The women who streetwalk on Fourth Street N feared there was someone bad stalking them in early December, when Kathy Guy was killed.
Their paranoia grew when a woman was brutally beaten on Dec. 15. Then it happened again on Dec. 20 and 26.
"It was rumored that the girls were getting beat up. They started being really careful. They weren't hanging out on the corner," said a waitress at a Fourth Street restaurant frequented by prostitutes. She asked that her name be withheld because no one has been arrested in the beatings.
A fifth woman, who accepted a ride with a stranger on Feb. 4, was beaten so badly she almost died. Her broken body, naked from the waist down, was dumped at the edge of Tampa Bay in Lassing Park on Beach Drive SE, St. Petersburg police said. Like Guy, that woman suffered a severe head wound. Police would not disclose her condition. One of the man's unidentified victims still is hospitalized and may never fully recover, police said.
It was after the most recent incident that police and Hillsborough sheriff's detectives said they linked the five attacks. They would not say why it took so long to notice similarities. All of the women are in their 20s, white, and are Fourth Street regulars, police said.
Several of the surviving victims described the man's Southern drawl, his polite manner, and his big, old, and dark four-door sedan. At least two of the women climbed into that car intending to have sex with the man, said Hillsborough sheriff's Capt. Gary Terry.
Inside the car some of the victims saw things _ police won't be specific _ that led them to think he lives out of his car. He works in an indoor construction trade, Terry said, perhaps working with cement.
Each of the victims was dumped from the car in the early morning hours and left for dead, said police Lt. Gary Hitchcox. Police would confirm only that the Feb. 6 victim was found near water. They would not disclose where the others were dropped.
Guy, 29, who drifted to Florida from her native South Carolina, died from a blunt wound to her head, and her nude body was dumped near a mangrove marsh in Gibsonton, detectives said. She was a regular customer at T's Pub on Fourth Street N and a heavy drinker who had been in legal trouble, friends there said Thursday. But she was a friendly woman who didn't deserve to die in such a brutal manner, they said.
Some circumstances surrounding her death, including suspicions that she had been dumped from a boat, led investigators initially to question whether the death was related to the 1989 killings of Joan Rogers, 36, and her two daughters, who were bound, gagged, and thrown overboard from a boat in Tampa Bay, police said. Terry said Thursday there was no evidence to link the unsolved Rogers killings to the recent attacks in St. Petersburg.
Earlier this week, detectives began showing the composite picture of the man suspected in the five Fourth Street attacks. They released the picture on Thursday, hoping for help from the public.
The man, they think, meant to kill the last four victims. They suspect he could strike again.
Along sections of 34th Street and Fourth Street N, parallel streets that police say draw the prostitutes and their customers, more than 15 people said Thursday they recognized the man in the composite as a quiet newcomer who appears to be drawn to the bars frequented by prostitutes.
He was seen last Thursday at a pool tournament at T's Pub, where he sat apart from the regulars. Late Wednesday, he stopped into the Pelican Pub for beer, bartenders there said.
At Watson's Food Town Market, one clerk knows him as a regular with a taste for cheap beer and filtered Camel cigarettes. No one knew his name.
By late Thursday, as the picture began circulating, a few phone calls had come in with tips, said Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Jack Espinosa.
"I hope they get him," said the 55-year-old night bartender at T's Pub, who also fears the man and wanted her name withheld. "I don't walk the streets, but I have to be out there."
Where to call
Anyone with information about the suspect in the beatings of four women and the killing of Kathy Guy is asked to call the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office at 247-8660 or the St. Petersburg Police Department at 893-7104.
_ Staff writer Carol Marbin contributed to this report.