Sunday, December 17, 2017
Public safety

Live-in handyman charged in Port Richey woman's death

PORT RICHEY — Gayle Schmatz was on the computer when she heard the young man's screams.

It was 1 a.m. Saturday.

Her husband Paul had just gone to bed. But the commotion was enough to wake the 76-year-old retiree.

The couple rushed outside. Something was wrong at their neighbor Kelly Bennett's house, across the street at 9247 Wolcott Lane.

Bennett's 17-year-old son Timothy was outside, distraught, incoherent and on the phone with 911. He raised his hands. Blood was on them.

"He was hysterical," Gayle Schmatz, 65, said. "He said someone had killed his mother."

Thirty minutes earlier and eight-tenths of a mile away, a motorist returning home spotted a man in work boots walking along Galen Wilson Boulevard and Bahama Avenue.

He was acting strange, and was carrying an iPhone and a pill bottle.

"His overall frame of mind was discombobulated," said Melanie Snow, a spokeswoman for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. "He was covered in blood from his shirt to his shoes."

The motorist called police. The motorist asked the man, a 40-year-old named Steven R. Clairmont Jr., where the blood came from.

"He admitted that none of the blood was his," Snow said.

About three weeks ago, authorities said, Clairmont moved in with 35-year-old Bennett and Timothy. Clairmont was a handyman.

On Friday, he and his employer argued. It was unclear what the fight was about.

A sheriff's office report said that at about 11:3o p.m. Friday, Bennett sent a text message to someone — whose name was redacted — asking when that person was coming home because she was "having words with Steve and she wasn't happy."

Timothy returned home with his girlfriend early Saturday to find his mother dead.

The teen told his neighbors Bennett's throat had been cut. They tried to console him.

"Seventeen years old and to see your mother dead like that … my God," said Paul Schmatz.

Pasco deputies asked the Schmatzes to keep an eye on the boy, who shook and wept. The couple sat with Timothy on the ledge of a raised flower bed in their front yard.

"All he kept saying was 'I'm all alone, I'm all alone,' " Paul Schmatz said. "I talked to him, tried to comfort him."

About 20 minutes later, the teen's grandmother came to the scene. Before deputies led him away, Timothy turned to Schmatz.

He asked the man for a hug.

The Sheriff's Office would not confirm Saturday how Bennett was killed. An arrest affidavit said blunt force trauma contributed to her death.

"It was a horrific scene," Snow said. "It was a bloody, horrific scene in that living room."

Detectives believe Bennett was killed around midnight, the Sheriff's Office said. Snow said Clairmont confessed to the murder.

Records show he has been arrested in the past on charges of battery and writing bad checks.

Throughout the day Saturday, cars slowed as they passed Bennett's house, an avocado green ranch with coral shutters and tidy landscaping. Neighbors said the paint job was recent, and that Bennett seemed proud of it.

It coincided with other renovations, they said, both interior and exterior.

"She really fixed it up," said Michele Deltufo, 52, who lives across the street. "She was always trying to do new things."

Deltufo had heard Timothy's screams, too. She tried to help the older couple comfort the teen.

But she felt inadequate. She said she barely knew Bennett, and, like other neighbors, hadn't known Clairmont at all.

Still, when Bennett's family returned to the home Saturday afternoon and began removing items, Deltufo walked over. Timothy and his grandmother showed up.

"I went over and offered my condolences, but what do you say?" she said. "It's not going to be all right. What do you say to them? What do you say to him?"

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Kameel Stanley can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8643.

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