Curtis stood behind him clutching a 2 by 4, he said. "You're lucky I ain't kill you two days before," she told him. The 2 by 4 came down mercilessly, he said.

The first hits didn't put him under like they do in the movies. He watched the blood spill out of his head, so much that a cleaning crew would later have to pull up the dining room floorboards because of all the dried blood stuck between them.

He said she beat him 20 times before his world went dark.

Pasco sheriff's reports that describe the attack also say she took Bruno's van and brought back her friend Vanessa Musson. It was Musson's 26th birthday.

Reports say they used a thick tow rope to bind him to his office chair while he drifted in and out of consciousness. They beat him several more times.

Reports don't specify who did what, but a gun was pressed to Bruno's head. He surrendered the combination to his safe.

They snatched comic books, rare baseball cards, two guitars, his wallet, his gun collection and his flat-screen television and loaded it into his van.

David Ragon, a 69-year-old neighbor, saw them loading the van and came over to check on Bruno. That's when, he said, Curtis' son, Bryan, came behind him with a hammer. The blow to the back of his head knocked him out. More hits broke his jaw.

Then the three left.

When Ragon came to, he crawled out of the yard to call deputies.

Bruno and Ragon were taken to the Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point, where doctors did a tracheotomy on Bruno's throat. Eight staples closed the split in his head and seven stitches closed the gash over his right eye.

Curtis and her son were arrested the next day on charges including attempted murder, false imprisonment and grand theft. Tampa police and U.S. marshals caught up with Musson a week later at her attorney's Tampa apartment. All three remain in custody.

• • •

Bruno has been recovering for two weeks, but signs from that night are still all over him. Deep purple bruises blotch his arms and belly. A stained bandage clings to his throat over the tracheotomy wound. A bare spot of his scalp shows blood and staples.

Bruno's van was returned by authorities. He said he still hasn't gotten back his guns, his TV or anything that was in his safe. He said he wouldn't have anything to say to Curtis if he saw her.

"I believe there's a devil," he said. "But I didn't think the devil was walking around on Earth. But that's what she is. She's the devil."

He said he's not looking to go on any more dates. All he wants now, he said, is peace and to be left alone. His singlesnet.com profile has expired.

Alex Orlando can be reached at aorlando@tampabay.com or (727) 869-6247.

Injured Moon Lake man tells how online romance went awry on first date 10/02/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 11:21am]
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