Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Woman found dead in Riverview wanted only 'love and friendship,' neighbors and family say

GIBSONTON — Melissa Easterling lived alone in a trailer by the creek, but she did not keep to herself.

She'd home in on a neighbor sitting on his porch or putting out the trash. Then she'd ask for a ride. Or some sugar for her coffee. She'd talk about her two dogs and three cats, the pain in her ears, the insect bites on her face. She had few visitors to her home, but she kept a faded sign on the door: "A hug would make my day," it said.

"To me, she needed friendship," said neighbor Marilyn Butcher, "and when she got a chance, she jumped on it."

How Easterling, 32, ended up dead, near a business park about 6 miles from her home, remained a mystery Tuesday.

Her family had been looking for her, but it was two strangers — two women who had taken their cane poles out to catch fish before work Monday morning — who discovered her body near a Riverview business park.

The Hillsborough Sheriff's Office considers Easterling's death suspicious. Sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon said authorities have not yet determined the cause of death. A dive team was searching the nearby ponds for additional evidence.

Her body was partly decomposed, and her mother, Bonnie Easterling, said deputies told her that she'd been identified by her fingerprints.

Melissa Easterling, who grew up in Gibsonton and dropped out of high school, had worked as a day laborer but several years ago got on disability after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, said her family. She used her money to buy the single-wide with aqua trim off U.S. 41 and paid about $240 a month to rent the land.

She had no driver's license but did have a bicycle, which she routinely rode to a nearby gas station.

She had never been married but had two children. Her mother said the state took them away because she could not care for them. "What did they say?" her mother said. " 'Failure to thrive.' "

That was the older one, who was taken as a toddler. She said the younger child never left the hospital with Easterling.

Those might have been the central losses of her life, her family said, though she rarely talked about it. She loved her nieces and nephews, "and she'd get on the floor with them, just like a kid," said brother, Ricky Easterling. They called her Punkin'.

Her pets became like children, and most of her money went toward paying vet bills, her family said. "They were her babies," said her mother.

Her mother said Melissa called her June 21 to say someone was giving away cats on Fletcher Avenue. Could she get a ride up there? Her mother said she had other plans and couldn't do it.

"The last thing she said was 'I think I got a ride,' and that's the last I heard from her," said Bonnie Easterling.

Harry White, one of Melissa's neighbors, drove out to her mother's place Saturday. He said he hadn't seen Melissa since Tuesday, either, and wondered if they would come take a look in her home.

The animals hadn't been fed, and Melissa's medication was still there. It was as if she planned to return home.

Now her family and neighbors say they wonder if Melissa had reached out to the wrong person. She had recently been spending time on the Internet, trying to meet men on singles sites.

"What a dirty shame," said Butcher, one of the neighbors. "She didn't hurt anybody. She was hungry for friendship and love."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3374.

Woman found dead in Riverview wanted only 'love and friendship,' neighbors and family say 06/28/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 7:57am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays late-night bullpen shuffle: Alvarado, Pruitt down; Kolarek up

    Blogs

    The Rays shuffled their bullpen again after Tuesday's game, sending down struggling LHP Jose Alvarado along with RHP Austin Pruitt to Triple-A Durham, and turning next to LHP Adam Kolarek, who will make his major-league debut at age 28,

  2. Tampa Bay Times honored for top investigative story in Gerald Loeb annual business awards

    Business

    The Tampa Bay Times was a co-winner in the investigative category for one of the highest honors in business journalism.

    Tampa Bay Times current and former staff writers William R. Levesque, Nathaniel Lash and Anthony Cormier were honored in the investigative category for their coverage of "Allegiant Air" in the 60th Anniversary Gerald Loeb Awards for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism. 
[JAMES BORCHUCK   |   Times

]

  3. Pasco woman gives birth to child fathered by 11 year old, deputies say

    Crime

    A Port Richey woman was arrested Tuesday, nearly three years after deputies say she gave birth to a child fathered by an 11-year-old boy.

    Marissa Mowry, 25, was arrested Tuesday on charges she sexually assaulted an 11-year-old and gave birth to his child. [Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office]
  4. For good of the Rays, Tim Beckham should embrace move to second

    The Heater

    PITTSBURGH — The acquisition of slick-fielding shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria said a lot of things, most notably that the Rays are serious about making in-season moves to bolster their chances to make the playoffs, with a reliever, or two, next on the shopping list.

    PITTSBURGH, PA - JUNE 27:  Tim Beckham #1 of the Tampa Bay Rays celebrates with teammates after scoring during the eighth inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park on June 27, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images) 700011399
  5. St. Petersburg showdown: Kriseman faces Baker for first time tonight at the Rev. Louis Murphy Sr.'s church

    Local Government

    A standing-room-only crowd packed a Midtown church banquet hall Tuesday to witness the first face-off between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker in what is a watershed mayoral contest in the city's history.

    Former Mayor Rick Baker, left, is challenging incumbent Mayor Rick Kriseman, right, to become St. Petersburg mayor.