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Mentally disabled Tarpon Springs man stabbed 100 times feared neighbors

TARPON SPRINGS — In Scott Knott's earliest memories of him, Paul Wiggins is a tanned, shirtless, blue-jeaned boy of about 15 rapping on Knott's door at first daylight. It's around 1978, and the boy Wiggins has blond hair and a fishing pole in his hand, ready to head down to the lake at Clearwater's Ed Wright Park.

Wiggins was mentally disabled, according to his sister, going to a different school from the rest of the kids and never learning to read or write. But Knott knew that Wiggins dreamed of being a professional angler like Bill Dance and that he could memorize the lyrics to a Lynyrd Skynyrd song if he heard it just once on the radio.

He also knew that Wiggins would blurt things out that others found inappropriate.

Years later, a grown Knott returned to the Clearwater area to find his old friend struggling with alcohol and drug abuse, drifting in and out of homelessness and in near constant trouble with the law.

"I don't think he ever really had the professional help that he needed," Knott said. "It's like he fell through the cracks all his life." But Wiggins still had the same gentle spirit as the shirtless 15-year-old that Knott remembered.

"You never left Paul without him hugging you and saying 'I love you,' " Knott, 45, said last week. "He loved everyone he came in contact with. That was just part of his simplicity."

Wiggins was killed just over a week ago, stabbed more than 100 times, police said, by a 21-year-old neighbor who felt Wiggins, 48, had harassed his aunt.

Knott is among the close circle of friends and family struggling to understand what their troubled friend could have done to incite such rage.

• • •

Odessa Janinda sighed last week as she stood in her Largo living room looking at a picture of her three children, taken when Wiggins was a teenager. He's smiling, and his blond hair curls down near his shoulders.

"They never really told me what was wrong with Paul," said Janinda, 69. "I can't paint him as an angel. But he wasn't a rough man."

Wiggins did have an extensive criminal record. He was arrested dozens of times between 1983 and this year, according to Pinellas County records, for charges as innocuous as fishing without a permit to more violent crimes like aggravated battery. He was in and out of jail.

Friends and family struggled to reconcile the more violent charges with the eager-to-please Wiggins they knew.

They acknowledge he had problems with alcohol and drugs. As a child, he clashed often with his father, Richard, Janinda said. Knott remembers a teenage Wiggins sleeping in the woods after he was kicked out of his house.

Janinda divorced Richard Wiggins, who lives in a nursing home, according to family, and couldn't be reached.

Paul Wiggins had a short attention span and had trouble keeping a job. He lived off Social Security, disability payments and charity.

Late one night a few months ago, Knott heard a knock on his door after 11 p.m. It was Wiggins, drunk, asking for money. Knott, a Clearwater machinist, gave his old friend a tuna sandwich and iced tea and admonished him for stopping by so late. The next day Wiggins called repeatedly to apologize.

"He just really didn't like the idea that someone would be mad at him. It tore him up," Knott said.

Knott wonders if Wiggins' quirks led to his death. Wiggins had said something that offended Knott's wife the first time she met him — something like, "Boy, for having two kids, you still look pretty hot," he said.

"It's like he had no filter," Knott said. "What he would think, he would say. He may not have had the best lifestyle, but he definitely didn't deserve to die like that."

• • •

To the residents of Hillside Mobile Home Park in Tarpon Springs, Wiggins was "Ziggy" because he resembled the comic strip character. For the last few months, he had lived in a small camper in the park behind a U.S. 19 Waffle House.

He was placed there, friends and family said, by a management company that took his Social Security and disability checks and paid his living expenses. None of his friends or family members could recall the company's name.

On June 24, a Friday night, Jeremy Brown, a 21-year-old who lived in a camper near Wiggins, told several people he intended to kill "Ziggy," according to a search warrant released by Pinellas County courts.

Brown's aunt, Jacquelyn Kleplek, told police that Wiggins had made "unwanted sexual advances" to her, and this angered Brown.

While hanging out with Kleplek and her boyfriend at a friend's camper around 9:30 p.m. June 24, Brown said he was going to kill Wiggins. He was chopping up Xanax pills with a 6-inch folding knife, then snorting them, Kleplek told police.

At 10 p.m., Brown told the others he had to leave for a "special appointment" about "family business," according to the warrant. Tarpon Springs police received a call that Wiggins was found bleeding at 10:43 p.m. Brown was arrested the next day and faces a first-degree murder charge.

An autopsy said Wiggins was stabbed 108 times in the neck, face and hands. There were no signs of a struggle, according to the search warrant.

Ray Sanderford, 57, lived in a camper across the street from Wiggins for six months. He first met "Ziggy" a few weeks ago and said he seemed harmless.

But Sanderford remembered Wiggins saying some park residents didn't like him very much. "He said, 'I guess people got it in for me,' " Sanderford said. "I guess they did."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

Mentally disabled Tarpon Springs man stabbed 100 times feared neighbors 07/03/11 [Last modified: Monday, July 4, 2011 8:25am]
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