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Woman's body found after 8-hour standoff

DUNEDIN — Four years ago, Neils C. Larsen III argued with his roommate over a game of chess, beating the man with a skillet.

The roommate survived, and Larsen pleaded guilty to a lesser battery charge and received probation.

Sometime this week, authorities say he did it again. Only this time, the new roommate died.

Pinellas County deputies entered Larsen's Dunedin home early Saturday after they spent eight hours coaxing him out on a tip that he might harm himself. They found a woman's body wrapped in blankets on the kitchen floor.

"It started out as a welfare check for him and ended up in this homicide investigation," sheriff's spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said.

Several hours later, they arrested Larsen, 55, on a second-degree murder charge and booked him in the Pinellas County Jail without bail.

Larsen told investigators that on Monday or Tuesday, he and the woman were arguing when he grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the kitchen floor, according to the arrest affidavit. She hit her head and died, the jail record states.

Authorities had not confirmed the victim's identity on Saturday. But Pasha said she was a friend of Larsen's who rented a room in the house he owns at 1222 Orange Drive.

Neighbors said Larsen has worried them for years. Last month, a woman living at the house used a neighbor's phone to call deputies because Larsen had cut her phone line, Pasha said.

"He's been such a troublemaker for many, many years, but he always managed to get out of jail," said neighbor Betty Dobbins, 76, who described him as sick and disturbed. "I stayed away from the guy."

Deputies first got a hint that something might be wrong on Friday when one of Larsen's friends asked deputies to check on him. The friend said Larsen sent him a letter saying he intended to harm himself.

Sheriff's deputies briefly talked to Larsen about 1:30 p.m. Friday before he went back in the house. The situation escalated. Investigators learned that he placed two propane tanks and three Freon tanks around himself. About 4 p.m., the SWAT team was called.

Just before midnight, the SWAT team shot a chemical similar to pepper spray into the home, and Larsen surrendered to authorities.

Larsen has a criminal record dating to 1974 that includes charges of drug possession, driving under the influence and battery on a police officer.

In 2004, he was arrested on an attempted-murder charge after he attacked a friend who was staying with him. Authorities said they were arguing over the movement of rooks in a chess game.

Prosecutors formally charged Larsen with aggravated battery. He pleaded no contest to a lesser charge of felony battery and received three years of probation.

The friend, Chad M. Howell, told the St. Petersburg Times then that he was grateful Larsen called paramedics. "So he saved my life," Howell said. "You have to give credit where credit is due, even though what he did was wrong."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Stephanie Garry can be reached at (727) 892-2374 or sgarry@sptimes.com.

Woman's body found after 8-hour standoff 09/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 15, 2008 3:39pm]
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