PINELLAS PARK — No one knew where Steven Brown came from, only where he had been lately.
He lived in a tent at the end of a dirt road. He rarely spoke, but sometimes helped his landlady round up aluminum, or repaired toys they found in the trash. Friends say he was an electrician once, and later drove a cab.
The trail always turns cold with Mr. Brown, a private man who died Monday in his makeshift tent. He was 56. Pinellas County authorities believe he died of natural causes, and are trying to find family members.
"We talked, but it sure as hell wasn't much of a conversation," said house-mate John Naify, 59. "To tell you the truth, I didn't really like the SOB."
Mr. Brown began renting a trailer from Jo Ann Mills two years ago at 9561 68th St. N. In recent months he moved into the yard, saying it was easier to breathe there. Mr. Brown suffered from chronic lung disease and breathed through an air hose.
"He wasn't a very happy person," said Mills, 67, as she and neighbors reminisced this week. "He either liked you or he didn't like you."
"He didn't like me one bit," said Roger Klemett, 43.
He did seem to like Deborah Klenk, who tends bar at nearby Bottles Pub, where Mr. Brown played darts and did occasional electrical work. Klenk, 40, described Mr. Brown as a "really down-to-earth guy" who was fond of his two nieces. The nieces used to check on him at the bar sometimes, Klenk said. She hasn't seen them in eight years, and thinks they live out of state now.
He also liked animals. He trained squirrels to eat out of his hand, and had taught Mr. Green, Mills' Amazon parrot, to say good morning.
About 5 p.m. Monday, Mills checked on Mr. Brown in his tent and found him unresponsive.
An investigator from the Pinellas County Medical Examiner's office found no signs of foul play. Mr. Brown's body was transferred to A Life Tribute, a Gulfport funeral home. The Anderson-McQueen subsidiary handles unclaimed bodies for the county.
As of Thursday, the county's Health and Human Services department had not found anyone related to Mr. Brown. It had determined, however, that Mr. Brown was a veteran, according to eligibility specialist Annie Shaw.
That means Mr. Brown might be eligible for burial at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell or the Sarasota VA National Cemetery. Only a dishonorable discharge can derail a veteran's eligibility for a military burial, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Web site. Shaw would not reveal Mr. Brown's discharge status, citing confidentiality.
If Mr. Brown does not receive a military burial, his remains will be cremated.
Mr. Brown seemed to anticipate the mysteries his death would create. Inside his worn-out wallet was a card, titled "My Living Will" and some lines to fill out.
It was blank.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.