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Man found dead in Pinellas Park fire was an eccentric tinkerer

PINELLAS PARK — When Gary Yarnell wanted to sell you something, you couldn't say no. So when Yarnell asked his new friend, Bela Osz, to be his business partner, there was nothing Osz could do but go along.

"You cannot say two sentences without him interrupting you," Osz said. "I couldn't talk to him real sense because there was no real sense behind the guy."

Yarnell leaned on people until he got what he wanted, Osz said. He was aggressive and eccentric. Inside his Pinellas Park home, Yarnell kept an array of bizarre items — a rock he wanted to sell for $5,000, assorted construction products and household supplies supposedly worth thousands. He sold the items at auctions and yard sales, Osz said, always pushing people until they bought.

On Wednesday morning, a Pinellas Park patrol car was parked outside Yarnell's home at 6498 76th Ave. N, which was surrounded by crime scene tape. At 2 p.m. the day before, firefighters were called there to extinguish a fire. Inside they found Yarnell's body. Details about how he died have not been released, but police are calling it a homicide.

"It's kind of scary," neighbor Tammy Martin said through tears. "It's pretty devastating."

Martin, 48, said she met Yarnell, 69, when she moved across the street. He was riding a scooter and came by to say hello. He spent his days tinkering with tools in his garage. Neighbors said he mowed their lawns for free. "He was a good neighbor," Martin said.

Yarnell would buy items, from washing machines to used cars, at auctions and Goodwill, fix them up, and sell them at garage sales at his home, Martin said.

Plywood, doors, a refrigerator, and a washing machine cluttered the open garage Wednesday. A yard sale sign and an orange lawn mower were on the lawn.

By midnight each day, Yarnell shut his garage and headed inside. But at 2 a.m. Tuesday, Martin, unable to sleep, peered through a window and noticed the garage was open. Twelve hours later, Yarnell was found dead.

Medical examiners conducted an autopsy Wednesday morning, but Pinellas Park police did not release the cause of death.

Detectives are working under the assumption that the crime was targeted, said Sgt. Brian Unmisig. But police have not ruled out that it was random.

A native of Illinois, Yarnell had four children with his ex-wife, Carol Yarnell of Wisconsin, from whom he had been divorced for more than 30 years.

"The only thing I want to say is that he had a lot of problems, but for many years he called me on Mother's Day," Carol Yarnell said.

Other family members declined to comment.

Court records show that Mark Yarnell filed a domestic violence injunction against Gary Yarnell in 2008. The injunction was later dismissed. The two men shared the same address at one time, but it was unclear how they were related. Mark Yarnell could not be reached for comment.

Osz, 67, of New Port Richey, met Gary Yarnell about three months ago at an auction. The two struck up a friendship and soon Yarnell was calling Osz three to four times a day, trying to talk him into going into business. He even registered Osz with the state as a co-owner of "Chili Bear Marketing and Advertising LLC."

"I never paid attention to it," Osz said. "I even told him a couple times, 'Gary, I've got my own headaches, I don't need another one.' "

One night Osz came to visit Yarnell at home. Some men showed up while he was there. Osz sat silently as Yarnell pulled out a 9mm handgun and offered to sell it to the men. One of them paid Yarnell $1,100 for three guns, Osz said.

Another time, Yarnell spoke of people stealing from his garage, Osz said. He mentioned something about people shooting at him through the walls.

"I wasn't paying too much attention to him," Osz said. "As far as I know he wasn't doing anything bad."

Times news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Reach Dan Sullivan at (727) 893-8321 or dsullivan@tampabay.com. Reach Laura Morel at (727) 893-8713 or lmorel@tampabay.com.

Man found dead in Pinellas Park fire was an eccentric tinkerer 05/30/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 11:10pm]
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