SEMINOLE — Walter Funk, 77, stared in disbelief Saturday morning when he found a strange young woman casually walking through his home.
In the minutes to come, paramedics would carry someone out on a stretcher.
It wasn't Funk.
A brazen morning burglary that might have led to tragedy closed with a female suspect pinned by a 160-pound retired construction worker who doesn't like surprises.
"When you are in my house, I am the master of my house," said Funk, a native of Germany who has lived on 123rd Street N in Seminole 20 years. "You don't leave me. You don't get away."
And Nicole Mason-Suares didn't.
Mason-Suares, 22, 5-foot-2, 100 pounds, of 10925 91st Ter. N was charged by Pinellas sheriff's deputies with armed burglary, aggravated battery on a person 65 or over and possession of burglary tools.
Mason-Suares, who has arrests on her record for offenses that include petty theft and worthless checks, was being held at the Pinellas County Jail on $25,000 bail.
It all started like many other lazy Saturday mornings for Funk and his wife, Ingeborg, 81. Someone knocked on the front door at 9 a.m.
"Lawn man," Funk thought. He opened the blinds. Then he answered the door wearing just pajama bottoms, but the sidewalk in front of the couple's Oak Creek Estates home was empty.
Funk unlocked the back door and looked out to his pool and still didn't see anyone. He went to his bedroom. A sound echoed from the other side of the house.
As Funk walked out, he said, he saw Mason-Suares, wearing rubber gloves, walking toward the back door. "What are you doing here?" Funk asked.
The woman told him she was looking for her boyfriend's house. She started to walk out the back door.
Funk grabbed her and threw her to the floor. She struggled to break free, and the two wrestled, first in a patio area and then on Funk's pool deck, deputies said. She grabbed a knife from a purse, Funk said. But he twice knocked it from her hand before she could unfold it.
She bit his leg, Funk said, and tried to kick him in the groin. He grabbed a pair of handy pliers and knocked her on the head.
"Just a tap," Funk later said sheepishly.
He screamed for his wife to call police, which she did after locking the bedroom door.
As they struggled, Funk said, the woman tried to eat her rubber gloves. Funk desperately pulled them from her mouth. "Evidence," he explained.
Still, Funk said, Mason-Suares ate at least part of them before deputies arrived.
Funk said he didn't really think of any danger. He said he just couldn't stand the thought of the woman getting away. The fight left him exhausted.
"It is quite a story," Funk said four hours after the incident. "What a job."
Funk's wife, who is in ill health, was taken to Morton Plant Hospital as a precaution, but she was not hurt and soon returned home. Funk drove himself to the hospital to have the bite looked after.
Mason-Suares was carried out on a stretcher and treated for minor injuries at Suncoast Hospital before being released into the custody of deputies.
Neighbors just shook their heads afterward and said Funk's stand was no surprise. They describe him as a "feisty" but good neighbor who is always busy around the house and full of energy.
"I guess," said neighbor Charlotte Gear, 70, "that burglar picked the wrong house."