MASARYKTOWN — Over the microphone, from somewhere deep inside the building, Jo Anne Grotto wants a visitor at the front door to identify himself. A couple of Shih Tzus come running to the entrance, barking loudly and pawing at the glass — a pair of unlikely guard dogs.
Even at the Catholic Church of St. Mary along U.S. 41, people no longer take their safety for granted in tiny Masaryktown.
"You can never be too careful," Grotto said Friday. "I work by myself a lot in here."
Grotto's unease is part of the legacy of the brutal murders of Patrick and Evelyn DePalma the weekend before Halloween 2006. But some residents feel the tension may soon lift from this quiet town of 920 souls since the arrest of David Alexander Bostick on Friday in connection with the stabbings of the elderly couple.
Bostick, 18, of Tampa faces two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of the DePalmas. Bostick is a distant relative of the couple who he referred to as "Uncle Pat" and "Aunt Evelyn." Hernando deputies have also identified two other suspects in connection with the murders, but have not released any information about them.
The news of an arrest made its way quickly through a town grown wary of strangers since the slayings.
"I used to always leave my doors unlocked," said Korbus Road resident June Weber. "Not anymore. And I got my concealed weapon permit right after they were murdered."
Along the winding dirt road that runs past the DePalmas still-vacant home at 333 Korbus Road, most of the residents have posted warnings to unfriendly outsiders on the gates and fences that ring their small homes and mobile homes.
"Private Property," reads one. "No Trespassing," says another. "Warning: Bad Dog," reads yet another.
"It's been kind of scary," said Charlie Altemoos, who lives a half block from the DePalmas' home. "I mean, it happened right in our own back yard."
Because of the rural isolation and a relatively elderly population, many Masaryktown residents had come to believe violent crime was something reserved for larger places like Tampa, St. Petersburg or maybe even nearby Spring Hill. But not here, not in the shade of live oak trees and peace of the country and the support of good neighbors.
"I think it scared a lot of the elderly people," said Niki Levesque, who works in the town's tiny post office. "It was quite a shock."
Said resident Tim Hobbs, who was hanging out in the post office: "Not too many people around here have enemies like that … ones that will murder them."
Grotto, for one, was relieved to hear there was finally a break in the case after 18 months. The DePalmas had attended Mass at St. Mary's every Sunday, and their deaths were quite a blow to the parishioners.
"It shook us up," Grotto said. "But this is good news. Now we can all sleep a little easier."
Joel Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 754-6120.