Sunday, April 22, 2018
Public safety

For 2010-2011, Hernando leads the bay area in murders, measured by population

Two husbands killed their wives. A wife killed her husband. Two sons killed their fathers. Another son killed his mother, and then himself. A brother killed a brother, twice. A man killed his daughter-in-law. Another man killed his sister and a woman he didn't know at all. Seven other times people were killed over drugs or money or both.

Because of those people and for those reasons, authorities say, 18 people in Hernando County were murdered over the last 24 months. Nine in 2010 and nine in 2011.

Before last year, 2010 contained the single-highest annual total the county had ever seen, other than one horrifying 12-month period nearly two decades ago. Thirteen people here were murdered in 1993. Serial killer Michael "Edwin" Kaprat III was responsible for five of those murders. Kaprat, known as the "granny killer," murdered five elderly women. He was sentenced to death in 1994 and was later stabbed to death in prison.

In 2010, Hernando had the highest murder rate per capita of any county in the Tampa Bay area. That was the first time that had occurred since at least 1995, according to state records. Though the complete 2011 statistics haven't yet been released, the county is likely to rank among the highest again.

The obvious question, but one that's likely impossible to answer: What's happening?

"Well, there is no real easy answer," said Sheriff Al Nienhuis. "I don't think there's any way to put a trend on it. If you could, you'd be a millionaire."

• • •

It started 10 days into 2010. Friends believed 40-year-old Sarah Blackburn intended to end her tumultuous marriage to her husband of more than 16 years, Dr. Robert Blackburn. The prominent Spring Hill physician never let that happen.

After brutally beating his wife, Robert Blackburn shot her once in the mouth with a 1907 .32-caliber pistol. Blackburn, 55, later turned the gun on himself, leaving behind two children.

The tragedy stunned the community, but the shocks had just begun.

Four days later, John Kalisz, his gun loaded and mind set, walked into his sister's home west of Brooksville and didn't waver.

"I shot everybody till the bullets ran out," he told investigators 13 days later.

Prosecutors say Kalisz, 57, killed two people and injured two more at the home of his sister, Kathryn "Kitty" Donovan, where the Jan. 14, 2010, rampage began. It ended at a gas station on U.S. 19 in Cross City later that day. Surrounded by deputies, Kalisz fired one round out of the driver's-side window. It struck Dixie County sheriff's Capt. Chad Reed in the mouth. He died that evening.

Kalisz pleaded guilty last year to killing Reed and was sentenced to life in prison. He is scheduled to go to trial Jan. 17 for the Hernando murders. Prosecutors here are seeking the death penalty.

Four more people would be murdered before the Father's Day weekend that this county will never forget.

On June 19, 2010, authorities say, Stanley Elias Eckard killed his brother, 19-year-old Sean. At the time, no one knew it.

Authorities say Eckard, 22, told them he attacked his brother because of jealousy over a girl. Early that morning, he broke into Sean's locked room, reports say, and the two struggled until Eckard wrapped an elastic cord around his brother's neck and the pair fell to the floor, where Eckard heard Sean's neck pop.

"I had no intentions of killing him," he told investigators. "I was just in a fight with him."

Eckard then carried his brother's body through the bedroom window of the Spring Hill home and buried it, with his bare hands, in the yard. The boys' father, Samuel Eckard, later dug it up.

The day after Eckard's murder, 18-year-old Enrique "Ricky" Daniel Acevedo did his friend a favor. Skyler Collins, then also 18, had just gotten a call from her ex-boyfriend, Steven Wesolek. He asked Collins if she would give him and his friends a ride. Acevedo wouldn't let her go alone, so he drove them to Emerson Road south of Brooksville to pick up Wesolek, 39-year-old Sherrie Dicus and her daughter, 16-year-old Sabrina Dicus.

After the three got into Collins' red 2001 Ford Mustang convertible, Acevedo was stabbed twice in the back of the neck, and Collins was choked until she lost consciousness, reports say. Collins regained consciousness when Acevedo slammed on the brakes, and the two stumbled out of the car near the intersection of Ayers and Culbreath roads, south of Brooksville. Acevedo died on the side of the road as the car drove away. Collins had ligature marks on her neck and was treated at a hospital for her injuries.

