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Missing engineer found dead in shallow grave

TAMPA — Charles London Beck, a meticulous civil engineer who brought his mother flowers the last time he saw her, was found dead Friday in a shallow grave in Highlands County.

Detectives are still investigating how this 25-year-old Tampa professional's life ended more than 100 miles from home, a fatal bullet wound in his head.

They say two people are responsible: his girlfriend, Nicole Sylvester, 20, of Tampa, and someone neighbors describe as Sylvester's friend, Byron Moorehead, 20. Both were arrested in Palm Beach on Thursday night.

Beck and his silver 2002 Mercedes disappeared a week earlier, after he didn't show up to work on March 13. Palm Beach deputies found Beck's car in an apartment complex Thursday.

As law enforcement kept an eye on the vehicle, Sylvester and Moorehead arrived in a rented car to pick it up and were taken into custody.

According to Hillsborough sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter, here's what happened:

Sylvester phoned Beck sometime on March 12 or March 13 to meet her at Moorehead's place, 7808 River Resort Lane, Apt. C — off of N 56th Street near E Sligh Avenue.

Beck arrived at the second-floor apartment, and Moorehead and Sylvester held him at gunpoint, took his wallet, bound him with duct tape and stuck him in the trunk of his prized Mercedes.

They drove south on Interstate 75, stopping near the Ellenton exit near Bradenton, and pulled to the side of the road.

Beck managed to escape thanks to an emergency release inside the trunk, Carter said. But Sylvester and Moorehead caught and subdued him.

That's when detectives think Moorehead shot Beck, loaded his body into the Mercedes and drove with Sylvester to Highlands County, where they buried him at U.S. 27 and County Road 29.

Genny Beck, 46, reported her son missing earlier this week after his employer at Marlin Engineering called and said he hadn't shown up to work on March 13 as expected.

Beck said she prayed for days and, unable to sleep, did her own detective work at his home. Her punctual son always called and went to work faithfully, she said.

When detectives told her about 1 p.m. Friday that they had found her boy, she was both devastated and relieved.

Charles Beck made his mother proud. Growing up, he did housework and helped the single mother manage her two youngest children. He earned his engineering degree from the University of South Florida in less than three years.

When he introduced Sylvester as his girlfriend, Genny Beck said she had a bad feeling. But she didn't want to meddle.

Beck and Sylvester dated off and on for about three months, said Carter.

But neighbors at Sylvester's residence, 3404 N 55th St., laughed when told she was dating a man. They said Sylvester, whom they call "Stud," has had a relationship with exotic dancer Michelle Martin, 20, for years.

"She got one girlfriend," said Timonique Kelly, 18. "Michelle's her girlfriend, and they love each other."

Employees at Fantasy Dolls on N 56th Street said Martin, who they call "L'il Bit," has danced there occasionally for about a year. She often came in with Sylvester and Beck, said Chantae Jones, 25, and a dancer who gave only her stage name, "Cinnamon."

Jones said Sylvester appeared to become jealous when Martin began making money at the club. And she said she once saw Sylvester dump out Martin's bag in the middle of an argument.

Kelly, the neighbor, said she wasn't aware if Sylvester had a job. "If Michelle got money," she said, "Nicole got money."

Martin, who also lists Sylvester's 55th Street apartment as her address, was arrested Tuesday on violation of probation after being questioned her about Beck's disappearance. She remained at Orient Road Jail on Friday night.

Sylvester has confessed to the crimes, Carter said. She and Moorehead are charged with first-degree murder, armed kidnapping and armed robbery. They are eventually expected to be brought back to Hillsborough County from Palm Beach, where they were being held.

State records indicate neither has an extensive arrest record.

The Tampa apartment where detectives say Sylvester and Moorehead first robbed Beck appeared to be vacant Friday evening.

Authorities list a Lutz address for Moorehead. His neighbor, Tina Farr, 50, said he had been living at the Tampa address about three months and had always been quiet.

Farr said she last saw Sylvester on Tuesday. The 20-year-old was sitting outside with a downtrodden look on her face.

"You all right?" Farr remembers asking. "You look like you're in trouble."

Sylvester said she was fine.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3383.

Missing engineer found dead in shallow grave 03/21/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 26, 2008 11:55am]
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