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Close calls recalled after arrest

Had the shotgun blast not passed just inches above his head 18 years ago, Ed Bowler figures he would be on the list of dead people who crossed paths with William Deparvine.

Same goes for John Todoroff, who was ambushed by a man with a shotgun in 1989 weeks after he filed a civil suit against Deparvine over a foreclosed St. Petersburg property that both men wanted.

And Donald Price thinks his friend also could be on the list had Price not talked him out of a fishy motorcycle deal with Deparvine in 1993.

Now that Deparvine has been charged with killing a Tierra Verde couple, Rick and Karla Van Dusen, and is being investigated in at least six other killings, those men feel grateful they dodged the tragedy that seems to have befallen many others whose lives intersected with Deparvine's.

"He did try to do me in, but thank God, he missed," Bowler said.

The men, especially Bowler and Todoroff, also share a feeling akin to survivor's guilt.

"You look at that couple, it just tears your heart out," Todoroff said of the Van Dusens.

Deparvine was never charged with the attacks on Bowler or Todoroff, though he was charged with carrying a loaded handgun when he tried to broker the motorcycle deal with Price's friend.

Deparvine served 10 years in prison on the weapons charge, but detectives could not cull enough evidence to charge him in a series of homicides in which he was a suspect. Deparvine was released from prison in April.

Seven months later, detectives say Deparvine killed the Van Dusens after he met with them about a truck they had for sale.

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In October 1984, Bowler and Russ Kenburg left their native Michigan for Texas to find jobs.

Deparvine, a friend of Kenburg's, had moved to Arlington, Texas, earlier that year. He wrote Kenburg, saying jobs were plentiful.

When Bowler and Kenburg got to Texas, both got jobs at a plastic factory. But the work was back-breaking, the fumes sickening. They quit. Kenburg went to work for a phone company and Bowler took a job at an auto parts store.

Not long after, Deparvine began talking to Kenburg about starting an RV business. Bowler was kept out of the loop, but insurance companies started calling him, asking about Kenburg's health.

When quizzed by Bowler, Kenburg said Deparvine wanted him to take out life insurance policies in case something happened to him so the RV business wouldn't go belly-up. Bowler didn't know it at the time, but Kenburg, who dreamed of making quick and easy money, took out about $5-million in policies. Deparvine was the beneficiary.

Kenburg didn't say much about the business, which was unusual because he and Bowler were lifelong friends. Deparvine, meanwhile, eyed Bowler with suspicion.

"He knew I could talk some sense into him (Kenburg)," Bowler said.

Kenburg, 30, was soon missing. He was found dead on the side of a highway from a shotgun blast to the back.

Bowler and the police suspected Deparvine. But Deparvine hired lawyers and refused to cooperate with detectives. When the police investigation appeared to stall, Bowler did something rather daring.

He put word out that he had evidence linking Deparvine to Kenburg's murder. He anticipated Deparvine would hear about it and come after him. Bowler asked police to keep an eye on him.

Bowler said it didn't take long. One night after he returned home from work and was walking the stairs to his second-floor apartment, a shotgun blast ripped past his head. Bowler said it missed him by less than a foot. Police pulled buckshot out of the wall, he said.

No police were watching, he said, and it took officers an hour to arrive.

Bowler, 48, said he never saw who fired the shot, but he thinks it was Deparvine. After that, he bought a gun and slept with it. He walked backward up the stairs to his apartment. Then he moved back to Michigan, where he lives now.

"I had to get the hell out of Texas after that," he said. "If you've ever been shot (at), you don't forget it."

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In the late 1980s, Todoroff made his living buying properties that were being foreclosed. He would show up at the Clearwater courthouse and bid for properties. Soon, a man with a reddish complexion and glasses started showing up and bidding, too.

Todoroff, a friendly and talkative man, introduced himself to the newcomer, who seemed quiet, aloof and, somehow, cautious. His name was Deparvine. Todoroff called him Mr. D.

But their relationship soon turned sour. Todoroff suspected Deparvine was trying to snatch a St. Petersburg property from him. He filed court actions against him, and on Feb. 7, 1989, Deparvine was supposed to give a deposition. He didn't show.

Later that night, as Todoroff exited his car at his Clearwater apartment, a gray car drove up behind him. Someone said: "John." Todoroff walked toward the car and saw a shotgun barrel sticking out the window. Then he heard a click.

"It misfired," Todoroff said. "It's the loudest noise I've ever heard in my life."

Todoroff lunged back toward his car. Behind him, he heard the shooter pump the gun. The second shot sent pellets through Todoroff's left arm and one into his chest.

