Monday, November 20, 2017
Public safety

Neighbors frequently worried about Dunedin house where home invasions occurred

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DUNEDIN — When Marian Davis moved to Chicago Avenue 60 years ago, she had almost no neighbors. Davis and her husband moved into the second house built amid orange and grapefruit trees less than half a mile from Dunedin's shoreline.

"We were pioneers," she said.

Over the decades, houses replaced the groves. Now Davis has many neighbors. And with some of them has come trouble.

Standing on her front porch Monday morning, Davis surveyed a scene at odds with Chicago Avenue's pastoral history: police cruisers, crime-scene tape, and detectives trudging in and out of a house across the street, their shoes sheathed in white boot covers to protect their feet from blood.

At about 5:30 a.m., the house's residents, Robert and Paula Babcock, were attacked inside by multiple suspects, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office. Robert Babcock, 66, was stabbed, and Paula, 63, was pistol-whipped, deputies said. There was no sign of forced entry to the home.

The Babcocks were taken to Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg with wounds that police said were not life-threatening. Hospital officials said both were in good condition late Monday afternoon.

Police were searching for suspects.

The latest outbreak of violence didn't appear random, police said. The house has a history of problems, some of them drug-related. At least three other serious crimes have been reported there in the past two years.

Pinellas sheriff's Sgt. David DiSano said there was a home invasion in May 2011 and a burglary in December. There was no sign of forced entry in the earlier home invasion, during which two suspects brandished a gun, causing Paula Babcock to flee her house, DiSano said.

During the burglary, oxycodone pills were stolen, he said. Detectives are still trying to determine whether anything was stolen Monday.

An aggravated assault with a deadly weapon also took place at the Babcocks' residence in August 2010, according to sheriff's office records. The perpetrator, a 24-year-old transient named Gabriel Pace, pleaded guilty and is currently serving a two-year prison sentence.

Neither of the Babcocks was the victim in that assault case. In September 2010, however, Paula Babcock obtained an injunction to keep Pace away, citing the need for protection against repeated violence, Pinellas court records show.

While disturbing, the Babcocks' troubles this week didn't come as a total surprise to some neighbors. They said that the couple, known for backyard parties and an abrasive attitude toward others on the block, have increasingly provoked concerns.

"It's really upsetting," Davis said. "We just never had anything happen like that. Never!" Before the Babcocks' arrival about 12 years ago, she said, the neighborhood was "just quiet."

Dawn Benduhn, who lives next door to the Babcocks, said the couple used to be friendly. But Paula Babcock had become aggressive in recent years, Benduhn said, erratically scolding kids who played in the street in front of her house — including Benduhn's 11-year-old son — and picking rows with neighbors.

Benduhn said the couple also had a rotating cast of guests, most of them much younger than the Babcocks, leading to concerns about potentially dangerous strangers in the neighborhood. The violent events at the house in recent years seemed to confirm those fears.

"It's horrible," Benduhn said. "For us, it's scary, is what it is."

When her son wants to play outside, Benduhn said, she only lets him out in the back yard.

Davis, originally from Georgia, said her home's surroundings now are quite different from her "pioneer" days. The last grapefruit tree from the original grove was torn out two years ago. And it took a while, but her expectations of Dunedin when she moved here more than half a century ago have been confounded.

Recalled Davis, "I thought, 'Leave Atlanta and come down here? I'll die of boredom.'"

Peter Jamison can be reached at pjamison@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4157. Staff writer Marissa Lang and news researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report.

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