PORT RICHEY — For the last few weeks of her life, 94-year-old Ann Parlato raved about the new man cutting her grass.
"She would go on glowingly about this guy," said her friend Dori Cifelli, 52, of Trinity.
John Sexton Jr., 47, lived less than a mile from Parlato's home on Colrain Drive in New Lakes of Regency Park. He knocked on her door, asking whether she needed a lawn guy, Cifelli said. His rate was $15 — cheaper than the service she was using, which thrilled Parlato. A retired factory worker and widow, she scrimped by on Social Security.
Sexton — who had a record of arrests on charges of burglary, theft and reckless driving that ranged from Oregon to Key West — was going to fix Parlato's doorbell, Cifelli said. He was going to make her grass grow better. He, too, said he loved gardening. Parlato had found a new friend.
"Every time I was there," Cifelli said, "there would be some mention of John."
Cifelli found Parlato's body Thursday. The door was open. Parlato was covered in blood, her petite body mutilated, authorities said.
Parlato's next-door neighbor told detectives he heard his dogs barking Wednesday night and saw a truck at Parlato's home. The lights were on. The neighbor said he saw Sexton at the kitchen sink and thought he was doing dishes. Parlato was a night owl and loved having visitors, so the neighbor didn't think much was amiss. But he took down the truck's license plate.
That helped break the case, said Pasco County Sheriff Bob White at a news conference Tuesday.
Less than four hours after Parlato's body was discovered, Sexton was in custody. Someone at Sexton's house informed authorities that he was at an unoccupied home on Fox Hollow Drive. Sexton, according to the Sheriff's Office, had broken into the Fox Hollow home after killing Parlato.
Sexton was arrested and charged with burglary. The murder charge did not come until Tuesday, as investigators waited for test results of the blood found on Sexton's clothes. White said the blood was Parlato's.
The sheriff said his team can't remember a more disturbing homicide in more than a decade. Her murder was brutal and horrific, he said.
"You've not been to the movies to see anything worse than this," White said.
White would not say much about the details of the crime because he doesn't want to hurt the case. When asked about a possible motive, White simply said:
Parlato's funeral was Tuesday at North Meadowlawn cemetery. Cifelli said the funeral home gave Parlato a casket she would have loved — roses on the outside, pink interior.
She was buried next to her husband, John, who died in 1984.
Parlato didn't have life insurance, and she canceled her homeowners insurance when the rates increased.
Cifelli and Parlato's two daughters, who don't have much themselves, are trying to find enough money to pay for someone to clean the blood out of her home.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.