SUN CITY CENTER — The nice elderly man told the waitress he was alone: dead wife and no children. So she stopped by his home to check on him. She gave him rides, dropped off groceries, and sat with him on the porch.
What she didn't know about Allan Dunn, who shot himself last year at age 86: He had two stepdaughters who say he abused them. His neighbors detested him. He had once been charged with hitting a delivery woman.
And this: On that very porch, in a large chest freezer, were the remains of a woman — most likely, investigators say, his wife, Margaret.
"Never did he say anything that would make us suspect something like that," said Carol Kingsbury, the sister of waitress Ellen Miller.
Hillsborough investigators say they suspect Margaret died of natural causes about a decade ago and her husband kept the death secret so he could collect her benefits. The Medical Examiner's Office had not identified the body as of Friday afternoon.
Dunn of Sun City Center was a retired home builder originally from Canada. He had three children from previous marriages. His wife of 50 years was Margaret Dunn, a former advertising proofreader for the Des Plaines Register newspaper in Illinois. She had two daughters from other marriages.
Margaret Dunn was tall, smart, stylish and warm, her daughters say. But they say she was controlled by a husband who used to terrorize her: socking her in the mouth over Sunday dinner, once wrapping a vacuum cord around her neck and, finally, forbidding her to speak with them as she grew old.
Daughters Sue Burke and Sharon Stephens say their mother had no social life of her own. She got in trouble for running the washing machine if her husband was expecting a phone call.
"He sexually abused me as a young child," said Burke, 58, of Massachusetts. The abuse was not reported to authorities, she said. Her mother did not feel she could act.
"She just loved him," Burke said. "I think she always felt she was of the generation of women that was never on her own."
Stephens, 69, of Michigan, said Allan Dunn also sexually abused her and she worried about the safety of her own children. "Mom said it wasn't that she was in disbelief but that she'd take care of it," Stephens said. "She never did."
They learned of their mother's declining health — Alzheimer's disease, they were told — in occasional phone conversations with their stepfather.
"I just kind of pictured her in a hospital bed in the bedroom," Stephens said. "Al would say the nurses came and checked on her."
Even his son had no words of praise for his father.
"I'm his blood, his biological son, and I have nothing good to say about him," said Jim Dunn, who lives in Illinois.
Meanwhile, neighbors at the quiet condominium complex where the couple moved in the early 1990s worried about the fragile Margaret.
She was so thin she looked like she'd break in two. Her teeth were falling out. Neighbor Peggy Eizember, 87, remembers wondering if Margaret Dunn was being abused by her husband.
"I said to her one time, 'Margo, why don't you leave him?' " she said. "And she said, 'Well, he'll change.' "
Though they liked her, neighbors say they had bad feelings about Allan Dunn. Some of them remembered one incident in particular: In 1993, he was charged with battery after striking a UPS delivery woman because she didn't have all of his packages, according to a Hillsborough sheriff's report.
At some point, they say, Margaret Dunn seemed to disappear. Neighbors heard she'd been sent to a nursing home up north.
About five years ago, one of Stephens' daughters called Allan Dunn. He mentioned that her grandmother had died.
Stephens thought about finding her mother's grave one day, but neither she nor her sister wanted to deal with their stepfather. They never got word of a funeral. They never even learned the cause of death.
After Allan Dunn shot himself last year, the waitress friend Miller was appointed as the representative of his estate. She was ordered to administer his property and pay his debts.
She took her sister, Kingsbury, with her to clean his home this week. It was Kingsbury who popped open the freezer and saw the body, intact and curled up in the fetal position.
Kingsbury caught a glimpse of salt-and-pepper hair. Then she closed the freezer and called authorities.
Margaret Dunn's daughters say the news this week was creepy and sad, but not totally shocking.
"It should've dawned on me that, knowing Al, his first thought wouldn't be on her or her family but it was about the money," said Burke.
But Burke lost her mother before she'd ever died. And she'd already found a way to cope with that.
"My mom is in my heart, and I don't imagine in the least that body in the freezer is hers," said Burke. "I mean — she's with me."
Jodie Tillman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374.