CLEARWATER — Jameka Evans often helped her neighbor Mary Ring carry in groceries and saw her pass out gummy worms to kids playing in the street.
But in the last month, Evans hadn't seen Ring, 69, whom she called "Miss Mary." Instead, she saw the people who had recently moved in with Ring carrying her possessions out to the front yard and driving her car. She thought Ring may have died and that the new tenants were her family.
"I thought they were taking care of her," Evans, 26, said Tuesday.
But Monday morning, officers found Ring shot to death in her home, Clearwater police said. Her two tenants face charges in her killing.
Lawrence Edward Cannon, 42, was arrested on a charge of first-degree murder, and Jennifer Elam, 44, on a charge of accessory after the fact to first-degree murder.
Cannon is being held without bail at Pinellas County Jail. Elam's bail is set at $50,000.
Clearwater Police Department spokesman Rob Shaw said officers first visited the home at 1132 Engman St. on Sunday when an anonymous caller expressed concern over Ring's well-being. But no one was home that day.
On Monday, officers returned after a second caller expressed fear that a homicide had occurred there.
Police say Cannon shot Ring to death on Feb. 5, and the suspects have spent the past two weeks trying to decide how to dispose of her body.
Police said Elam and Cannon were not working as Ring's caretakers.
John Elton Chantry, a former tenant of Ring's, said she had all sorts of medical issues — diabetes, bone problems, muscle problems.
"She was sweet," Chantry, 54, said Tuesday. "But she was a mess."
Chantry lived with Ring as a tenant and a roommate in two Clearwater homes over a five-year period. But renting a room meant being her caretaker, too, he said.
"I'd take her to the store, go shopping for her, help her if she needed help getting to the bathroom," Chantry said. "I did what I could."
He met her through her daughter Tracy Ring, a friend of his. The younger Ring died about five years ago, Chantry said. He remembered his former landlord as someone who was easy to get along with.
"Everyone loved her," he said, then he added with a chuckle, "but she didn't put up with garbage. If she thought you were not being truthful, she let you know."
Cannon's stepfather said an addiction to pain pills had put Cannon on a dark path.
"I knew he had a little bit of a temper but I never knew him to get into fights," said Larry Pearson, 58, of Tennessee.
"We hadn't spoken in more than two years. I kicked him to the curb for stealing from me. Drugs got hold of him."
Cannon's only criminal record involves two incidents in 2003, one misdemeanor charge of possession of marijuana and paraphernalia and the other misdemeanor charges of possession of inhaling paraphernalia.
"He was a very nice, sweet, honest kid who helped his mother with anything," Pearson said.
Cannon's wife, Sheila Cannon, died in 2014, Pearson said. It was around then that Cannon's addiction to drugs spiked.
Evans, the neighbor, said she would often see Cannon and Elam, along with a third man, drinking beer and smoking cigarettes outside. The yard became cluttered with what Evans believes were Ring's possessions — a washer and dryer, shelves of plates and cups, and a decorative sign that read: "Do more of what makes you happy."
Times senior researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn. Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.