TAMPA — It was a cool, breezy night Jan. 14, so William "Bill" Denham decided he would take a walk down the familiar tree-covered streets of his Old Seminole Heights neighborhood.
He walked alone to a nearby Walmart and bought a few frozen dinners, stopped by his old house on E Paris Street, then headed toward the small, white wood-framed house on E Crenshaw Street he bought in November with Dan Kane, his partner of 30 years.
He never made it there.
On the way, sometime after 10 p.m., the 53-year-old Denham was punched and beaten to death by two men and a woman at the intersection of N 15th and E Elm streets, police said.
Just blocks away, Kane was at his home on Hilton Place, preparing to move in with Denham.
"I've always felt safe in that neighborhood and have walked down those streets myself, but now it's very scary to know something like this happened when he was just walking home," said Kane.
A passing motorist called Tampa police to report that a man had been left unconscious in the road with no identification, his Walmart bags at his side, Kane said. It was about 2:30 a.m. when police finally identified Denham and knocked on Kane's door.
"His whole life was helping other people," Kane said. "He didn't deserve this."
Denham was light-hearted and kind, a prankster with a great memory who loved Boston Kremes at Dunkin' Donuts and his two chihuahuas, Ava and Paco. In the late 1980s, he left his three sisters and mother in Pennsauken, N.J., and moved to Florida with Kane and his best friend since seventh grade, John Layer.
With a degree in social work from the University of South Florida, Denham spent most of his life working as a counselor at agencies including the Tampa AIDS Network and DACCO, as well as local methadone clinics. But the work was stressful and Denham burned out, Layer said. He made money flipping houses and waiting tables, recently on an overnight shift at Three Coins Diner on Nebraska Avenue.
His struggle with addiction led to a string of arrests in Hillsborough County, but he found success in faith-based recovery programs and was a devout Christian. The Friday before he died, Denham said he wanted to return to social work and asked for help updating his resume, Kane said.
"He was such a ray of sunshine, and would call me up to talk about spiritual matters and what the Bible has to say about life and his love for life and the Lord," Denham said. "I'll really miss that."
Tampa police said they are still searching for the three assailants, who were seen walking south on N 15th Street after the attack. Witnesses described them as white or Hispanic. One man was in a black short-sleeve shirt, appeared to be in his 20s, and was just under 6 feet tall with a stocky build and brown, scruffy facial hair. The woman had long black hair, witnesses said.
Crime Stoppers of Tampa Bay is offering a reward of up to $3,000 for information that leads to arrests; call 1-800-873-TIPS (8477), report anonymously at crimestopperstb.com or use the P3 Tips mobile app.
Contact Anastasia Dawson at email@example.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.