What began in 1991 as a simple theft reported at Julianne Holt's law office has mushroomed into a potentially bizarre mystery. Tampa police are now investigating not only the original theft, but also a missing police report and a burglary last week at a second law office.
Holt, who has been Hillsborough County Public Defender since 1993, said she lost $10,400 cash in a burglary of her former private law office sometime late Feb. 3, 1991, or early the next day. At the time, a police report said, Holt suspected her then-secretary had taken the money. But no one was charged with the theft and the case went cold.
It stayed that way until about two months ago when Tampa police reopened the investigation. They quickly learned that at least one of the supplemental reports written by detectives on the case was missing. As of Thursday, it still had not been found.
Then last week, the law office of Christine Welch was burglarized. Some of her files were rifled, but nothing appeared to have been taken.
Welch, who once rented office space in Holt's building, is representing Holt's former secretary, whom the police recently re-interviewed about the 1991 incident. The secretary is not being named because she was never charged with a crime relating to that incident.
Sgt. Gene Kelly of the Tampa police burglary squad said two detectives were recently assigned to investigate the three events.
"We're looking at all the how-comes, the ifs, the maybes," Kelly said. Referring to the break-in at Welch's office, he said, "that's quite unusual, don't you think? . . . They bypassed a lot of stuff burglars would take."
According to a police report of the 1991 case, Holt's secretary called her boss immediately after discovering the ransacked office, but said Holt told her not to call police. The secretary said she and Holt cleaned the office before Holt left for court, according to the report.
Three hours later, Holt returned to the office, accused the secretary of the theft and asked for the money back, the report said. The secretary protested her innocence, and was then told by Holt to call police, according to the report.
Police found no sign of a break-in. The officers questioned both Holt and the secretary, took into evidence one of the envelopes which Holt said held the money, then turned the case over to detectives, who were never able to make an arrest.
At the time of the theft, Holt said the money belonged to her mother and that she was holding it for safekeeping while her mother was in the hospital, according to the report.
"I do believe Ms. Holt was a victim," Kelly said. And having recently interviewed Holt's former secretary again, Kelly said he didn't think the secretary was responsible for the theft.
According to Kelly, the secretary's account of events surrounding the theft of the money has remained consistent. She was with her boyfriend and another friend that night, she said, and both vouched for her.
After a Times reporter inquired about the case in July, Kelly disclosed that some of the reports written by detectives assigned to the case in 1991 are now missing. Those reports included further statements by Holt, the secretary and several other potential witnesses, Kelly said.
Holt said Thursday that she was recently interviewed by detectives, who asked her to recall the events surrounding the the 1991 case. She declined to comment further, citing the ongoing nature of the police investigation.
Police also are investigating the break-in that occurred at Welch's office between the night of Oct. 20 and the next morning.
In that case, someone kicked or used a sledgehammer to get through the front door of the office building at Bay to Bay Boulevard and Dale Mabry Highway in south Tampa.
Once in the small lobby, the burglar went directly to Welch's suite where a pry bar was used to pop open her office door.
Though there are several rooms in Welch's suite, the burglar apparently went into only one of them, where a filing cabinet is kept, a report said. The burglar opened the unlocked filing cabinet and rooted through the files. Though Kelly said one of the files contained information about Holt's former secretary, Welch denied she had a file on the case.
"There was no file on (the woman)," Welch said.
The burglars bypassed some items in Welch's office which might have been worth something in pawn or trade, police said.
Left undisturbed were three computers, a fax machine, two typewriters, a coffee machine and a microwave oven, according to Welch.