At 93, the sprightly St. Petersburg woman had a comfortable home beside Coffee Pot Bayou, friends who drove her to the store, and good health. She even had extra income. She rented an efficiency apartment behind her carport for $275 a month to a nicely dressed man who said he was an investor.
But police say William J. Deparvine, 37, of Palm Harbor was a con artist who siphoned money from the woman's checking account to buy a $4,700 stereo, didn't pay his rent and frightened the woman so that she fled her home.
Deparvine was arrested in Clearwater on Friday at his bail bondsmen's office, hours before he was planning to take out a $90,000 loan against her retirement home in an elaborate forgery scam, detectives said.
Now, the elderly woman, fearing for her safety, is in hiding, said her lawyer, John E. M. Ellis of St. Petersburg. She has said she'll never return to the home she bought 33 years ago.
Her former tenant is in jail.
"I just think it's a horrible thing. It just seems unfair because she was happy where she was. Now it just upset everything," a neighbor said.
The elderly victim, whose name is being withheld by the St. Petersburg Times to protect her from further exploitation, rented the apartment last year to Deparvine. He paid $275 a month to live in the addition to the yellow ranch house near Sunset Golf Course Country Club in the sedate Old Northeast section of St. Petersburg.
Then the problems began. The woman called her lawyer in December when there were problems with her Barnett Bank checking account, according to police records.
Dan Bates, a fraud detective with the St. Petersburg Police Department, was assigned to the routine call.
When she mentioned her tenant's name and showed Bates a letter addressed to him, "bells and lights went off," said Detective R. Franklin, who later joined in the investigation. "We looked at each other and went, "Oh boy.' "
Franklin knew Deparvine. He had arrested him Nov. 7, 1988, for forging a warranty deed on property owned by a Clearwater couple. Deparvine had pleaded no contest to the charge in November 1989 and was given three years' probation, according to Pinellas County court records.
Nor was that Deparvine's only brush with the law. He was charged Nov. 3, 1989, with aggravated assault after he threatened his wife, Nancy, with a baseball bat at their Palm Harbor home, according to court records.
He was charged in June 1988 with arson after police said he poured gasoline outside a house he owned at 865 20th Ave. S. in St. Petersburg and started a fire while his tenants, a mother and three children, slept inside. According to records, he wanted to collect the $43,000 insurance on the house. No one was injured.
The detectives called attorney Ellis and warned him that the elderly St. Petersburg woman could be Deparvine's next victim.
Investigators discovered a forged warranty deed had been filed Dec. 15 with the Pinellas clerk of the court's office. It showed the elderly woman's $114,000 property had been sold to Deparvine's company, W. J. D. Equity Trust Corp., which officials said was run from a post office box.
Deparvine was arrested Jan. 19 and charged by St. Petersburg police with forging a deed, forgery, and grand theft, according to court records. Meanwhile, Franklin said, detectives peppered local mortgage lenders with subpoenas. They knew he was desperate for cash and figured someone was about to give him money.
His own creditors were closing in on him. According to Pinellas civil court records, the Florida Bank of Commerce filed a foreclosure against him Jan. 22 for the $108,000 he borrowed in 1987 to buy his Palm Harbor home.
He defaulted Dec. 18 on a $22,767 loan for Seminole Gardens property financed through Unified Consumer Lending Services of Irving, Texas. And General Motors Acceptance Corp. filed against him for a defaulted $14,700 loan for a 1986 Sea Ray boat, according to records.
Deparvine posted bail Feb. 15 on the phony deed charges.
The next morning, as he talked about his bail with bondsman Craig Myers in Clearwater, police surrounded the office. "We were both surprised. They had him out of there in seconds," Myers said.
Hillsborough Lt. Randy Latimer said Deparvine was scheduled later that day to complete a $90,000 loan from Eastern Financial Associates, 923 Oakfield Drive, Brandon. He used the phony deed for the woman's property, an appraisal he had ordered and a paid insurance policy to convince them he was the owner, Latimer said.
Deparvine was being held in the Pinellas County Jail on Thursday night in lieu of $224,000 bail. He is charged with 14 related counts, including forgery, grand theft and forging a deed. Police said he forged and cashed one check for $1,500 from the woman's account and forged another check to buy stereo equipment.
Barnett Bank refunded the woman's money to her checking account, Franklin said. She didn't lose her home. But she's afraid to live there.
"She moved out of her home for her own safety," said her lawyer.
_ Staff writer Mark Journey contributed to this report.