Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Couple found dead in their St. Petersburg home

ST. PETERSBURG — A woman who had crusaded for the rights of unmarried couples was found murdered in her home Tuesday along with a male companion.

Paula Witthaus, 54, and a 67-year-old man she was living with were "brutally attacked" in their home and pronounced dead at the scene Tuesday, St. Petersburg police said. Police withheld the man's name until they could notify his family.

St. Petersburg police received a call at 12:52 p.m. from an acquaintance who had gone to the home, 2840 17th Ave. N, to check on the residents.

Authorities did not release a cause of death, but said both victims suffered "trauma to the upper body." Property records show Witthaus owns the house.

Police said they had not determined a motive or identified a suspect.

The news came as a shock to neighbors, who were used to seeing Witthaus walking her dogs.

"It's devastating," said Kip Villareal, 42, who lives two houses down. "When you walk out your door you don't expect to see something like this happen."

Witthaus, whose Facebook page lists her as being from St. Petersburg and a former student of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, had made a name for herself in recent years as an activist. In June 2012, she was among people who urged the St. Petersburg City Council to adopt a domestic registry for unmarried couples, gay or heterosexual. Witthaus told the council that a partner of 18 years was put on a ventilator two weeks before he died, during which his family made decisions she said he would not have wanted.

The council passed a law modeled on a Tampa statute that allows a domestic partner to visit and make health care decisions if his partner is incapacitated.

She trekked to the state Capitol in May in the hopes of meeting lawmakers to advocate for expanded Medicaid coverage, again using the example of her longtime partner.

"In our grief and our anger, we just could not understand how a man that paid into the system all his life through payroll deductions could not drink from the well to which he contributed," Witthaus told WTSP-Ch. 10.

On Facebook, Witthaus listed herself as president of Demand L.I.F.E., a Florida nonprofit corporation. Records show her as a director of the organization. The page also shows her dressed in a Santa Claus suit and posing with feminist writer Gloria Steinem.

Pinellas records show Witthaus had been arrested numerous times between 1990 and 2002 on various charges, including identity theft, writing worthless checks and retail theft.

Neighbors remember her as friendly and outgoing.

"There has never been any trouble at all" at the house, said Teresa Shepard, 24, Villareal's niece, who lives with her aunt.

Villareal said she met Witthaus less than a year ago. At that time, Witthaus said her house had been broken into before she had finished moving in; thieves had taken a guitar signed by Elvis Presley.

"They both deserve better than what happened to them," Villareal said.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

Couple found dead in their St. Petersburg home 01/28/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 28, 2014 11:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. New World Brewery is closing. Where will all its concerts go now?

    Blogs

    Ever since it was announced that New World Brewery was closing its beloved Ybor City location and relocating to a spot farther north, there’s been an outpouring of nostalgia from artists, promoters and fans throughout the Tampa Bay music scene.

    Allison Weiss performed at New World Brewery in 2015.
  2. Farewell, New World Brewery: 11 Tampa music scene regulars toast a beloved venue

    Blogs

    It's hard to put into words what New World Brewery has meant to the Tampa music scene over the past 22 years.

    Matt Burke and Have Gun, Will Travel, shown performing at New World Brewery in 2009. Burke credits the venue with shaping how the band wanted to develop.
  3. In dollars: How valuable are Florida's university football programs?

    Business

    The University of Florida football program is valued in a new study at $682 million, making it the most valuable university team in the state but still worth far less than several college programs topping $1 billion. Four years ago, UF's program was valued at just under $600 million.

    The University of Florida football program is valued at  $682 million, making it the most valuable by far in the Sunshine State. Pictured are UF cheerleaders leading the crowd in a Gator cheer on Clearwater Beach last December during the Outback Bowl Beach Day on Clearwater Beach. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]
  4. After 22 years, it's last call for beloved Ybor venue New World Brewery

    Music & Concerts

    YBOR CITY — Steve Bird spreads his tools across a patio table. He has awnings to unbolt and paraphernalia to unpry, from the busted Bop City neon by the stage to the Simpsons "El Duffo o Muerte" mural in the courtyard. He'll uproot a fountain and dismantle a roof and attempt to keep his bar intact. The …

    Various decor and memorabilia fill the walls and shelves at New World Brewery in Ybor City.
Long time music venue and hangout New World Brewery in Ybor City will be closing it's doors and moving locations. Patrons enjoy one of the last events before New World Brewery changes its location to Busch Blvd in Tampa.  [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  5. Brooksville man dies of injuries suffered in crash

    Accidents

    BROOKSVILLE — A Brooksville man died Thursday after he was ejected from his all-terrain vehicle after a crash, authorities said.