LAND O'LAKES — Elizabeth Vercruysse remembers her father, Rene Dominique Vercruysse, as a big, jovial man with a thick Cajun accent. He called her every morning. His best friend was her 9-year-old daughter. He could be tough sometimes, she said, but deep down, "He was a mush ball."
Her brother, Baron Von Duke Vercruysse, 23, described a different man.
From a holding area in the Land O'Lakes jail Wednesday afternoon, where he is charged with murdering his father, Baron Von Duke Vercruysse alleged years of abuse. He said he lived in fear of doing anything wrong. He said he suffered black eyes, bloody noses, fat lips.
"I didn't mean to kill him," Vercruysse told the Times. "I just wanted him to stop beating me."
On New Year's Eve, he said, he fought back. His account of that night is this:
Vercruysse had been at a friend's house. He came home to the house he shared with his father at 5617 Mosaic Drive in Holiday. The arguing started soon after, over Vercruysse's money, his lack of a job and his unkempt room. They argued in the bedroom. He said his father grabbed a .38-caliber pistol from the nightstand and pointed it at him.
Vercruysse shoved his 52-year-old father and turned away. Rene brought the butt of the gun down on his son's head. Vercruysse said the blow brought him to the ground. There, under the bed, he saw a knife with about a 3-inch blade.
He grabbed it, stood up and faced his father.
He said he closed his eyes. And stabbed.
All he could hear in the dark, his hand thrusting outward, was his father's scream. A neighbor would later tell reporters it rang in the night distinguishable from New Year festivities. "It was sharp," Randal Tilton said. "It scared me."
Vercruysse said he opened his eyes to see his father slumped on the toilet seat. They were in a bathroom connected to the bedroom. Blood drenched his father. It covered him, too. His shirt, pants and shoes and all over the room.
He called his father's name. No answer.
"I didn't know what to do," Vercruysse said.
He dragged his father's body next to the bed. He said he was scared. He grabbed gasoline from the garage and doused his father with it. He lit it and left.
A short distance away, he took off his blood-soaked clothes and doused and lit them, too.
A neighbor called 911. Deputies found Vercruysse the next morning and arrested him on charges of first-degree murder and arson.
A Pasco Sheriff's Office report said the father died of "blunt force trauma to his head" after his son forced him to the ground during a fight. The parts of the report that were not redacted did not describe a stabbing.
Vercruysse said he misses his father. He loved his dad and knew it was reciprocated.
"He was a good man," he said. "He was nice to them when he wanted to be. He was mean to them when he was drunk."
Court records show Rene Vercruysse had a few dustups over the years. He pleaded no contest to battery in 1996, resisting arrest without violence in 2007 and trespassing in 2008.
Paula Muhlhan, a managing member of Corinthian Catamarans, where Rene Vercruysse worked, has been friends with the family since 1995. She says she saw him punch or slap his son on occasion, but as a way to control him. She said Baron Vercruysse had begun hanging out with a bad crowd, that he was bipolar and using drugs.
"(Rene) was trying to do everything that he could to keep the kids safe and out of the morgue," she said, "because the drugs were taking over."
The Times asked Vercruysse if he was bipolar. "I don't know," he replied. The Times asked if his siblings were beaten. "I don't know," he said. He declined to discuss the times he said he was beaten.
His sister, Elizabeth Vercruysse, 30, did not describe any abuse, though, and she declined to talk about her brother. She said only that her dad could be "tough when he was mad."
She says she remembers the times when her father was a "mush ball." For dinner, he would make split pea soup or rice and beans with the radio on.
In his Cajun voice, he would croon "Ooh, cher. Got some good food cookin' tonight."
When Into the Mystic by Van Morrison came on, he would call her into the kitchen to dance. It was their song.
Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.