Todoroff dove into his car and grabbed his handgun out of the glove compartment. He fired five or six shots at the gray car, apparently missing anyone inside.

Todoroff was taken by helicopter to Bayfront Medical Center, where he was treated. He has scars on his arm and sometimes has trouble gripping.

For a long while, Todoroff had trouble remembering the shooting. It was so traumatic, he said, that he suffered a kind of amnesia. But he later remembered seeing the shooter. He said it was Deparvine. There was a second man in the car whose face Todoroff did not see.

Pinellas County sheriff's detectives investigated Deparvine, but could not make a case.

Undeterred, Todoroff pursued his legal actions against Deparvine. One day while stopped at a light on U.S. 19, Todoroff said, Deparvine pulled up next to him, pointed his finger at him like it was a gun and pulled the trigger.

"I turned the car around and went the other way," Todoroff said.

Todoroff said he was interviewed back then by detectives from Texas, Sarasota and St. Petersburg, who were investigating Deparvine in several homicides.

Deparvine later was charged with forging documents and trying to steal people's houses, including the one on which Todoroff had bid. Deparvine also was accused of trying to burn a rental property he owned while his tenant and her three children slept inside. He was sentenced to seven years in prison for those charges, but served far less.

Todoroff, 57, of Clearwater, said he sometimes wakes up in a sweat thinking about the night he came so close to dying.

"I feel blessed," he said. "I feel like the luckiest man in the world, just very blessed. I've thanked God every day."

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Not long after Deparvine was released from prison on the forgery and arson charges, detectives say, he hatched another scam. In 1993, Deparvine placed an ad in the newspaper offering a $14,000 Harley Davidson motorcycle for $4,000.

Several people who called Deparvine grew suspicious and notified authorities. Stephen Ravenel was one person who called Deparvine.

Deparvine, who was using the alias Frank Archer, told Ravenel that the motorcycle was stored in a barn in a remote area of Tarpon Springs. Deparvine told him that if he wanted the bike, he must bring cash.

When Ravenel told Price, his business partner, about the offer, Price was suspicious.

"We better get the police involved," Price recalled telling Ravenel. "He wants you to go meet him some place in the woods and that doesn't look very good. And bring cash?"

Sheriff's deputies asked Price, who volunteered to step in for Ravenel, to pair up with an undercover detective in a sting. They set up a rendezvous with Deparvine, who told them to pick him up in St. Petersburg and drive him to the barn in Tarpon Springs.

When they picked up Deparvine, he refused to sit between the two men. He appeared to be nervous with the 6-foot-2, 245-poundPrice and the detective, who also was a big man.

"He got kind of nervous," Price recalled. "He was a strange dude anyway."

While en route, Deparvine called off the deal. He was dropped off on U.S. 19, where detectives met up with him. Inside a duffel bag he carried, they found a loaded .22-caliber pistol.

"It led me to believe he was going to shoot my buddy if he went with him," Price said. "Why else would he carry a loaded gun when selling a motorcycle for cash? It was a setup. I knew he was going to rob him."

Detectives never found a motorcycle in a barn in Tarpon Springs. Like Price, they also think Deparvine planned to rob, and perhaps shoot, the buyers.

Deparvine was arrested on charges of carrying a concealed handgun and sentenced to 15 years in prison, of which he served 10.

When the Van Dusens wound up dead and detectives learned Deparvine had met with them, it caught the attention of Thane Covert, who had prosecuted Deparvine on the weapons charge 10 years earlier.

The similarities between the motorcycle scam and the Van Dusen slayings were uncanny.

"It struck me like a ton of bricks," Covert said. "It knocked me off my feet almost."

Ravenel had the same reaction when he saw a news report about Deparvine's arrest in the homicides. Price said he called and said: "My God, it's the same guy."

Open cases

William Deparvine, 51, has been accused or is being investigated in the following homicides:

+ Russ Kenburg, 30, of Hillsboro, Texas, who was found dead in April 1985 on the side of Highway 22.

+ John C. Dunbar, 40, of St. Petersburg, who was found dead July 10, 1989, in a ditch on Fruitville Road in Sarasota.

+ Glenn Mills, 41, of St. Petersburg, who was fatally shot Aug. 22, 1989, outside his home.

+ Sally and Richard Gary Smith, 35 and 50, of Clearwater, who were killed Sept. 1, 1989, in their home.

+ Lucinda McClean, 36, of Sarasota, who was found dead Sept. 12, 1989, just yards away from where Dunbar's body had been discovered.

+ Rick and Karla Van Dusen, 58 and 49, of Tierra Verde, who were found dead Nov. 25 in a driveway off Old Memorial Highway in Hillsborough County.