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Palm Harbor man goes missing

PALM HARBOR — Christine Esposito thought the stench was days-old garbage.

The stay-at-home mom figured her neighbor — a 45-year-old man who lived in the condominium next door — had forgotten to empty his trash before going on vacation.

Then, one day in late August, she watched Animal Control officers enter Raymond "Scott" Rupp's condo to remove a decomposing yellow Labrador.

"We used to see him walking that dog," Esposito said. "I took my daughter to Grandma's that day. Now I'm looking for somewhere else to live."

At first, neighbors in the Harbor Club Downs Condominiums were angry. How could someone leave a pet without food or water? But Rupp, a Chicago native who moved here in 2009, never came home to the condo complex off Alt. U.S. 19.

Weeks later, he's still missing. Now the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is publicizing his case, hoping to draw a helpful tipster.

By the time condo management called authorities to report a foul odor emanating from Rupp's home, the dog inside had been dead for days.

"I like to think I know my neighbors," said Judy Marissa, who lives in a nearby building. "I just don't know how that could have even happened. It's awful."

Steve Scott, a New Port Richey resident who works maintenance for the condo complex, knew Rupp casually and had spoken to him a couple of times.

"There's pretty much nothing anyone knows about what happened," Scott said. "But I don't feel in danger. It still feels safe around here. We're leaving it in the hands of the sheriff."

One resident told deputies the white man with graying brown hair, blue eyes and an impish build vanished after walking off to get his computer fixed. Rupp might have taken a bus. He's legally blind and doesn't own a car.

In late September, a police dog chasing an unrelated scent found two of Rupp's checkbooks in a wooded homeless camp near Nebraska Avenue and U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor.

Evidence indicates someone else tried to write checks in Rupp's name, sheriff's investigators said.

Meanwhile, questions arose in the neighborhood: Why didn't anyone notice Rupp's absence? Where was his family? Who is he?

"We saw him sometimes, but I don't know much about him at all," said Esposito. "He listened to loud music and smoked. That's all I know."

His brother, Brian Rupp, who lives in Michigan, hadn't heard from the decade-younger Rupp in two years.

Brian said he and their mother paid for Rupp's condo up front to give him a new life in a warm, happy place. Contact stopped after Rupp — whom Brian said is stubborn and secretive — never paid them a penny back.

"We stopped talking because he agreed to pay us back, but he never did," Brian said. "I didn't know he was missing. I'm not surprised he's missing — it seems like something he'd pull."

Rupp hopped from home to home without reason or notice, according to his brother.

Keith Capodicasa, president of Harbor Club Downs Condominiums, interviews everyone who applies to move into the community. He remembers Rupp as quiet, unassuming, someone who'd only leave his place to "take a walk or buy beer."

"I want this place to be a safe haven for residents, and I tell everyone that," he said. "They might work in a hostile environment, deal with traffic on 19, have outside issues — but I want this place to be their safe haven."

As for no one realizing Rupp had gone missing or simply left for good, Capodicasa said it's sad but not unfathomable.

"How many people move to Florida knowing no one?" he said. "We leave our families to come down here. We're all transient in Florida."

Anyone with information about Rupp's disappearance can contact sheriff's Cpl. Ed Judy at (727) 582-6200.

Danielle Paquette can be reached at dpaquette@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4224. Times Researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story.

Palm Harbor man goes missing 10/10/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 10, 2012 7:59pm]
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