Charles Haag was found dead — stabbed and wrapped in a tarp — in the woods north of Dade City in January. His roommate, Justin Lee Naber, was quickly pegged as a suspect.
A Pasco detective went to South Florida to interview Naber at his parents' house, expecting to close the case. He did — and found a whole other mystery.
"He told us that he had some things in his past that were very bad things. And he had made an agreement with himself that if he ever got caught for … the murder of Charles Haag, that he would confess to other wrongdoings," Pasco sheriff's Detective Timothy Harris said. "But he wasn't specific."
"Of course, I asked him, 'what are you talking about?' "
Naber, 24, replied that it was something from several years ago in Albuquerque, N.M. — "something bad."
"That's all he would say," Harris said.
• • •
On Sept. 20, 2005, police in Albuquerque were asked to check on a man who hadn't been seen in several days. The landlord let them in, and they found Jose Gonzalez, a 73-year-old who was known to befriend and help homeless people, dead in his bedroom. He had been stabbed twice in the torso.
A New Mexico arrest warrant affidavit notes the autopsy of Gonzalez on Sept. 21, 2005. There was no sign of progress until two months ago, when police there got a phone call from a detective in Pasco County.
• • •
It took two more interviews with Naber, who was now in the Land O'Lakes jail, for Harris to get enough information to start digging.
In one meeting, Naber offered some vague information that his story involved the death of someone.
"But he didn't say he did it," Harris said.
He offered these details: an elderly man, downtown Albuquerque, somewhere near Fifth Street.
Harris did some research and happened on a newspaper account of the Gonzalez slaying. It didn't say how Gonzalez died, so Harris checked with Albuquerque police and learned he was stabbed — the same way Charles Haag died.
"I knew immediately, more than likely, that's what he's talking about," Harris said.
An Albuquerque detective came to Pasco, and, according to Harris, when they all sat down, Naber said, "I told Detective Harris that if he got you here, I'd tell you. You got your recorder?"
• • •
Naber's family didn't want to be quoted in this story. But one relative said Naber has had emotional problems since he was young.
"I am a good person just some bad mental thoughts," Naber said in describing himself on his Facebook page.
He was adopted after his father abandoned him as an infant. His biological father, Timothy Lee Mullins, is serving a life sentence in a Texas prison for murder.
Jamie Meyer, who was married to Charles Haag, remembers meeting Naber last fall, when the men were sharing a mobile home in Dade City.
"Conversation-wise, you'd think he was a perfectly normal person," said Meyer, 24. "And then five minutes later he'd flip. He'd get really angry and snap."
Hours before Haag died on Dec. 3, he called Meyer numerous times. They would talk for a minute and then Haag would hurriedly end the call.
"He kept saying, 'I gotta go, I gotta go. Justin's beating up on me,' " Meyer said. "I could hear in the background, Justin was punching walls."
Detectives have not said why they think he killed Haag. He is charged with second-degree murder.
• • •
From jail in January, Naber told Harris and the Albuquerque detective that he was living on the street, addicted to crack, when he met Gonzalez. He wore pants that were falling down, and Gonzalez offered to lend him a belt to wear.
He gave the detectives this account of what happened, according to Harris and the New Mexico warrant:
When they got to Gonzalez's house, Gonzalez grabbed Naber in the groin and propositioned him for sex. Naber got angry, they began arguing and he grabbed a knife from the kitchen.
Gonzalez said he was going to call the police, and when Naber turned away, Gonzalez grabbed something. Thinking it was a gun, Naber stabbed him in the gut. Gonzalez, he then realized, was holding a telephone.
As Gonzalez crumpled to his knees, Naber jabbed him with the knife a second time.
A friend who had come to the house with Naber walked in, saw what happened and ran. Naber went about disturbing the crime scene. He wet a wash cloth and wiped everything down, erasing fingerprints. He trashed the house so it would look like a robbery.
Then he picked up Gonzalez's wallet and left.
• • •
Earlier this month, New Mexico authorities issued a murder warrant for Naber.
If not for his confession, would he have ever been caught?
In addition to wiping away forensic evidence, he avoided a common mistake that gets a lot of criminals caught: using the victim's credit cards.
He even scattered the contents of the wallet in three separate trash bins, he told the detectives.
Plus, he was living the life of an addict — anonymous, rootless.
"He had no ties to the community. Nobody really knew that he had befriended this gentleman," Harris said. "So without any DNA or anything to link him to the scene, had he not come forward, that case would have probably never been solved."
In 2007, two years after Gonzalez was killed, Naber was arrested in Albuquerque for an incident in which he and five other people were accused of breaking into a man's home, beating him, stripping him naked, forcing him to wear women's clothes, putting makeup on him and smearing dog feces in his face because he called a co-worker's girlfriend fat, according to a newspaper report.
Naber, records show, was put on probation. Sometime later, he moved to Florida.
Which makes his confession all the more extraordinary, even to a veteran like Harris.
"You may come across one of these guys in your entire career, that through his own motivation he's doing the right thing," Harris said. "He said he wanted Mr. Gonzalez's family to have closure.
"He was very remorseful. He said that he really hated that it happened."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.