ST. PETERSBURG — When the badly beaten, partially clothed body of a woman was found in a few feet of water beneath some mangroves last month, police said they needed help finding out who tried to kill her.
Weeks later, police say they still do. Detectives are no closer to finding her attacker, and they may now be without an important witness: the victim herself.
The 38-year-old woman may have suffered permanent brain damage in the attack that has left her hospitalized for nearly a month, according to St. Petersburg police.
"The woman has regained consciousness in the hospital but she is still not able to speak real well," said police spokesman Bill Proffitt. "It looks like she may have some permanent brain damage, and that's affecting her ability to communicate."
Police are still withholding the identity of the victim. While the case was initially declared an attempted homicide by police because of the severity of the victim's injuries, Proffitt said, investigators now believe she also was sexually assaulted.
"The motive seems to include some kind of a sexual crime based on the condition that we found her in," Proffitt said.
The victim was found around 7:50 a.m. on Dec. 26 next to the Coquina Key Dog Park, 3595 Locust St. SE. She was about 15 feet offshore, but passersby still heard the injured woman's moans and cries for help, police said.
She was taken to Bayfront Medical Center, where she underwent surgery. She was listed in critical condition for several days.
While she was unconscious, police focused their investigation on retracing her steps hours before she was found. They released a photo of a red club wristband with blue, yellow and green flames found on her wrist. The public helped detectives identify it as one used by Ike's Liquor Store, 1205 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S.
"She's a regular there," Proffitt said. "The employees remembered her that evening."
But they also remember the woman being ejected from the bar shortly after midnight Dec. 26 for being disruptive. But no one saw her leave the bar with anyone. What happened after that is still unknown.
Investigators collected evidence from the victim that is undergoing forensic tests, Proffitt said. But it will be a while before police learn if those tests could lead them to a suspect or suspects.
In the meantime, police are once again asking for help from anyone who has information about this case, the victim, or was in the vicinity of Ike's the night of Dec. 25 or the morning of Dec. 26.
"There's still a lot of unknowns in the case," Proffitt said. "We … could still use the public's help."
Jamal Thalji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8472.