Thursday, January 18, 2018
Public safety

Tampa man charged with neglect after disabled mother found dead in home

TAMPA — It's hard to tell where the house ends and the yard begins at the little blue house on N 38th Street in Tampa.

Spanish moss hangs low from branches that bend over the roof. It's difficult to see the house from the edge of the back yard, where palms and bushes have grown up and around it.

The roof is so covered with dirt and leaves that small trees and grasses have taken root, enclosing the entire house in greenery.

"It's like a jungle back there," next-door neighbor Miguel Francis said. "They'll probably condemn that."

Francis watched earlier this week as police entered the house. Police described the conditions inside the house as "deplorable," saying there are rats and cockroaches, with mud covering the floor. There's no power, there's no water.

This is where Louise Holmes spent her final days.

Francis was used to seeing Holmes, 82, coming to the curb to check her mailbox, right next to his, and pick up the trash. But police say she'd been stuck in the house, unable to walk, since July 4.

A few days ago, Francis said his friends had smelled something coming from the home, a stench like a dead animal. Now he wonders if it was something more gruesome.

About 7:30 a.m. Tuesday, Tampa police received a 911 call about a deceased elderly woman. The Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office conducted an autopsy Wednesday and is awaiting test results to confirm Holmes' cause of death.

Holmes had sores and maggots on her body, police spokeswoman Andrea Davis said. It did not appear she had been dead for long.

Francis, Holmes' neighbor, watched as police entered the home wearing protective jumpsuits. He saw officers put Holmes' son into the squad car.

James E. Holmes, 58, who told police he visited his mother every day, was arrested on charges of neglect of an elderly or disabled adult. He is currently being held without bail.

Holmes' arrest comes four weeks after another case of alleged elder abuse surfaced in northwest Hillsborough County. Last month, the husband and three adult children of Mary Winston, 65, were charged with manslaughter after she was found in her Tampa home with bedsores so bad that scar tissue had fused her legs together. On her back, bedsores infested with maggots showed dry, exposed bone.

Further charges are possible for Holmes pending autopsy results, police said.

According to state records, Holmes was arrested in 1979 for armed robbery and again in 2009 for driving under the influence.

Francis said he remembers Holmes coming to and from the house regularly with his girlfriend, so much so that he assumed Holmes lived there. Police say his driver's license lists the 38th Street address as his primary residence, but he split his time between his mother's home and his girlfriend's.

"They were real friendly, nice people," Francis said. "It's shocking."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Charles Scudder can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3111.

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