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Pasco woman's fairy-tale romance ends in death for her, fiance

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office says Melissa Howard’s fiance shot her and then turned the gun on himself.

www.thewomansgrouptampa.com

The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office says Melissa Howard’s fiance shot her and then turned the gun on himself.

David McQuiston spent a happy afternoon at Epcot with his sister, taking the boat ride through Mexico and snapping pictures with her young kids.

He was getting married soon, and he glowed when he talked about his fiancee, Melissa Howard. He told his sister, Patty Hoegerl, that Howard reminded him of her — loving and kind, with lots of friends.

There were no signs that day, Aug. 19, of the deadly tragedy that would unfold hours later at McQuiston's hands.

"I wish I would have had any idea that day, any idea," Hoegerl, 46, said later.

But as sheriff's detectives pieced together the couple's courtship, they uncovered red flags and falsehoods, such as an engagement ring that wasn't what it seemed and an uneasy feeling among some of Howard's friends about the man who had suddenly occupied her life.

• • •

They started dating a little more than a year ago, introduced through her hairdresser.

As a boyfriend, he was flashy and over the top, sending Howard, 30, flowers once a week and taking her on lavish vacations.

Friends and family of Howard declined to comment for this story. Interviews with detectives and investigative reports provided details.

They had been dating about a month when McQuiston, 36, started talking openly about wanting Howard to get pregnant.

He moved into her Lake Padgett Estates home after two months.

Her friends later acknowledged to each other that they had an uncertain feeling about McQuiston, but no one said anything because Howard was so happy.

"There was just something that didn't sit right with me," friend Kara Walker told a detective.

He seemed controlling, Walker said, though she never thought he was physically abusive.

Another of Howard's friends said McQuiston was very involved in planning the wedding, set for November at a vineyard in Georgia. He even got excited about the wedding dress and flowers.

In those interviews, Howard's friends don't mention McQuiston's past. It's unclear how much she knew of it.

• • •

He had a baby daughter named Britney who died in 1993 at 6 weeks old. McQuiston, who lived in Washington state at the time, was charged with homicide by abuse. The baby had suffered blunt head trauma that caused a 4 1/2-inch-long skull fracture, news accounts from the case say.

McQuiston later pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of criminal mistreatment, spent 90 days in jail and 12 months on probation and paid a $365 fine.

He and his then-wife, Bethany, had two other children. The boys, now about 9 and 12 years old, live with their mother in Pennsylvania, Hoegerl said. The couple had been estranged for years.

McQuiston saw his sons occasionally, she said, and planned to bring them to the wedding.

"He loved his kids, and his kids loved him," she said. "Was he always the perfect father? Probably not."

Also, according to the statement McQuiston's mother gave detectives, he had never divorced his first wife.

• • •

The engagement was the stuff of fairy tales. McQuiston proposed to Howard in Paris, under the Eiffel Tower.

He gave her a ring, in the iconic powder blue Tiffany box, with an eye-popping diamond. He told her friends it cost $50,000 and that he designed it himself.

But a sheriff's detective disproved that, pulling Tiffany & Co. sales records for the past five years. There was no record of McQuiston making any purchases, the report says. In addition, a Tiffany dealer told the detective he knew of no 1.5-carat rings that would cost $50,000.

• • •

After he left Epcot, McQuiston told his sister, he was hitting the road that night for a trip with a friend. He would spend the night in Georgia, then drive the rest of the way to Ohio for a tractor pull over the weekend.

After that, he told Hoegerl, he was heading to Pennsylvania to "finish a few loose ends."

She took that to mean finalizing his divorce.

"He said it was all basically taken care of, and I had no reason to doubt that," Hoegerl said.

The next morning, Howard, a nurse practitioner at a Tampa doctor's office, let her co-workers know she'd be late. Then she never showed up.

About noon, several friends drove to her house. When they arrived, her car and McQuiston's car were in the garage, and their dogs were jumping around inside the dark house.

Two of Howard's friends found a way inside and discovered a horror scene in the bedroom. The couple's bodies were splayed across the bed, badly damaged by a rifle's blast.

McQuiston's suitcase, packed for his road trip, lay on the floor. He and Howard both were dressed for work.

There was no sign though, of Howard's ring. When the Sheriff's Office wrapped up its investigation — which determined that McQuiston shot Howard, then turned the gun on himself — the ring was still missing.

• • •

Howard's funeral drew 500 people, according to her stepmother, Linda Howard. She was buried at Trinity Memorial Gardens.

McQuiston's family held a small burial in Pennsylvania, mainly so that his sons could have some closure and a place to visit their dad.

Patty Hoegerl said that on the day her brother and Howard died, she received an invitation to their bridal shower in the mail, another reminder of the tragedy no one saw coming.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6245.

Pasco woman's fairy-tale romance ends in death for her, fiance 10/03/09 [Last modified: Saturday, October 3, 2009 9:43am]
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