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Neighbor who cut Jeffrey Norton's grass is arrested, charged in his death

ST. PETERSBURG — Police say the man who mowed the lawn of actor and theater teacher Jeffrey Norton has confessed to his killing.

Thomas J. Lafoe, 58, of 333 43rd Ave. N was arrested Wednesday on a charge of first-degree murder. He was booked into the Pinellas County Jail and will be held without bail.

Lafoe became a suspect when police learned he had used Norton's credit card to buy two pairs of shoes on Saturday.

Norton, 55, was found dead in his home Sunday night. A friend found his body when she went to check on him after he didn't answer calls. Police said he had suffered upper body trauma and had been dead for up to 72 hours.

Wednesday, police arrested Lafoe on a warrant for failing to appear in court to face a June citation of owning an inoperative vehicle. Once in custody, police found Lafoe had Norton's identification on him.

Police spokesman Mike Puetz said they believe the motive for the homicide was money. Puetz said Lafoe told investigators that he killed Norton with a sword. Police have not recovered a weapon, he said.

Lafoe does not have any previous arrests in Florida, public records show.

Norton was a prolific actor who appeared in productions throughout the Tampa Bay area, including the title role in Cyrano de Bergerac and David Mamet's Oleanna.

He taught acting, movement and voice at USF from 1991 to 2005. Lately, he was working as the theater manager at Shorecrest Preparatory School.

Lafoe lived around the corner from Norton and mowed his lawn, police said.

Monday morning, Lafoe pedaled a bicycle by Norton's house, which was surrounded by yellow police tape. Lafoe told a St. Petersburg Times reporter who was on the scene that he had last mowed Norton's lawn two or three weeks earlier but had yet to be paid.

Lafoe said he had been cutting Norton's grass for about a year and a half. He also said he had been knocking on Norton's door recently because "he owed me for the last cut." Norton never answered, he said.

Lafoe said he was fishing Sunday night when a friend called and told him something was going on at his neighbor's house. Lafoe came back and "everything was all chaos," he said.

Wednesday, Lafoe's next-door neighbor, Cindy Tergesen, described him as weird and said she wasn't surprised to hear police think he's responsible for the killing.

She said Lafoe stopped her in her yard Monday evening and asked if she had heard how Norton died. When Tergesen said she hadn't, Lafoe told her Norton had been killed with a sharp object and had nearly been decapitated, she said.

Times staff writer Katie Sanders contributed to this report. Contact Sara Gregory at (727) 893-8785 or sgregory@sptimes.com.

Neighbor who cut Jeffrey Norton's grass is arrested, charged in his death 07/21/10 [Last modified: Thursday, July 22, 2010 12:46am]

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