Saturday, December 16, 2017
Public safety

Christmas Eve slayings are Clearwater's oldest unsolved homicides

CLEARWATER — Forty-five years ago, neighbors discovered Nick and Demetra Jeatran sprawled on the living room floor of their Jackson Road home in Clearwater, just feet away from a batch of holiday cookies on the kitchen counter.

It was Christmas Eve of 1968. Demetra was dead. Her husband died days later.

On Christmas Eve of 1973, detectives found Randall Brown's body inside a closet in his Island Way apartment.

The two cases, ironically both occurring on Christmas Eve, are the oldest unsolved homicides in Clearwater.

Through the years, the cases have been passed along from detective to detective. Dozens of friends and relatives have been interviewed, and pieces of evidence collected at both scenes have been submitted for DNA analysis.

In 2011, the brittle and yellowed police reports from both cases were handed to Clearwater homicide detective Thomas Dawe.

The killers, Dawe suspects, are still out there.

"I hope they know that every Christmas Eve, we're reminded of that," he said. "And we're not willing to quit."

• • •

On Dec. 24, 1968, a neighbor dropping off Christmas presents at the Jeatrans' home knocked on their door at 1135 Jackson Road, north of Drew Street in west Clearwater.

When no one answered, she peered through a window and spotted her neighbors on the floor in their pajamas. She alerted other neighbors and together, they entered the home through an unlocked back door.

The Jeatrans had both been beaten in the head with a blunt object. Demetra Jane, 74, was dead when officers arrived. Her husband, 82-year-old Nick, was conscious. At Morton Plant Hospital, doctors performed surgery, but he died three days later.

"Police say he rambled on meaninglessly, saying nothing of value," reads a St. Petersburg Times article written six years after the murders. "But the possibility exists that in his delirium, some clue to the identity of the killer was dropped."

His last words have never been disclosed.

Detectives believe the murders were the result of a burglary gone bad. The house was ransacked and Demetra's jewelry box drawers were scattered about her room. When detectives canvassed the neighborhood, a burglary on a nearby street was reported.

"Investigators always felt that was something related," Dawe said.

Detectives followed hundreds of leads. They interviewed known burglars in the area. They searched nearby railroad tracks for the murder weapon.

But with no witnesses, the case was never solved.

For more than a decade, the Jeatrans' granddaughter, Nicky Ahrens, 63, of Temple Terrace, has called Clearwater police regularly to check on the progress — if any — of the case. She keeps a notebook, in which she scribbles details of her conversations with detectives.

"It's pretty senseless, really," she said of the slayings. "They weren't rich. They didn't have a lot of money."

Ahrens, a general practice attorney, was 18 when the Jeatrans died. Growing up, she had spent the holidays with her grandparents every year. But in 1968, she arrived home to Miami from college with the flu. Ahrens, her brother and mother suspended their trip to Clearwater until she felt better.

Ahrens sometimes wonders what would have happened if they had been there the night of the murders.

"Either we'd all be dead or it wouldn't have happened," she said.

The Jeatrans, originally from Greece, owned a hotel in Menomonie, Wis., before retiring to Clearwater in the 1950s. Every night, they'd drive to Clearwater Beach, sit in chairs on the sand and mingle with Greek friends.

After their deaths, Ahrens never entered their house again.

"I guess we don't have closure in a way," she said. "Forty-five years later, you kind of have to come to grips with it."

• • •

Randall Brown was a 47-year-old bachelor who worked as a flight instructor in Clearwater.

When he didn't show up for work Christmas Eve morning in 1973, police went to his eighth-floor apartment at 223 Island Way on Island Estates about 9 a.m.

Inside, they discovered what Dawe describes as a "significant crime scene." Detectives found his body in a closet. Police said Brown died of a gunshot wound and blunt force trauma.

With no signs of forced entry, detectives believe Brown may have invited his killer home the previous night.

That same day, police found his Ford Pinto on Mandalay Avenue. In St. Petersburg earlier that morning, an officer had found Brown's credit cards near a Dumpster on Central Avenue.

But with no witnesses and lack of DNA analysis at the time, the case turned cold.

Detectives have always suspected Brown's social life — he was an openly gay man who frequented local bars — could have attracted his killer.

"He had some issues with people who didn't like his lifestyle," Dawe said.

Since taking on Brown's case, Dawe has submitted a handful of evidence items to the DNA lab at the Pinellas County medical examiner's office. He also entered fingerprints found at the scene into a nationwide arrest database.

So far, no results.

• • •

Inside a small room on the third floor of the Clearwater Police Department, detectives keep records of the city's 26 unsolved homicides. A wooden shelf filled with binders containing documents for each case flanks one wall, the binders' spines printed with the name and photograph of each victim.

Among the photos is Brown. A few binders away are the Jeatrans.

Dawe and Ahrens are not the only ones who still remember the murders. Last week, an anonymous person donated $5,000 to go toward the existing $1,000 Crime Stoppers reward in the Jeatran case.

Dawe said he will continue submitting evidence for analysis, hoping to one day close both cases and remove them from the shelf.

"They know that they killed two people — two elderly people. Somebody knows they killed Randall Brown. I think, and I hope, that it eats at them through the years," Dawe said. "Whether I investigate this through the rest of my career and someone else picks it up, someone is always going to look at it."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Contact Laura C. Morel at [email protected] or (727)445-4157. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

 
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