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Burning may be linked to Atlanta

Published Oct. 13, 2005

Tampa police are trying to determine whether an incident in which a man was set afire near the Courtney Campbell Parkway in February is related to similar cases in Atlanta. Atlanta detectives notified Tampa police on Friday that they had a suspect in three incidents in which gay men had been beaten or burned. Tampa police spokesman Steve Cole said detectives here have received photos of the Atlanta suspect and will ask the victim if he can identify him in a photo lineup.

"They've shipped us some information, and we're checking it out," he said. "We feel fairly certain that by the end of the week we will know" if there is a connection.

In the Tampa case, 35-year-old Gary Clapp was burned so badly that his legs had to be amputated at the upper thighs. Clapp was discovered by a patrol officer on a strip of the parkway that is notorious for assaults, robberies, rapes and other illegal activity.

Clapp was taken to Tampa General Hospital where he remained in the burn unit until mid-April, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Clapp was able to tell investigators only that he was approached by a man near the Salvation Army in Tampa. The man offered to pay him $50 to drink some vodka with him, Cole said. Clapp told detectives he remembers drinking with the man for a while but cannot remember anything else, except waking up in the hospital the following day.

In the Atlanta cases, the pattern is similar. Men were approached and offered money to drink some vodka. The men then lost consciousness and woke up later, finding they had been badly beaten or burned, Atlanta police Detective Dale Kelley said. Detectives in Atlanta think the vodka may be laced with a drug.

In some of the cases, which may date back 20 years, the victims were handcuffed. In Atlanta the suspect has become known as "Handcuff Man," Kelley said.

The suspect, whose name is being withheld because he has not been charged, is a former Atlanta lawyer who now lives in Pennsylvania. He has a mother who is disabled and lives in Clearwater, said the suspect's attorney, Guy Notte.