LARGO — For years, Rita "Lisa" Keeler and her husband, Joseph, seemed like a happy couple, despite a 36-year age difference.
But in recent years, according to Joseph Keeler's mother, Lisa Keeler's poor health and his deteriorating mental state took a toll on their relationship.
The downward spiral culminated this week when the 76-year-old woman was found dead in her mobile home. She died of multiple cuts to her head and neck, Largo police say.
Joseph Wayne Keeler, 40, was arrested early Friday on a first-degree murder charge. He admitted responsibility, and blood inside the home at 614 Woodrow Ave. NW linked him to the crime, police say.
For the past year, Joseph Keeler's mother, Judy Mettes, had checked on the couple from her home in Lafayette, Ind. Lisa Keeler confided to Mettes that she was afraid of her husband. Mettes tried to help and get her son into treatment.
He refused, and Lisa Keeler didn't want Mettes to press the issue.
"She wanted to keep peace in the family," Mettes said.
But Lisa Keeler confided an incident that may have foreshadowed her death.
"She told me Joe was running around one time through the house with a knife," said Mettes, 60, who came to visit in July.
And he told her he heard voices.
"One voice was telling him to go to work and another would tell him he had a job," she said. He wasn't working, but she thinks he used to have a job cleaning an office.
Mettes also said her son would come and go.
"My son had left her probably a year ago. The power was shut off," she said.
Mettes had also called the police months earlier to check on her son, who didn't have a phone. She had sent letters and he hadn't responded.
Over the past year and half, Largo officers checked up on Lisa Keeler and her husband several times. They also dropped off food and forms for social services.
Almost every morning, Joseph Keeler hung out on his porch or on the benches near the mail slots at the park, residents said. He wasn't there Wednesday, the day Lisa Keeler's body was found, said Dennis Fahey, 46, the park maintenance man.
Friday, neighbors at Blue Skies Mobile Home Park said they were relieved there was an arrest. But they were horrified that such a violent crime could take place in their park.
"It's terrifying to know that somebody next door could be like this," said Tanisha Hopewell, 26. "I'm sure it's going to haunt me."
Mettes said she didn't think Lisa Keeler had any living relatives. She was born in Finland and was close to her brother, who died a couple of years ago, she said.
The couple had met more than two decades ago, after Joseph Keeler came to the area from Indiana and was living on the beach.
"In her younger days, she was pretty," Mettes said.
Lisa asked Joseph Keeler to move in with her, Mettes said.
They decided to get married.
"She took him on vacations. She bought him cars. She had money when she married him." Mettes said. "But living with him used it up."
Two years ago, Lisa Keeler had a heart attack, Mettes said.
"He started taking her pain pills," she said. "When I got down there, he was skinny. He'd lost a lot of weight."
Lisa Keeler got around with a scooter or a cane.
"She wasn't able to do stuff she used to do," Mettes said.
In June, the couple celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary.
"Lisa was a sweetheart," Mettes said. "She just loved my son to death."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4155.