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Clearwater police: Murder/suicide leaves two dead in Countryside home

CLEARWATER — If you visited the Pier 60 sunset celebration at Clearwater Beach over the past decade and walked past the tables of tchotchkes sold by vendors, you probably walked past Robert Polukoff.

The Clearwater man sold handmade jewelry, which he guaranteed for life. He was a self-titled "Lapidary Genius Extraordinaire and Master Craftsman … the Coolest Human To Do Business With," according to the business cards he gave customers.

At night he returned to his home in the upscale Countryside area of Clearwater, where he lived with his wife, Irene, a state correctional probation officer who worked at the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center, and their two sons.

Neighbors knew the couple were going through a divorce. They knew the police had been called to the house several times recently. But no one suspected what happened Monday morning.

At 6:44 a.m., one of the Polukoffs' adult sons called Clearwater police after finding their bodies in the garage of their home at 2532 Sweetgum Way W. Police say Robert Polukoff, 48, shot Irene, 49, several times, and then shot himself.

The couple had continued to live in the same home during their divorce proceedings, which started in July. Robert Polukoff was scheduled for a deposition in the case at 2 p.m. today.

"They were good neighbors. Quiet," said neighbor Bill Schwob, 85, who has lived on Sweetgum Way W for 31 years. Schwob said he felt bad for the Polukoffs' two college-age sons.

Police had been called to the house five times since last August, according to Clearwater public safety spokeswoman Beth Watts, including two calls on Feb. 22 for an argument between the couple over money. There had been no history of physical violence between the Polukoffs, though, Watts said.

Money was a central issue in the divorce case. In court filings, Irene Polukoff said her husband hid information from her and refused to put her name on any property they bought — apparent fallout from watching his father go through a contentious divorce. She also said Robert spent four nights per week gambling at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.

When listing the couple's assets in court filings, Irene Polukoff put her husband's gambling winnings as "unknown." Robert Polukoff won $50,000 at a blackjack tournament at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino in December, according to the casino.

Robert Polukoff also inherited a large sum in early 2010 from his father, said Jean Hagan, manager of Sunsets at Pier 60, the public-private partnership that contracts with vendors who sell their wares at the beach sunset celebration. The father, Leonard Polukoff, died in a January 2010 fire in his On Top of the World condominium in Clearwater. Hagan thinks the inheritance is the reason Robert Polukoff stopped selling his jewelry; he hadn't been out on the pier since last summer.

In July, a few weeks after Irene Polukoff filed for divorce, Robert filed a handwritten response with the court, before he hired an attorney. He wrote in legalese, writing "affirm" next to items in Irene's petition he agreed to, and "denied" next to things he disagreed with.

One of the few things Robert disagreed with was the status of the marriage. Irene's lawyer had written: "The marriage … is irretrievably broken."

Times staff photographer Jim Damaske and news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com

Clearwater police: Murder/suicide leaves two dead in Countryside home 04/02/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 3, 2012 12:14am]
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