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. U.S. economy gathers steam in second quarter

    Business

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy revved up this spring after a weak start to the year, fueled by strong consumer spending. But the growth spurt still fell short of the optimistic goals President Donald Trump hopes to achieve through tax cuts and regulatory relief.

    A government report released Friday showed economic output picked up in the second quarter. 
[Associated Press file photo]
  2. What you need to know about Bucs training camp

    Bucs

    Bucs training camp is here.

    This morning was the first of 13 practices that are free and open to the general public, so we have all the details to answer your questions about where and when and so on.

    Dirk Koetter is nothing if not precise, with practices starting at 8:45 a.m. and running until 10:27. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  3. Fennelly: It's high time for Bucs to take Tampa Bay back

    Bucs

    TAMPA — Welcome to the proving ground.

    Bucs training camp begins today.

    Hard Knocks and flop sweat.

    Work and more work.

    "We have a lot to prove,'' wide receiver Mike Evans (13) says. "We're good on paper, but we've got to do it." [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  4. Old dog's lucky day: Video shows firefighters rescuing 12-year-old Shar-Pei mix from bay

    Pets

    MIAMI BEACH — Junior spent Thursday night lounging on a pillow, too tired to move.

    Jose Ruiz takes a selfie with his dog named Junior after Junior was rescued from Biscayne Bay. [Photo courtesy of Jose Ruiz via Miami Herald]
  5. HomeTeam 100: Players 1-10

    Footballpreps

    When he's not holding things down on the O-line, Nicholas Petit-Frere is holding his own in the classroom with a 3.7 grade-point average. (Andres Leiva, Times)