Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Homicides, suicides make January Hernando's bloodiest month in recent memory

BROOKSVILLE — Jan. 10: A married couple are found dead in their lakefront mansion, the victims of a murder-suicide.

Jan. 14: Two women are killed during a shooting rampage at a home-based color analysis business. Two more women are wounded, and a sheriff's captain and a fetus will later die as part of the tragedy.

Jan. 23: Another murder-suicide, this time a couple who lived in a gated golf course community.

It was the bloodiest January in Hernando County in anyone's memory.

During those two weeks, there were more homicides here than in all of 2009. In fact, there were more murders in Hernando in January than during five of the years of the past decade.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement figures technically do not even include the deaths of Dr. Robert Blackburn and George Larsson, who both turned the gun on themselves after fatally shooting their wives. Their deaths are classified as suicides.

To be sure, the horrific incidents are both rare and unrelated. But experts note that the murders all occurred against the backdrop of increasing rates of domestic violence and tension during one of the most economically stressful periods in the county's history.

"It does suggest — particularly in a small community like Hernando — that there may be an increase in stress level," said Kathleen Heide, a professor of criminology at the University of South Florida. "I think it's a hard time for people right now. It seems like the negative climate is wearing people down."

The violent outburst to kick off 2010 dampened some of the enthusiasm within the Sheriff's Office, which was hopeful that a 15 percent drop in violent crimes in 2009, according to recently released figures, would extend into the new year.

In a matter of days, that hope evaporated.

"I hope it's over," said sheriff's Chief Michael Maurer. January "has certainly been challenging for us. But we don't intend it to be a template for the rest of the year."

The mayhem started on Jan. 10, when prominent osteopathic physician Robert Blackburn, 55, killed his wife, Sarah, 40, in their sprawling home in one of Spring Hill's lavish communities. He savagely beat and strangled his wife before shooting her once in the head. Blackburn then shot himself.

Four days later, John Kalisz, a 55-year-old roofer, drove to his sister's house in rural Brooksville, walked in the front door armed with a 9mm handgun and started shooting, officials say. He fired 15 rounds, officials say, killing his sister Kathryn Donovan, 61, and her 59-year-old office manager, Deborah Tillotson.

Donovan's daughter, Manessa, 18, and another employee, 33-year-old Amy Wilson, each suffered multiple gunshot wounds and survived, though pregnant Manessa lost her fetus during surgery. Kalisz fled north to Cross City, where he killed Dixie County sheriff's Capt. Chad Reed in a shootout, officials say.

And then on Jan. 23, at HealthSouth Rehabilitation Hospital, George Larsson went into the room of his wife, Dorothy, and killed her, authorities say. He then walked outside the front doors and shot himself. They were both 85 and had been married for more than half a century.

"We've never had four (homicides) in one month, as far as I can recall," said Sheriff Richard Nugent, who has worked at the agency for more than 25 years. "And they were each different and unique. We're praying that the rest of the year is much quieter."

Maurer said he couldn't remember a bloodier stretch in Hernando since 1993, when Edwin "Mike" Kaprat III was responsible for a terrifying series of crimes. Kaprat killed five elderly residents that year, raping two of the women and trying to burn all of their bodies and homes.

"That was a busy year," Maurer said. "But that was very unusual. This has been a bad month."

Sensing a shift in the local mood, the West Hernando/Spring Hill Hadassah recently held a symposium titled "Anger and Rage — What is becoming of our society" at Temple Beth David in Spring Hill.

The local chapter of the largest women's Jewish and largest Zionist organization in the United States invited local authorities and officials, including Maurer and Nugent, to discuss some of the reasons why people seem more tense and angry than usual.

"People are so stressed out, anything will set them off," said Barbara Auerbach, vice president of education for Hadassah. "We're all walking on that thin line between sanity and insanity."

Heide said a combination of factors may have contributed to the gloomy mood: a crippled local economy, anger with government and record numbers of job losses. Hernando has been hit particularly hard, with the second-highest unemployment rate in Florida at 14.9 percent.

"We're all living with a lack of certainty," Heide said. "And if your relationship is falling apart, your health is declining or your family is not all that supportive, it can make all the difference in pushing someone over the edge."

Though authorities say little can be done to prevent similar crimes, Heide said making sure that residents realize there's counseling and other services available during tough times could potentially make a difference.

"You never know," Heide said. "Maybe seeing a number to a help line on a billboard could make someone think twice before taking such extreme measures. It couldn't hurt."

Auerbach echoed that advice, saying that people should stay connected to their communities during tough times.

"People need to know they're not alone," she said. "No one wants to be isolated. You want to know there's a lot of company out there.”

Joel Anderson can be reached at or (352) 754-6120.

Homicides, suicides make January Hernando's bloodiest month in recent memory 02/12/10 [Last modified: Friday, February 12, 2010 8:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Blake Snell shines as Rays beat Mariners to end skid (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Blake Snell delivered the best outing of his young career and the Rays offense continued its home run-hitting ways for a 3-0 victory Sunday against the Mariners in front of 13,354 at Tropicana Field.

  2. No touchdown, but fun lesson for Bucs' Adam Humphries


    It didn't end up being a touchdown, but one of the Bucs' biggest hustle plays in Thursday's win over Jacksonville saw receiver Adam Humphries scoop up a loose ball just before halftime, after what looked like an incompletion but was correctly ruled a Jameis Winston fumble.

    Bucs WR Adam Humphries runs to the end zone with QB Jameis Winston trailing -- his alert play wasn't a touchdown because teammates cannot advance a fumble in the final two minutes of a half.
  3. Bucs' Demar Dotson should be back from injury next week


    The Bucs got good news on starting right tackle Demar Dotson, whose MRI showed only a mild right groin sprain and should be back at practice next week.

    Bucs tackle Demar Dotson, shown last year when he signed a three-year contract extension, should only miss a week of practice with his groin injury and can return healthy for the Bucs' season opener at Miami in three weeks. [Octavio Jones | Times]
  4. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dead at 91


    LOS ANGELES — Jerry Lewis, the manic, rubber-faced showman who jumped and hollered to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the tireless, teary host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons, has died. He was …

    In this Sept. 2, 1990, file photo, entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles. Lewis, the comedian whose fundraising telethons became as famous as his hit movies, has died according to his publicist. [Associated Press]
  5. Mastermind of lottery rigging scam that netted millions faces 25 years


    DES MOINES, Iowa — For a decade, computer programmer Eddie Tipton reliably showed up for work at the central Iowa office of the Multi-State Lottery Association and earned the confidence of his co-workers, a team of technicians entrusted to build computers used to randomly pick numbers for some of the most popular …

    FILE - In this June 29, 2017, file photo, Eddie Tipton, the former Multi-State Lottery Association information security director who admitted to masterminding a scheme to rig lottery games that paid him and others $2 million from seven fixed jackpots in five states, is seen in court in Des Moines, Iowa. Tipton is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, Aug. 22. (Rodney White/The Des Moines Register via AP, File) IADES501