CLEARWATER — A Clearwater man has confessed to killing his 91-year-old next-door neighbor while robbing her of checks and a credit card, Clearwater police said Thursday.
At a news conference, Clearwater police Chief Anthony Holloway said the suspect, Dominic Panzino, 36, was arrested Wednesday night by police in Massachusetts in response to a multi-state law-enforcement bulletin. Holloway said Panzino fled toward relatives in the Boston area after killing Kathryn Schroepfor.
He was identified as a person of interest in the case after he tried to use checks and a credit card belonging to Schroepfor, Holloway said.
Panzino is also suspected of having stolen a van from his employer, Midwestern Meats, which police said he used to drive north this week.
Schroepfor was discovered dead in her home on Orangeview Avenue by her disabled son's caretaker on Saturday afternoon, according to police. A wallet and purse were missing.
Holloway said the medical examiner's office determined Sunday that Schroepfor died from "blunt-force trauma." Detectives continue to investigate exactly how she was killed.
No formal charges have been filed yet against Panzino, who remains in Revere, Mass., awaiting extradition to Florida. Clearwater detectives traveled to Massachusetts on Thursday to interview him, Holloway said.
Residents of the quiet block south of Drew Street where Schroepfor and Panzino lived were shocked to hear that the suspect was so close to home.
"It makes you really think a whole lot more about people who come to your door," said Charlotte Michniewicz, whose home is on the other side of the house where Panzino lived.
Michniewicz said that she would sometimes see Panzino coming and going from the house in a Midwestern Meats truck and that he was "real quick to talk and smile." Beyond that, she said, "I didn't know him at all."
Holloway said that Panzino was known to perform odd jobs for some residents of the neighborhood but that police are unsure of his exact relationship to Schroepfor. Her front door was unlocked when her body was discovered, indicating that she might have let in her assailant.
Geri Chasten, another neighbor, said she was happy that police had arrested a suspect, but she was still reeling from Schroepfor's murder.
She remembered her next-door neighbor of two decades as a friendly woman who would never accept any favors without offering small gifts in return, such as a flower or box of chocolates.
"My God. It makes you feel just terrible to know that you're so close," Chasten said. "I just feel terrible that I wasn't there for her."
Holloway said Panzino rented a room in the house at 114 Orangeview Ave. The home's other residents did not answer the door Thursday afternoon. Michniewicz said that police searched the house on Thursday morning, removing sealed bags of evidence.
Clearwater police confirmed that a search warrant was executed at the house.
Peter Jamison can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4157.