ZEPHYRHILLS — When the Davises moved in, Steve Perry was jobless, distraught and tormented by bladder cancer.
Over the next six months his condition would worsen. Though the former Thundercats screenwriter still tried to craft comic books, he began taking heavier doses of painkillers and pleading for help to pay the bills.
Then, this month, he vanished.
At least nine days have passed since Perry, 56, disappeared from the home he shared with James and Roxanne Davis. Few details have been released in the investigation of his possible murder.
But in an exclusive jail interview Monday, James Davis recounted what may be the final months of Perry's life, lived in agony and a drug-addled haze.
Zephyrhills police said Davis is a "person of interest" in Perry's possible murder. Authorities arrested him and his wife Friday on unrelated charges.
The only clues released by police are Perry's van, which was left at a Tampa hotel, and a severed body part found nearby.
Davis, 45, said he and wife Roxanne, 49, moved into Perry's place on Eighth Avenue around Christmas, offering to pay $250 a month and split the bills. Perry lived alone, though his young son sometimes visited, at a home granted to him through family of his ex-girlfriend.
"I liked him at first," Davis said. "But he was hooked on drugs, bad. That's the reason he let me in."
Davis said he and Perry shared a crippling addiction to oxycodone. Davis doctor-shopped for prescriptions to supply his daily seven-pill habit, he said, but Perry took up to 40 pills a day.
To fund his $300-a-day habit, Perry scammed shoppers on eBay by taking payments without shipping items, according to Davis. Perry also asked for "sympathy money" from friends and fans of his work, said Davis, who questioned whether Perry had cancer.
"Everything about Steve was hustling money to make sure he had the next drug," Davis said. "He was a good person when he had drugs and an a--hole when he didn't."
Davis said he last saw Perry at a flea market with a friend, researching material for a new comic book. Davis couldn't say when that was. His own drug use made "every day (feel) the same."
State records show Perry has no history of drug crime. Friends said he took painkillers during his treatment for cancer.
Steve Bissette, a close friend of Perry's since they attended Johnson State College in 1974, said Perry had a cancerous tumor removed during surgery in March 2009. Perry had filled prescriptions for oxycodone and methadone, said Krystal Carroll, his ex-girlfriend and the mother of his son, although she didn't know how much he took.
In July, after losing his job, Perry moved to Indianapolis with a friend and went "cold turkey" from the painkillers, according to Bissette.
"This was not a scam," Bissette wrote in an e-mail. Perry updated Bissette often on his weakening health and finances, and Bissette wrote a blog post about his condition and handled donations. "He was in constant threat … due to loss of electricity, inability to provide shelter, etc; the comics community responded."
In an October e-mail, Perry told Bissette of his struggle with social services and the pain of his body breaking down.
"I wanna go home, Steve. I want to get back to — Maine. I don't want to die in Florida," he wrote.
On May 14, two days before the discovery of Perry's van, Davis said he saw police stationed outside. Davis, who has served three stints in prison for robbery and kidnapping, said he feared he would be arrested for failing to appear in court on a charge that he drove without a license.
Davis said he called Perry to ask what had happened, only to receive a text message thanking him for keeping an eye on the house. Davis said Perry "said he was going somewhere" and didn't answer later calls.
For the next week, Davis said, he stayed with relatives in Wesley Chapel or at the Ridge Manor Motel in Dade City.
Officers found him Friday at his daughter's home and arrested him on the warrant and drug charges. Roxanne Davis turned herself in to a sheriff's substation in Dade City on a probation violation that night.
Davis' uncle, Jerry Keen, vouched for his stay in Wesley Chapel and said Davis couldn't be involved in any possible murder.