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Records trace last hours of Tampa man whose body found in trunk

TAMPA — James Sheets III told investigators he had dinner with 79-year-old real estate developer Henry Shell, then dropped him at a hotel to meet a woman.

But Tampa police said it was "beyond reasonable" that Shell would have been found dead in the trunk of a car in Sheets' possession — three days after he was supposedly dropped off — if Sheets never saw him again, according to a search warrant made public this week.

Receipts, surveillance videos and cellphone records establish a time line of the last hours anyone saw Henry Shell, the warrant said. On Nov. 12, surveillance from Shell Realty and Insurance at 1609 N Florida Ave. shows Shell placing a call on his cellphone at 5 p.m.

About 6 p.m., he walked out of the business with Sheets. Shell's credit card was used to pay for a meal at Sonny's Restaurant in Pasco County at 6:20 p.m., the warrant said. At 8:57 p.m., Sheets arrived alone at Shaw's Motel on E Hillsborough Ave.

In interviews, Sheets admitted he met Shell at his job and they went to dinner at Sonny's on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard in Pasco. Sheets said he took Shell to a motel and left him there to meet a woman. According to the warrant, he then took Shell's car to Shaw's Motel and went on a three-day bender until police arrived to take him into custody.

Surveillance video from Shaw's showed Sheets opening the trunk — only enough to get his arm in — and feeling around for something four times that night.

Three days later, Sheets loaned the car —a Mercury Grand Marquis — to Kirby Mack, who had spent the weekend smoking crack cocaine with him at Shaw's Motel, the warrant said. Tampa police said Mack noticed the rank smell in the car and, though he was told not to by Sheets, opened the trunk.

Upon finding Shell's decomposing remains on Nov. 15, Mack called authorities and immediately drove the car to a Tampa police district III station on N 22nd Street. Crime scene investigators found red stains believed to be blood in the front seat of the car and on the passenger side door handles. Shell's cause of death remains undetermined. Preliminary results led them to believe Shell, who lived near Carrollwood, was in the trunk on Nov. 12.

Ninety-eight people tried to reach Shell on his cellphone that weekend and a co-worker reported him missing when he didn't show up for work on Nov. 14.

Sheets, 35, was named by police as a suspect in Shell's death. He has not been charged in connection with it, but was arrested Nov. 16 on charges of grand theft motor vehicle, possession of the controlled substance Xanax and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Records trace last hours of Tampa man whose body found in trunk 12/09/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 9, 2011 10:49pm]
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