HOLIDAY — He said he took the Greyhound from New York to be with her again. The small man with shaggy dark hair showed up at the beginning of the week.
Sarah Ann Capps introduced him as the father of her two children, which surprised neighbors in the four-unit complex on Golden Nugget Drive.
Capps moved in three months earlier and was personable. She borrowed sugar and a mop. She said she was 22 and working in telemarketing but hoped to go to culinary school.
The neighbors knew she had two cats and always left the house by 8:30 a.m. She loved babies but never mentioned her own — ages 4 and 5, who were in state custody — or their father, Thomas Cacacie, 26, who was now apparently back in her life.
Neighbor Judy Dalton, 60, saw Capps drop off Cacacie about 5:30 p.m. Thursday. Capps said she was going to give a friend a ride home and be right back. Dalton said Cacacie's head hung low, dejected.
"You broke his heart," Dalton said to Capps.
"He's in love with me," Capps said and left.
About 3:30 a.m. Friday, neighbor Brittany Debow, 19, heard Capps come home. Debow heard a slamming door and jumped out of bed, thinking someone was trying to break into her car. She went outside and saw Capps go inside the apartment.
Dalton woke up at about 3:40 a.m. She couldn't sleep, so she made coffee. She heard nothing.
Debow and Dalton had no way to know what was about to happen across the courtyard.
Inside Capps' tiny apartment, the one where a Tinkerbell blanket covered a window, Cacacie slowly strangled the mother of his children, the Pasco County Sheriff's Office says. Since 2006, he later told detectives, he had fantasized about doing this and having sex with her body while watching pornographic videos.
It wasn't what he imagined it would be, he told detectives. He placed her in the bathtub and cleaned her and then, according to neighbors, went outside and sat in a white plastic chair and smoked a cigar and drank Coke.
"Good morning," he said to Dalton, who noticed Capps' car was still there at nearly 10 a.m. Dalton said Cacacie told her Capps had been out drinking and was sleeping. They talked. Cacacie seemed perfectly calm. Dalton heard later from detectives that Cacacie had blood on his shorts, but Dalton didn't see it.
"I want to go to the beach," Cacacie told another neighbor. "How do you get to Clearwater Beach?"
Before long, the street was cordoned off with patrol cars. Debow overheard deputies say Cacacie took a cell phone photo of Capps' body and sent it to a friend, who then alerted authorities. Doug Tobin, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Office, would not say how investigators were alerted to the homicide.
When the deputies showed up, Cacacie was still there on Golden Nugget Drive.
Efrain Rodriguez, 41, said he was standing next to him. Cacacie chatted about coming from New York and knowing the woman who was murdered. Rodriguez said Cacacie had a knife in his front pocket and, when asked why he came from New York, had responded: "I just came to take care of some things."
In custody, Cacacie spoke with detectives. He said he often abused Capps during their on-and-off again six-year relationship and very nearly killed her on Mother's Day in 2006 but something stopped him, a report states. In 2007, Capps got a domestic violence injunction against him in Hillsborough County, court records show.
He said he killed her because he moved back to be with her, but after two days she decided she didn't want to be with him, the report states.
"The defendant stated … if he couldn't have her, no one could," the report says.
His arrest Friday — first-degree murder, sexual battery — is the 26th of his life. His first, a charge of aggravated battery with a weapon, came days after his 14th birthday in Palm Beach County.
That was 1998, the year his adopted parents divorced. The final judgment states that Cacacie "suffers from severe mental problems." His father was responsible for making sure Cacacie took his medication.
"The son still needs long-term assistance to deal with anger," the divorce documents state.
Cacacie's mother died from cancer last year. He was not listed in her obituary.
His father remarried. The new wife, Sandra Cacacie, answered the phone at their home Saturday. He was away on business, she said. The two had not heard about Capps' death.
"Oh, my God," she said.
She thought Cacacie was still in rehab in New York, where she said he went to get away from Capps.
"He knew not to even come back to Florida," she said.
She said Cacacie was adopted from Ecuador at 6 months old — but he hadn't been touched or hugged or shown any kindness during his first few months of life and when her husband got to him, little Thomas was already broken. Painfully thin, sad. He didn't want to be touched. He punched holes in the walls.
Doctors said he had detachment issues. He was bipolar and schizophrenic, she said. She said doctors never found a good mix of medications.
But, when he spoke with his father last week, he seemed to be doing better.
Cacacie called people collect. He had no money, no Internet access.
His stepmother can't figure out how this happened, or how the two of them found each other again.
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6229.