RUSKIN — The search for a 75-year-old tourist ended this morning at 9:44 a.m., when a Hillsborough Sheriff's helicopter spotted the body of a woman lying in a field.
Enid Grace Hendricks was discovered about 150 yards west of Interstate 75, less than a half-mile north of 19th Avenue in Ruskin, the sheriff's office said.
Hendricks, who was in the early stages of Alzheimer's, apparently wandered off from her niece's home in the River Bend subdivision early Wednesday. She had arrived Tuesday night from England with her husband, planning to visit with family.
Before she was found, there were at least four confirmed sightings of her wandering in her green nightgown and slippers. The most recent was in a tomato field about a half-mile from where she was found, Maj. J. Marsicano said.
Lisa Janes, 47, a clerk with Goodwill Industries in Ruskin, took news of Hendricks' discovery to heart.
Janes was cashiering Wednesday afternoon when she believes she might have spoken with Hendricks around 2:30 or 3 p.m.
A woman came through her line wearing slippers. She had a fresh wound on her left foot. She spoke English with a foreign accent and was wearing what she thinks was a dark colored house coat.
"I just remember because I turned around and she was laying across the counter and she told me she didn't feel good," Janes said this morning.
The woman wandered out. And a few hours later, Janes said, deputies came in asking if anyone had seen a woman in a housecoat and slippers.
"We get so many people in an out of here," Janes said. "We've all been hoping and praying for her and her family."
Marsicano said it isn't clear whether the woman Janes saw was Hendricks. He said it doesn't seem to fit with her pattern of moving north, then east and north and then east again.
Deputies searched the area last night with a helicopter, using a nighttime search device that locates sources of heat on the ground, but did not find her. Another helicopter sweep this morning located Hendricks' body at 9:25 a.m.
The wooded area where she was found is about four to five miles from the River Bend neighborhood. It's rare for people with dementia or Alzheimer's to stray that far, deputies said, but it was unclear how she got there or what caused her death.
"I don't know if there's any food or water involved," said Marsicano, answering a question about dehydration or starvation.
Family gathered at Hendricks' niece's home, 2513 Yukon Cliff Drive in Ruskin, to mourn the news. Johannie Stanley said she'd only just met her aunt, who resides in England with her husband and most of her children. One of Hendricks' daughters was at the home and distraught.
"We're hanging in there," Stanley said, "waiting for police to tell us what to do next."