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Suspect linked to slain hitman

For months, he was sought by police in the brutal murder of a prominent St. Petersburg doctor.

Detectives thought Rudolph "Tony" Bowens, also known as Meryl McDonald, was one of two men hired by Dr. Louis Davidson's wife and her new boyfriend to beat up Davidson and drown him in his own bathtub.

Early in the investigation, detectives briefly had Bowens jailed. He denied knowing anything about the crime. Then a foul-up set Bowens free. Finally, two weeks ago, detectives nabbed him in New York.

And what was he doing in the Big Apple? During a brief court appearance Friday morning, Bowens testified that in the seven months when police were searching for him, he had started his own business, an advertising company.

"I was president," he told Circuit Judge Douglas Baird. "I had two employees."

Now Bowens, 47, is out of business and back in jail. And police in Miami would like to talk to him about a slaying they are investigating, too.

The Miami victim was Frederick "Juba" Maitland, who police think was also hired to kill Davidson last year but failed to carry out his mission.

"Juba left Jamaica with $40,000 American and never came back," Florida Department of Law Enforcement Agent Lee Strope testified in a pretrial deposition last month.

On Christmas Eve 1993, Maitland's body was found tied up and weighted down in a Dade County lake, according to police. And one of the last people to see him alive, they say, was Bowens.

The connection to a mysteriously slain Jamaican hitman marks the latest twist in an already bizarre case involving a former swimsuit model, her physician husband and their bitter custody fight.

In addition to Bowens, police have arrested Robert Gordon, 31, accused of being Bowens' partner; Susan Shore, 26, who has told police she drove Bowens and Gordon to the doctor's apartment complex on the morning of the slaying; and Davidson's estranged wife, Denise, 34, apprehended at Tampa International Airport with a one-way ticket to Jamaica in her purse.

Gordon, Shore and Mrs. Davidson have all pleaded innocent. Bowens has not entered a plea.

Detectives are still seeking the Jamaican nightclub owner they think hired Maitland, Bowens and Gordon to kill the doctor. Mrs. Davidson's boyfriend, Leonardo "Leo" Cisneros, has so far eluded not only police but also Davidson's brother-in-law, who volunteered to organize a search for Cisneros among friends in the island underworld.

Under questioning by Strope early in the investigation, Cisneros hinted that he did hire someone to go after Davidson _ but only to beat him up.

"What if I told you I sent someone over to hurt Louie?" Cisneros asked. "What would happen to me?"

Strope urged Cisneros to tell him about it. But Cisneros said if he told police what happened, "he would probably be killed by the people involved in the killing of Dr. Davidson," Strope testified. "So obviously the conversation was over at that point."

"The money wasn't there'

When police showed up at Denise Davidson's Northdale home on Jan. 25 to tell her that her husband had been killed, Cisneros was there, too.

The detectives didn't see him, though, because he was hiding in a closet. He was in the United States on a fake passport and was wanted in Georgia on drug charges.

Almost from the beginning, Cisneros and Mrs. Davidson were the prime suspects in the slaying of the doctor, Detective Michael Celona said in pretrial testimony. Mrs. Davidson and her husband, married for 11 years, were involved in a bitter divorce. Davidson had accused his wife of posing for nude pictures, and Mrs. Davidson had accused her husband of abusing her and their daughter.

Days before the slaying, a court-appointed psychologist determined Davidson had not abused his wife and daughter, and planned to recommend Davidson be given full visitation rights, contrary to Mrs. Davidson's wishes.

Mrs. Davidson, a former swimsuit model in Jamaica who at the time of the slaying was pregnant with Cisneros' child, was also the beneficiary of the doctor's insurance policy, worth $350,000.

Detectives began tailing the widow. They watched her visit several Mailboxes Etc. stores and wire thousands of dollars to people in the Miami area.

The first payment went to Robert Roy Gordon, a name that set off alarm bells for Detective Celona. The month before the slaying, Cisneros was questioned by Tampa police _ but not arrested _ for allegedly trying to cash one of the doctor's checks under a false name. With Cisneros was a man who told police his name was Robert Gordon.

