(ran PW, PS editions of Pasco Times)
Todd Mendyk, a Hernando County man sentenced to death for raping and strangling a convenience store clerk in 1987, died in a prison infirmary Saturday morning from brain cancer. He was 35.
Mendyk abducted Lee Ann Larmon from a convenience store off U.S. 19, dragged her into the woods, tied her to a sawhorse and raped her. He left her dangling from a tree, then later returned and strangled her. Authorities found her pale body beneath a batch of palmettos near the Pasco County line.
A death warrant had not yet been signed for Mendyk, whose case remained under appeal.
Mendyk's lawyer, Mark Gruber, said Mendyk was diagnosed with cancer over the holidays. He said he believed Mendyk had declined chemotherapy because his prognosis was grim. Since January, Mendyk had been unable to talk and could not remember simple words.
"He very much did not want to die," Gruber said.
Mendyk and his wife, Caroline Mendyk of Winter Park, together made the medical decisions, Gruber said. They had met through writing letters and married while Mendyk was in prison.
Caroline Mendyk could not be reached for comment Monday, nor could Larmon's parents, Hugh and Patricia.
Their daughter was born in Arizona and worked at the convenience store to help pay for college. She wanted to be an accountant. She was in her early 20s when she was killed.
Mendyk's crime was one of the more harrowing in recent Hernando County history. After Lee Ann Larmon's death, the Brooksville City Council passed an ordinance requiring that two clerks must work the late shift at convenience stores.
Mendyk and his friend, Phillip Frantz, drank beer, smoked marijuana and talked about music before heading out to look for women. They went to a friend's house and then went to pick up something to eat in the convenience store where Larmon worked.
For weeks, the two had talked about creating an underground colony where men would dominate women, Frantz testified at trial. He said Mendyk had shown him a Satanic bible and talked about a book of spells.
In the convenience store, Larmon sat behind the counter with an Avon cosmetics catalog. She walked out to help the men and Mendyk grabbed her by the neck. He dragged her to their truck and tied her hands with wire.
Larmon asked whether they planned to kill her. "No, just be a good girl," Mendyk told her.
Frantz said they took her into the woods, where Mendyk tied her to a sawhorse, sexually assaulted and tortured her.
They hung her by the wrists from a scrub oak tree and left. But their truck got stuck in the mud. Mendyk went back and strangled Larmon before hiding her body, later spotted by a sheriff's helicopter.
Authorities started looking for Larmon after a deputy stopped by the store and found no one inside.
Ralph Decker was the lead detective on the case for the Hernando County Sheriff's Office. He conducted the initial interview with Mendyk and has remained in touch with him over the years, exchanging letters every month or so.
Decker, now an investigator for the Public Defender's Office, said he built a rapport with Mendyk, whom he described as a smart man. He believed Mendyk may have committed other crimes.
"He caused a lot of pain to a lot of people," Decker said Monday. "I think he eventually understood that. He had some pretty awful views."
_ Jamie Jones covers law enforcement and courts in Hernando County and can be reached at 754-6114. Send e-mail to jjonessptimes.com.