PLANT CITY — The man lay at the edge of his driveway beside his wife's black Volvo, its front end toward the street, its driver's door still hanging ajar. It isn't clear how long he lay there or if anyone may have passed him by before the morning sun shed its first rays over the miniature palms and cacti in the nearby yard.
But when a neighbor passed by and found the lifeless body of Edward Henry Lewis, there was no doubting that the man had been murdered.
Authorities were called to the 67-year-old retiree's home at 914 W Warren St. in Plant City just before 7:30 a.m. Monday. Lewis was declared dead a short time later.
Police declined to say exactly how he died, a spokesman describing him as having suffered "upper-body trauma." But residents of the small, working-class neighborhood — many of whom knew Lewis well — said he had been shot to death.
"It's a sad day," said Marvin Boyd, who had known Lewis for more than two decades. "This really didn't have to happen. He's not the kind of person that you could just walk up to him and kill him. I could think of no one in this community who would want to do that."
Detectives were investigating Lewis' death Monday, questioning those who knew him and had close contact with him. His wife, Marquito Lewis, was inside the house when her husband was killed, police said. But it wasn't immediately clear what, if anything, she heard or saw.
"Detectives are interviewing several people," said Plant City police Sgt. Tray Towles. "They're in the process of getting a warrant to search the entire residence and the vehicle. … Right now, we don't have any suspect info."
But they do have a handful of potential early leads, including one that came from a call dispatchers received about 3:30 a.m. Monday. The caller reported hearing gunshots in the neighborhood where Lewis lived, Towles said. Officers arrived to investigate the report, but apparently found nothing amiss.
"We don't know at this time if that call is related to this homicide," Towles said. "We're not saying they are related, but it's a good starting point."
Investigators swarmed the street in front of the modest single-story home early Monday. Yellow police tape blocked all street traffic in front of the house and a dozen patrol cars, marked and unmarked, sat parked with lights flashing.
A covered porch lined the front of the house, a portion of it jutting over the grassy plain that stretched south and west to where a set of four cars sat facing the street. They were expensive vehicles — a Mercedes and a Cadillac among them — part of what those who knew Lewis said was a "side business" that he ran.
"He'd buy them and fix them up and sell them," Boyd said.
It was what allowed him to treat his wife so well.
"He spoiled her," said Elizabeth Jones, who said she was a cousin to Marquito Lewis.
But the business wasn't just for his wife. It was also to keep up appearances, neighbors said. Whenever they saw him, he was always dressed up, donning fancy suits and collared shirts. He was a man who liked to look good.
And, they said, he was a man who liked to party. He went out often, buddying up with companions young and old, Boyd said. That showy nature was part of what earned Lewis his nickname.
"Everybody called him Mr. Tip," Boyd said, with a chuckle.
It was a lifestyle that one could say he earned, having retired many years ago after a career with CF Industries, at the company's phosphate fertilizer plant.
He never did anyone wrong, Jones said. When he passed by, he always greeted her with a smile.
"I just saw him Saturday night," she said. "He was in his white truck and he came by while I was at the block party and he blew the horn at me and waved."
Whoever is responsible for Lewis' death surely didn't know the man, Jones said.
"Somebody might have seen him coming home and — you know what I'm saying? — somebody wanted to take from him," she said. "He wasn't partying with no wrong person. It was just the devil was out to get him."