In 2010 interviews, sheriff's officials said they hoped the sudden slew of murders was an anomaly.

"I hope this is just a spike and not the new norm," Col. Mike Maurer said 18 months ago. "That's our fear."

Former Sheriff Tom Mylander, who ran the agency for 16 years until retiring in 2000, told the Times he believed it was a symptom of broader changes.

"It's just a sign of the times," Mylander said at the time. "We just live in a violent society. We've got a different world out there."

• • •

The violence in 2011 took far longer to begin than the previous year.

On a bleak, stormy Thursday in late March, Kenardo Frazer sprinted through yards and across rain-slicked streets in the neighborhood just north of downtown Brooksville. For a moment, investigators said, the 30-year-old lost the three men who wanted him dead. But as he stepped into the front yard of 1583 Howell Ave., he took his final steps. Authorities say Julius Holder, a 26-year-old Brooksville man, shot Frazer with a 9mm pistol. Under a sweet gum tree, just blocks from his home, Frazer died.

Six weeks later, one of the most bizarre murders in Hernando's history began in the back of a patrol car.

Just after 7 a.m. on May 10, Brittany Elizabeth Miles was pulled over in Hudson on suspicion of driving under the influence. According to authorities, this is what happened next: Miles told a deputy she'd had seven drinks. Through an open window, the troubled, drug-addicted 22-year-old escaped from the back of a sheriff's cruiser and nearly killed a Pasco County deputy with her erratic driving as she fled. Then, with authorities in pursuit, her pickup barreled through the intersection of U.S. 19 and County Line Road and slammed into a 67-year-old motorcyclist named Henry F. McCain of Spring Hill.

As he died on the road, witnesses say, Miles sped away until she was caught about a mile up the road. A toxicology report later indicated that Miles' blood contained oxycodone and alprazolam. She has since been charged with McCain's murder.

The year ended with four consecutive months of brutal violence among family members.

In September, authorities say, Brett Hattenbrun walked from his home to his son's house, just about 100 yards down Owl Road, near Weeki Wachee. He intended to confront Joey Hattenbrun about marital problems she was having with his son, Chad, but the meeting turned horribly violent. Hattenbrun is accused of bludgeoning the 30-year-old as she stood in her driveway, just feet from the steps leading to her front door. She died later after being flown to a St. Petersburg hospital.

In October, Christopher Burke and his father, Raymond, got into a fight. Christopher, who outweighed his 60-year-old father by 150 pounds, bashed Raymond in the head with a flashlight and then strangled him, investigators say. A report says he wrapped his father's body in a blanket, dragged him into the back yard, near Istachatta, and buried him.

In November, Phillip Hayden shot his 80-year-old mother, Elizabeth "Bettie" Jacobson, then killed himself in the double-wide mobile home they shared in a rural neighborhood in northeast Hernando County. Investigators never determined a motive.

In December, on Christmas Eve, investigators say Karen Biraghi snapped. As her husband, Alan, slept on the couch of their Spring Hill home, she shot him with a revolver.

Later that day, she matter-of-factly explained to a 911 dispatcher what she had done.

"I'm turning myself in for killing my husband."

The operator asked where her husband was.

"He's, umm, on the couch right now."

"Is he alive?"

"No."

Later, the dispatcher asked how it happened.

"I shot him."

"Okay. And you're sure that he's not breathing?"

"Yes."

The dispatcher, moments after, asked where she shot him.

"In the head."

• • •

As much as law enforcement officers wish they could prevent crime, Nienhuis noted, that's seldom possible.

"What we can do is deal with it after the fact," he said.

And the Sheriff's Office has done that well. Investigators say each of those 18 murders over the last two years has been solved.

As for the reasons behind all of this violence, Nienhuis said there isn't just one cause. Some were because of drugs, some because of money and some, he says, may go back to Cain and Abel.

"You're going to have problems in the home," he said.

Whether this will continue, Nienhuis certainly hopes not. But he has no idea.

"When you're dealing with humans," he said, "you never really know what's going on inside."

Information from Times files was used in this report. John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1432.

 
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