PINELLAS PARK — The young couple welcomed the New Year from the swanky Don CeSar Beach Resort.
Wearing silly hats and grinning at the camera, Owen Lollar and Paula Dale-Lollar had reason to celebrate. Married six years, they flew all over the world after collecting an inheritance. Pictures showed them at a ski slope, posing in front of a Christmas tree and drinking with friends.
They had "a very, very loving relationship," said Owen's stepbrother, Jason Armstrong, 33.
So how did they end up shot to death in a pickup truck in an abandoned parking lot on Monday?
Police think it was a murder suicide and wonder how the couple fell so far.
The family isn't so sure.
• • •
To people around them, the Lollars seemed perfectly happy.
Owen, 34, a real estate appraiser whose business had dwindled in recent years, dabbled in various jobs — building and repairing computers, working as a handyman, starting businesses including one to make jewelry with his wife.
A graduate of Dixie Hollins High, he majored in international finance at the University of Pittsburgh, near his dad. The family joked about how he still couldn't keep his checkbook, his mother said.
Paula, 35, came to the United States from England and worked as a cake decorator. She and Owen met at a backyard barbecue and hit it off. After they married, Paula became a designer of display cases and windows for Nordstrom, then Neiman Marcus.
"She was a determined, vivacious young gal," said Owen's father, Terry Lollar, 58.
They fought sometimes, though there is no record of physical violence. Paula sometimes complained to a friend at work about Owen getting a job.
The couple lived rent free in a Pass-a-Grille apartment their family owned. When Paula's father died of a brain tumor, she inherited money. No one in the Lollar family is sure how much, but they estimate it was hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Flush with possibility, the couple took a six-month trip traveling the length of Central and South America. They took language and dancing lessons, said Owen's mother JoEllen Doepel, 58.
Owen handled the finances. Paula's paychecks were directly deposited in their bank account.
Recently, Paula was working for Neiman Marcus in the International Plaza. She was being groomed for a management position. Owen was starting a computer and cable services business.
The couple went out nearly every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in Ybor and Hyde Park, Owen's mother said. Paula had more than 30 pairs of shoes, valued at hundreds of dollars each.
In retrospect, police think their financial life was unraveling.
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In January, a legal dispute forced them to move out of their home and into an apartment in St. Petersburg.
After July, they stopped making payments on Owen's Toyota Tacoma. The broken air conditioning on Paula's Volkswagen Beetle hadn't been fixed.
And the power had been turned off in the apartment.
On Monday, Owen picked Paula up at 6:10 p.m. Her co-workers told police she seemed happy all day.
Detective Ken Blessing believes Owen had his .40 caliber handgun in the truck as they drove across the Howard Frankland Bridge in the rain. He thinks they exited Interstate 275 at 118th Avenue and pulled off into an abandoned business at 10222 MCI Drive.
Minutes later, a man who was fishing in a nearby lake saw Owen's left arm hanging out the truck's open door. When police arrived, Owen's gun lay on the floor of the driver's seat. Both people in the truck had been shot in the side of the head.
Behind the front seats was a sealed envelope with a $4,500 deposit slip dated for Tuesday. But there was no cash. No check.
A white gold wedding ring lay on the pavement under the truck. It was Owen's.
• • •
What investigators didn't find was a suicide note.
Owen's family doesn't believe he could shoot Paula or himself.
"Owen worshipped the ground she walked on," said Terry Lollar. "He would have done anything for her." On the day they died, Owen called his mother to say he'd give her some money the next day from a payment he was supposed to receive. She doesn't understand why he would do that if something was wrong.
Detective Blessing thinks the power company must have turned off the electricity on Monday, without Paula knowing. Police estimate they were two months behind on their bill. He wonders if that triggered an argument in the truck.
"You can hide a lot of stuff, but you can't hide that your power's off," Blessing said. "That may have brought this whole thing to a head."
Police found the apartment in perfect order. Dishes were done. Closets were packed with clothes. The credenza held bottles of wine.
Police found not a single bill.
Owen's family thinks the story is incomplete. They are trying to make the pieces fit in a different way. But with so few clues, they can only ask: Where was the $4,500 that went with the deposit slip? What if they were robbed? What if they mentioned they had money to the wrong person?
"I will go to my grave saying he did not do this," his mother said. "This is just not Owen."
Loved ones are often skeptical at such times, Blessing said. It's hard for parents to understand why their children would not come to them if they were in trouble.
Gun residue tests on Owen have not been completed, Blessing said. Without a note, "I don't know if we'll ever know why they did it, or why he did it, or what was going on in their minds.''
He can only wonder what they talked about as they drove for the last time up and over the Howard Frankland Bridge.
Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or firstname.lastname@example.org.