ST. PETERSBURG — As Steven Blackwell's neighbors searched his house for money to bail him out of jail, they found rooms full of chains, pornography and knives.
They also found something even more unsettling — a human skull.
It was identified Friday as that of Allen Garner, a homeless Hillsborough County man who was found beaten to death in 2003.
But how it ended up in Blackwell's closet has sheriff's deputies puzzled.
They thought it was safely with the medical examiner.
Garner's skeletal remains — his skull among them — were found in a wooded area in Tampa, said J.D. Callaway, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.
And Ronald L. Rhodes, 44, was convicted of first-degree murder in his killing. He is now in state prison serving a life sentence, according to Florida Department of Corrections records.
The remains, meanwhile, were transported to the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office years ago, deputies said.
So how did his skull wind up in a St. Petersburg closet?
"We have no clue," Callaway said in a telephone interview. "The last we knew, it was at the medical examiner's office."
A spokesman for the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner's Office could not be reached for comment Friday night.
Blackwell, 40, told police that a friend gave him the skull several years ago. He was arrested June 3 after a sting in which he is accused of selling cocaine to an undercover officer while toting a machine gun. He was also found to have methamphetamine and marijuana, and was held on $60,650 bail, records show.
Blackwell called and asked his neighbor Glenn Parker, 34, to go through his house looking for money or things to sell to help him pay for bail.
It wasn't an unusual request. Parker said he had done other small favors in the time they'd lived next to each other.
But Parker and his friend Kerry Sedlock, who went with him, were shocked by what they found in Blackwell's room. They said they saw stacks of pornographic magazines, sex toys, chains, handcuffs, knives, swords and machetes scattered throughout the house.
And a box in the closet holding the skull, with bits of flesh still stuck to it.
Parker called the sheriff's office, and detectives sent the skull in for testing.
"He was into some dangerous stuff," Parker said. "I thought he was all right until I saw the skull."
Times staff writer Thomas Kaplan contributed to this report. Andrew Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8150.