PORT RICHEY — When told her ex-husband is accused of murdering and mutilating a 94-year-old woman, she didn't gasp. If any news would be shocking, it would be this. But it wasn't. Not to her. She was silent for a few seconds, then, in a steady voice said:
"I hope he rots in hell."
John Sexton's ex-wife — one of a few he's had — has been hiding from him for years. He doesn't know where she is and she doesn't want to be found. The woman, whom the Times is not naming because she fears for her safety, said Sexton was a sadist who beat her, who isolated her, who murdered her pet just for the thrill of having her beg him not to do it and then watch her cry after it was done.
"He takes pleasure in pain," she said. "He always has."
Sexton, 47, was charged Tuesday with first-degree murder in the death of Ann Parlato, a widow whose body was found Sept. 23. Pasco County Sheriff Bob White said Parlato's blood was found on Sexton's clothes. He would not say what exactly her killer did to her, but said it was evil, the worst veteran homicide detectives can remember in more than a decade.
Sexton had mowed Parlato's lawn for about a month, friends said, and a neighbor saw him at her house in the New Lakes of Regency Park the night she was killed. Parlato's two daughters had her on a waiting list for an assisted living facility, but Parlato was determined to stay in her own home. Among the many sayings she cut out and taped to her front double doors was this, in red, at eye level with visitors:
"In God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?"
On paper, the heinous killing he is accused of does not mesh with Sexton's arrest record. Burglary in 1982 in Arkansas. Hit-and-run in 1998 in Oregon. Misdemeanor traffic charges in 2004 in Key West. Larceny and vehicle theft in Brooksville in 2004. Larceny again in Clearwater in 2005. He was, according to authorities, taken into custody for psychiatric care under the Baker Act in St. Petersburg in April and May of 2009.
But nothing in the criminal history of Sexton — who declined Wednesday to be interviewed from the Land O'Lakes jail — seems violent, or similar to the ghastly slaying of a frail, kindly woman. White said his agency is looking into unsolved homicides and other crimes, to see if Sexton might be a suspect.
"We've just met Mr. Sexton," White said, "and we have a lot of digging to do."
Sexton and his wife, Cathy, lived a third of a mile from Parlato, in a brown stucco home owned by Cathy's mother, Ruth Porter, who declined to be interviewed Wednesday. Cathy Sexton, his wife of four years, could not be reached.
The front yard is gravel with weeds pushing their way through in patches. In the yard there are three lawn mowers and three small statues — a wizard, a gnome and a purple gargoyle in the pose of Auguste Rodin's The Thinker — as well as other clutter, which a neighbor complained to the county about in July. A Sheriff's Office report states Sexton threatened neighbor Cori McNichols, 21, after the call.
"You do not know who you are messing with," Sexton screamed, the report states. McNichols accused him of cutting her cable and telephone wires, greasing a car and leaving a handwritten note, most of which was not legible, but said "Know your opponent, know your opposition! Have you any idea who you have engaged?"
McNichols said Sexton quieted down and didn't bother her again after deputies interviewed him. He was not charged in that incident.
Dennis Luzinski, 67, lives across the street from the Sextons and said their partying was so loud that he and his wife couldn't keep their windows open on weekends. Or, when the weather was nice, the parties were usually every night — people hanging out in the garage, drinking beer, music loud, mostly Lynyrd Skynyrd and other classic rock.
"They are usually three sheets to the wind by the time the evening news comes on," Luzinski said.
Cathy Sexton, 40, called the Sheriff's Office in late July because she said her husband had a drinking problem and had gone on a bender.
"She stated when John drinks he becomes violent and starts to destroy things in the house," the report states. Cathy Sexton said their arguing was never physical. Sexton was not arrested.
Cathy and her husband were married in 2006. In their wedding announcement, Sexton said he was a graduate of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. The college said Wednesday that Sexton was a student there for one semester, in the fall of 1980.
A couple by the name of Cathy and John Sexton were interviewed by WTSP-Ch. 10 in 2007 defending Club Elite, a swingers lounge in Port Richey. Sexton's ex-wife said he was a swinger when they were together. She said Sexton liked bondage. He was the dominant one.
His interests were "drinking, hunting, fishing, swinging and photography," she said. He worked as a bricklayer but also did photography as a job, shooting everything from the "explicit to weddings."
She said he could be charming. She said Sexton, who grew up in Arkansas, had a good upbringing. His parents loved him. She doesn't know what made him mean.
"I think he was born this way," she said.
His uncle, Richard Sexton, 72, hadn't heard from his nephew in years.
"As far as I know, he's in the pen," said his uncle, who lives in Arkansas. "That's where he ought to be."
When told of what Sexton is accused of doing, his uncle said:
"You're kidding. … I mean, I wouldn't have thought he'd murdered anyone.
"But he's just meaner than a snake."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy, Times reporter Molly Moorhead and BayNews9 contributed to this report. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.