A week after the slaying, police put a wiretap on Mrs. Davidson's phone. On Feb. 17, Celona testified, they listened as Cisneros called her from Jamaica "saying he got a call from his people and the money wasn't there, and she said it was sent."

The subject of that discussion was one of several money orders sent to an Opa-Locka woman who told detectives she was picking them up for a friend called Paul. When detectives visited her again they found a man with her who matched her description of "Paul." But this man claimed his name was Tony Bowens. "He said he didn't know anything about any murder," Detective Terry Taranto said in pretrial testimony.

Pulling hair

The man agreed to be fingerprinted, and the prints showed "Paul" was known to the police as Meryl McDonald (although they later learned that Bowens was his real name). He was also wanted in South Carolina on drug charges, Taranto said.

The detectives arrested the man and took him to the Miami jail. Bowens still contended he knew nothing about Davidson's death, so they asked if he would give them samples of his hair. They told him the hair would help clear his name. "He began pulling his own hair out of his head and beard," Taranto said.

Meanwhile, the detectives had been hunting for Gordon. On Feb. 28, they captured him as he stepped off a city bus in Miami.

Gordon refused to talk to the detectives, so they went back to Bowens. He said he and Gordon were close friends and had planned to open a marketing business in Tampa, Taranto said. Bowens told detectives he and Gordon had visited Tampa on Jan. 18 to look for a location and met Cisneros.

The day after that interview, as Taranto and Strope were trying to keep Bowens in jail a little longer, they discovered he was gone. Rather than extradite him, police in South Carolina had decided to drop the charge, so Miami officials set him free.

About a month later, the detectives heard from the FBI laboratory. They had sent the lab, among other things, the hair samples from the man they knew as McDonald, along with a blood-stained sweat shirt they had recovered at a Tampa motel after the slaying.

DNA tests showed the blood on the sweat shirt belonged to the victim, Celona said. On the sweat shirt were fibers matching the victim's carpet, and cashmere fibers matching a belt the killer used to tie him up. "We also found head and facial hairs on the sweat shirt," Celona said, "and those head and facial hairs characteristically matched the hair and facial hair of Meryl McDonald."

Detectives later found a Wal-Mart charge receipt they said shows Mrs. Davidson bought the sweat shirt for Bowens the day before the slaying.

A missing man and $40,000

Because everyone involved in the case had ties to Jamaica, detectives made a trip to the island March 7. Their primary goal: interview Cisneros.

They found him at a Kingston bar called Pepper's, where Cisneros was part owner. As the detectives introduced themselves, Strope said, Cisneros started shaking. He shook so hard he couldn't light a cigarette.

They asked Cisneros about phone records showing calls from Mrs. Davidson's house to Bowens' pager on the morning Davidson was killed. He said he paged Bowens "a couple of times," just to suggest they meet in Miami.

The detectives pointed out that records show he made 55 calls to the pager in two hours.

"I may have paged him a few more times than I thought," Cisneros said.

When the detectives interviewed Cisneros' partner, Nicholas Grant, they heard about "Juba."

Frederick "Juba" Maitland was widely known as an enforcer among those involved in the drug trade in Jamaica, Strope said. Grant told them that Cisneros had hired Maitland to kill the doctor. Maitland himself told Grant of the contract, the agent said.

A part-time bartender at Pepper's told detectives that Cisneros had denied hiring Maitland, but admitted paying for his ticket to Miami, Strope said.

Hoping to track down Maitland, the detectives looked up his mother.

"She runs a brothel in Kingston," Strope testified, "and she said the last time she had seen her son was Aug. 18, 1993, and he had $40,000 in U.S. currency, and he said he was going to the United States to buy car parts and she hadn't seen him since."

He left with a man named Garth, she said, and they were headed to meet Bowens in Miami.

In questioning Strope, Assistant Public Defender David Parry asked if Miami police had any suspects in Maitland's death. Strope said they wanted to question Bowens.

Parry asked: "Does the theory go then that maybe Bowens wanted the 40 grand for himself, and was going to do the _ "

Strope interrupted him. "It's possible," he said.