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Largo retirees' deaths a murder-suicide, Pinellas deputies say

LARGO — Joe Bartholomew last talked to his 83-year-old mother, Betty, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, right before she went to bed.

As they spoke on the phone, he could hear her chewing on ice cubes.

"I told her it wasn't good to crunch on ice,'' he said. "She laughed.''

He was planning Wednesday to visit his mother and father, Leo Bartholomew, 84, after dropping his son off at school and delivering Chick-fil-A breakfasts to friends at the bank where he has his accounts.

But before he could, a Pinellas County sheriff's deputy knocked on his door to tell him the horrific news: His father had apparently shot his mother, called 911 and then shot himself at about 6:30 a.m.

It's the third murder-suicide in Pinellas County in a little more than three weeks.

On March 30, a Largo man shot three others, killing a 21-year-old man and his 16-year-old girlfriend, before turning the gun on himself. On April 1, a couple in their 60s died in a similar murder-suicide in Palm Harbor.

Joe Bartholomew was shocked by his parents' deaths. Although his father suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and was on oxygen and his mother had early stage dementia and heart problems, he "had no indications of anything wrong,'' except that his father felt a bit dizzy Tuesday.

"My dad just had his palm trees trimmed on Saturday,'' Joe Bartholomew said.

Deputies found Betty Bartholomew lying on a bed in a bedroom and Leo Bartholomew seated at the kitchen table with a gunshot to his head, sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said.

She said the couple owned the gun. No suicide note was left.

"My mother and father were in love and couldn't be apart,'' Joe Bartholomew wrote in an e-mail to the St. Petersburg Times. "Their love and kindness extended to all of our family and friends.''

The couple's grandson, John Bartholomew, said they "were known as Mama B and Papa B.''

According to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser, the single-story waterfront house the couple lived in was valued at $683,500. It is located in the exclusive Harbor Bluffs community in unincorporated Largo, across the street from a home owned by former Minnesota Twins pitcher Brad Radke.

The two met in New York when they were children and made their way to Florida, where they spent more than 50 years in Tampa making a living in the pawnshop business.

Around 1999, when they lived in a house along the Hillsborough River, Mrs. Bartholomew struggled to care for her beloved adult daughter, Jeanne, who had multiple sclerosis which had progressed to the point where she could not move below her neck, according to a story in the Tampa Tribune.

She died several years ago.

Around 2002, the Bartholomews moved to Harbor Bluffs to "enjoy their golden years,'' Joe Bartholomew said.

The couple's next-door neighbor, Gary Lund, said he never heard the gunshots, and found out about the murder-suicide when sheriff's deputies rang his doorbell asking if he had.

"It was a surprise,'' he said.

Another neighbor, Margaret Carollo, said she got a glimpse of Mr. Bartholomew occasionally riding a scooter up Oakwood Drive, but hadn't seen him in more than a year.

"You feel so bad about these things,'' she said.

Joe Bartholomew was well aware of his parents' failing health. He was scheduled to take them to doctors' appointments. Hers was at 2 p.m., his at 2:15 p.m.

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Largo retirees' deaths a murder-suicide, Pinellas deputies say 04/22/09 [Last modified: Thursday, April 23, 2009 9:45am]
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