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Before death, Lakeland woman may have been forced to write sordid letter, sheriff says

LAKELAND — When deputies caught up to Jeremiah Fogle on Sunday, after two pastors were shot in church, the accused gunman told them what to do:

"If you go to my house, you will find a full confession and my wife."

They found 56-year-old Theresa Fogle, dead.

And they found a confession, but not the one they expected.

It was written in her voice, a catalog of sexual infidelities with a list of partners at least 25 long. Polk County deputies said Monday her husband may have forced her to write it.

Jeremiah Fogle told the deputies he loved her. But he had loved others before.

The 57-year-old former deacon with a velvet voice had married at least six women before he made Theresa his wife.

And he had killed one.

• • •

Jeremiah Fogle answered the door in his underwear, clutching a Winchester rifle.

It was July 6, 1986. His wife, Diane Fogle, lay on a blanket inside their Avon Park house, her head propped up on a pillow, bleeding. She had no pulse and gunshots to her head and chest.

She left behind two children, a girl and a boy. Her teenage son, Thomas Black, told police he heard Jeremiah Fogle say he had shot someone and was going to shoot himself.

Avon Park police had to drag the husband from her side. "I want to stay with her," he said.

Fogle faced a first-degree murder charge, but prosecutors reduced it to manslaughter. He took a plea agreement: 10 years of probation, no prison time.

Why is unclear. The case file has been destroyed. The judge has died. The state attorney in charge of the case could not be reached Monday, and even authorities were left wondering how Fogle remained free.

And so quickly remarried.

• • •

Fogle was a deacon at Greater Faith Christian Center Church in Lakeland six years ago when the pastor approached him with a concern. Church women didn't like the way Fogle hugged them.

Pastor William Boss asked Fogle to take a temporary sabbatical, so Fogle left and started his own ministry with Theresa.

He returned Sunday, deputies say, this time with a .32-caliber revolver. He headed down the aisle. Parishioners had their heads bowed, but one woman saw Fogle peer at the Rev. Boss.

Then, deputies say, he fired.

Boss was hit once in the head, but the bullet didn't pierce his skull. Fogle then turned to associate pastor Carl Stewart, deputies say, and shot him three times.

Both survived, and two parishioners were able to subdue Fogle.

The sounds of chaos were captured in 911 calls.

"Lord have mercy," a man outside told an operator. "People are running and screaming from the church."

"People have been shot," said another.

"Have you been shot?" an operator asked.

"Yes, ma'am."

"Stay with me on the line," she told him. "Stay on the line."

As the operator dispatched authorities, the man continued to plead, "Please help us ma'am.

"Please, ma'am, please."

• • •

"Read the notes on the table," Fogle told deputies Sunday. "I just want it all behind me."

Next to a Bible opened to Matthew 5:17, deputies found a journal, three letters and a note. They will not divulge the contents or the listed names. It could be fiction, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Fogle denied writing the letters. He said he didn't know how to read or write, a claim Judd said others refuted.

A deputy asked: Did he force Theresa to write them?

Fogle replied, "You can't force anyone to do anything."

Fogle remained in jail Monday, denied bail. The wounded pastors remained in the hospital, still critical but stable.

• • •

As deputies investigated, Judd expressed anger over Fogle's freedom after the 1986 shooting:

"Had he been in jail for the first-degree murder of his then-wife," Judd said, "this current wife would be alive today."

Shekema Clark felt the same way. She was 6 when Fogle killed her mother, Diane.

She wishes she had fought for tougher prosecution, but was just a little girl. And he was the possessive stepfather, who sat behind her at her mother's funeral.

As she got older, she kept up with his movements, wanting to tell him how she felt. She bumped into him at a Winn-Dixie five years ago.

"Do you know who I am?" she asked. She told him, then left before he could say a word.

Clark's aunt Sandra Nelson saw him a year after Diane's death, at a restaurant. He wore a maroon, pin-striped suit and dark shades. He was with a woman. Nelson addressed a server, she remembers, loud enough so he would hear: "I know y'all ain't going to wait on this murderer," she said. "He killed my sister."

She watched Fogle and the woman stand up and leave.

Clark feels that rage. She wants to know about every court date from here until the end.

"If he gets the death penalty," she said, "I would like to be there."

She drove to Lakeland on Monday and met with Theresa Fogle's family. She wanted them to know she understood.

Times staff writer Danny Valentine and researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Before death, Lakeland woman may have been forced to write sordid letter, sheriff says 09/19/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 12:46pm]
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