Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Public safety

Police still seek answers in 1971 killing of Carmella Doyer

ST. PETERSBURG — Carmella Doyer was cleaning her house when four men carrying rakes and looking like a lawn maintenance crew approached her front door.

Doyer, 58, was living her dream. She had escaped the cold of Connecticut and found peace in a quiet neighborhood of middle-class families and elderly couples.

On that morning, she welcomed one of the men inside.

Moments later, neighbors heard gunfire. Police found Doyer's body in the living room.

"On the strength of Sgt. Bill Carlisle's memory, St. Petersburg police are looking for a person who bought two garden rakes and a cultivator," a Times reporter wrote.

That was 1971.

Forty-two years later, Doyer's daughter wants to know what happened.

"I'm finally ready," Pauline Wiendl said. "I've got to do something and figure out where I stand.''

She called St. Petersburg police.

• • •

Wiendl struggles with her mother's death. Little things trigger bad memories. Her mother would have turned 100 this year.

Now 78 and living in Manchester, Conn., Wiendl decided to act.

She still had the business card of Sgt. Carlisle, who handed it to her that May day outside her mother's crime-taped home at 738 13th St. N.

Carlisle died in 2010. But Brenda Stevenson, a cold-case investigator with the homicide detail, took Wiendl's call in June.

Stevenson asked for a picture, which she posted with a case summary on the department's cold cases Web page.

"There are four subjects out there that know the story of that day," Stevenson said. "And those individuals could have spoken to someone else. That being said, we know there's other witnesses that could come forward."

The lead detective on the Doyer case said he remembers the rakes held by the men who approached Doyer's door.

"This case still comes back to haunt me," said Paul Drolet, now 78, who retired from the department in 1978 and lives in Clearwater with his wife. "All we had was fingerprints, and we didn't have a database to match them with. All you could do was knock on doors and talk to people."

Stevenson, the cold-case investigator, said she is running DNA tests on physical evidence, which she declined to reveal.

"It's not as easy as people see on TV," she said. "There are only so many hours in a working day."

One of two cold-case investigators with the St. Petersburg police, Stevenson juggles about 20 cases at a time; the total number waiting for attention is 211.

Stevenson has worked cold cases for seven years and said she has solved about one a year on average.

• • •

The photo sent to Stevenson is a copy of a framed photograph that hangs in Wiendl's living room, an homage to the single mother who raised Wiendl and her sister after her husband left in her early 20s.

"I guess she thought she couldn't depend on a husband, so she better figure out how to make it on her own," Wiendl said.

The Great Depression had descended on America, and Doyer got by working as the manager of an apartment complex in Hartford. She was a tiny woman, only 4-feet-11 and "105 pounds soaking wet," but she was strong-willed, her daughter said.

When her children had grown, Doyer moved in 1970 to St. Petersburg. She managed a local laundromat, Soap N' Suds.

Wiendl followed soon after, drawn by her mother's stories of palm trees and sunny days.

On her mother's final day, Wiendl was living on Second Avenue N, a few blocks from Doyer.

Her mother's neighbors knocked on her door that day and urged her to come with them to the hospital, Wiendl recalled.

It was a Tuesday, a school day, and four of the children had just left. Wiendl was wearing a house coat and carrying her 2-year-old baby.

"I'm thinking, what fool thing did my mother do now?" Wiendl said. "She always had to do everything, fix everything herself. I thought she might have fallen off a ladder."

At St. Anthony's Hospital in St. Petersburg, the nurses looked at her strangely when she asked for her mother. A neighbor stepped forward: "The woman with the gunshot wounds."

"I almost fell to my knees," Wiendl said. "I sat down. You know how it is? You don't know how to react. And then I'm bombarded by reporters. One reporter sat next to me, and to tell you the truth, I had no idea what he was saying. All I knew was, he was asking me questions about my mother in the past tense. 'Was your mother this, was she that?' "

• • •

In weeks and months that followed, Wiendl lived in fear that her mother's killers would find her. She stayed home all day.

"After my older kids went to school, I would sit with my little one in the hall with no lights on until somebody got home," she said. "When my husband came home, I would say, 'It's a good thing you have the keys because I wasn't opening the door for anything.' "

Little things triggered more pain, like the birthday card she found on her mother's living room table, ready for Wiendl's 35th birthday, and the transistor radio next to the card, a gift.

Ten years later, troubled deeply by her mother's death, Wiendl moved back to Connecticut.

She still suffers from nightmares and a chilling feeling of emptiness. Some days she sits by herself in her rocking chair, staring at the picture, waiting by the phone for her mother to call.

"I tell her I'm doing what I can to get the police to solve this."

• • •

The house on 13th Street is now home to doctors offices. Clearwater tow-truck operator Gary Wiendl, Pauline's 51-year-old son, still drives by the home regularly but doesn't know why.

He was 8 when his parents told him that grandma wasn't coming back from the hospital.

"I'm hoping that there's justice," he said. "There has to be. There has to be."

Times staff writer Dan Sullivan and news researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report.

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