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Ex-beau's obsession leads to three deaths

Published Oct. 6, 2005

He heard three shots, glass breaking, then a thump.

Thinking he was the victim of a home invasion, Rick Zdanowski reached for a knife from the kitchen counter. Then he heard cries for help from the bathroom.

A man had lunged through the window.

"Oh my God! Oh my God! Help me! Help me!" the man yelled. "They're shooting at us!"

Zdanowski ran out of the house, leaving the bleeding man, who was wearing only his underwear. "I've never seen a guy with more fear on his face," Zdanowski said Monday. "He was just in total terror."

The man, Mark Wayne Vaughan, was murdered moments later.

He was shot to death late Sunday by the man he was running from, James W. Dover. Moments earlier, Dover had killed his ex-girlfriend, businesswoman Gaylene Plodzien, the woman Vaughan had been dating about two months.

By the time the shooting was over in the affluent Town 'N Country subdivision of Bayport, Dover also was dead, shot by Hillsborough sheriff's deputies responding to a domestic dispute.

According to sheriff's officials, who got the call just before 11 p.m., Dover arrived at Plodzien's home armed with a .30-30 caliber rifle. The rifle, which holds five rounds, was equipped with a scope.

Dover, 28, kicked in the front door, and Vaughan ran out the back, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

Vaughan, 32, a mortgage broker in Carrollwood, ran to Zdanowski's house four doors down. Meanwhile, Dover forced his ex-girlfriend outside.

"She came out the front door, and she had her hands in the air," neighbor Kenny McCoy said. She pleaded, "Don't shoot! Don't shoot!" But Dover shot her. "He went up to her and said, "That's what you get.' "

Then he fired at Zdanowski as Zdanowski ran out of his house. Inside, as shots rang, Vaughan searched for a place to hide.

He was bleeding from cuts he sustained when he jumped through the bathroom window.

He left a trail of blood from the bathroom to the kitchen to the living room to the master bedroom. Inside a walk-in closet in the master bedroom, Vaughan hid under a pile of clothes.

But something made him come back outside.

When he did, witnesses said Vaughan and Dover exchanged words.

They were about 100 yards apart.

"There was a verbal exchange," said Zdanowski, 36, who lives alone. "Something like, "I told you I was gonna kill you. I told you to stay away.' That's when the shots started going.

"He was basically shooting at anything that moved."

Then, three sheriff's deputies arrived at Plodzien's home, 10404 Brigantine Blvd. Dover, who had put down his rifle and was now armed with a handgun, was ordered to drop his weapon, Carter said.

He refused.

All three deputies opened fire, killing him.

Investigators would not say how many shots were fired by Dover and the deputies or how many times anybody was hit. Carter said that was part of the sheriff's investigation.

The deputies were placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

Monday afternoon, friends and family gathered at Plodzien's house, where well-manicured lawns line the street.

Her uncle, Joe Plodzien of Port Richey, said he was stunned by what happened.

"The man who shot her, he was the kindest man you'd want to meet," Plodzien said, recalling that he last saw Dover at the house on Thanksgiving.

"But from what I hear, he was a demonic person with Gayle. He was always trying to tell her what to do."

Plodzien's friends said she began dating Dover about two years ago. A mechanic and bodybuilder, Dover also was her personal trainer. But he soon began abusing her, physically and verbally, friends said.

"He had been stalking her," said Susan Roberts, who had known Plodzien about five years.

"She'd been trying to break up for a long time. He wouldn't take no for an answer."

On Feb. 6, according to sheriff's records, deputies responded to a call at Plodzien's house. Dover, who served a year's probation in 1990 on gun and drug charges, apparently had broken in and attacked Vaughan.

Vaughan and Plodzien decided not to press charges.

Roberts said she tried to persuade Plodzien to seek a restraining order against Dover a week ago, but she refused.

"She was afraid he would kill her."

Tony Alfonso, Plodzien's ex-husband, was worried that Dover would kill him. He armed himself with a 9mm handgun.

He said he wasn't surprised at what Dover did.

"He'd call and leave a couple of messages on my recorder," said Alfonso, who ran a carpet installation business with Plodzien.

"He just made threats, that he'd crush my skull, break my neck.

"He never really said why."

Dover's grandmother, who helped raise him, said she couldn't believe her grandson was a murderer.

"This is such a shock because this is so out of character for him," said Inez Rayburn of Odessa.

"He used to call me every day to check on me because I have a bad heart."

Rayburn described her grandson as a "caring person."

If he had one flaw, she said, it was this: "He just cared too much for that woman."

_ Staff writer Bill Duryea and researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.