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Friends, neighbors mourn man found slain at home

ODESSA — Bright yellow crime scene tape fluttered in the wind at 11523 Trotting Down Drive on Tuesday, a strange sight in a place where countryside mansions blend into a landscape of white fences, horse farms and fish ponds.

Larry Higgins often sat here on his porch, watching the sunset and keeping an eye on his koi.

"He loved his front porch," said friend and neighbor Karen Duffey, whose husband helped build Higgins' 3,575-square-foot home four years ago.

Higgins, a 61-year-old lawyer and horse racing aficionado, was discovered dead inside his prized home on Friday, and deputies called it a homicide.

"He was really a very generous, kind, wonderful individual," Duffey said, her eyes tearing.

Few in the Citrus Green subdivision are used to the sight of the crime scene unit van. Sheriff's investigators haven't left in four days. Neighbors say they searched Higgins' large pond, which he dubbed "Lake Bubba" after his son's nickname. On Tuesday, they scoured the property surrounding the $740,000 home, looking for evidence. Two deputies remain outside the house.

"There's been a murder, hasn't there?" neighbor Linda Martin remembered asking one deputy on Friday when she first saw the commotion across the street.

The Sheriff's Office has released little information. Spokeswoman Debbie Carter said Tuesday that Higgins had been out of touch with his friends and family for a few days before a business associate found him dead.

At first, she said, investigators weren't sure he was the victim of a homicide. But a medical examiner said the trauma to Higgins' upper torso indicated someone else was involved, Carter said.

Higgins, who practiced law in Washington, D.C., before moving to Florida, divorced in June.

He owned race horses and ran Icarus Aircraft, which provided blimp advertising to companies including Outback Steakhouse and Liberty Mutual.

When he filed for divorce in May against Susan Courter, his wife of 14 years, he agreed to give her a one-time payment of $35,000 if she would give up her right to future support from him, public documents show.

Courter, a homemaker with no independent income, according to court records, didn't challenge the offer. When they finalized their divorce and split their belongings, Courter left the marriage with almost $1-million in assets including cash, real estate, stocks and bonds, life insurance and personal property.

Neighbors said she has since moved out of state. She could not be reached by the Times on Tuesday.

A man who answered the phone belonging to daughter Kimberly Higgins on Tuesday said the family wasn't ready to talk.

Martin, who has lived in Citrus Green for two years, said she'd recently walked with Higgins around the 2-mile circle that is Trotting Down Drive. He was still reeling from divorce, she said.

"He kept saying, 'When does it stop?' " Martin said. "I said, 'Give it about a year. You'll feel better.' "

But he seemed to be making some good of the situation, jogging and walking to lose weight.

"You're fading away to nothing!" Tampa Bay Downs spokeswoman Margo Flynn joked with him when she last saw him on Tuesday about 4:30 p.m.

Flynn said Higgins, who served on the board of the Horsemen's Benevolent and Protective Association, had been watching horse races on simulcast.

He joked about the stock market and told her he was looking forward to attending an upcoming Eagles concert out of state.

Back in Citrus Green, Duffey looked across her property Tuesday toward Higgins' home.

She and her husband were inspired by Higgins to dig a pond of their own. But when they had trouble keeping the fish alive, Higgins brought them a gift of eight koi.

"He was a good man," she said. "He didn't deserve this."

Times researchers Shirl Kennedy and John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Friends, neighbors mourn man found slain at home 10/14/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 14, 2008 11:22pm]
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