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Far cry from boy she recalls

Published Feb. 23, 2006

Leslie Cox has been staring at the picture on her computer screen.

The man in the mug shot, Michael Anthony White, looks older than his 35 years. Head tilted back, he gazes at the camera with hooded eyes; his mouth a thin, unhappy line.

She looks at the picture and tries to see a trace of the shy boy she once knew. She used to ride her horse through his daddy's strawberry fields. They were married and divorced when they were barely more than children.

Wednesday, White was in the county jail, charged with stealing more than $300,000 from his parents. In Durant, sheriff's divers searched a pond on his parents' farm for clues to his father's murder.

At a news conference, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies said they had a "keen interest" in Michael White.

Leslie Cox wondered what she would say if she could speak with the man who was once her husband.

"What has gone wrong?" she would ask. "What the heck happened?"

To Leslie Ladonna Hancock, Michael White was the boy from the neighborhood. Their parents were friends.

He started coming around when they were both still in junior high.

"I was considered the wild one," Leslie remembered. "He was the goody-goody. . . . If I said a cuss word, he would get mad at me."

Her parents adored him. Years later, when she was going through her second divorce, her father told her she should have stayed with Michael.

Bruce White, Michael White's father, was shot in the early morning of Jan. 9 after he rose to answer a knock at the door.

Sheriff's deputies say they are still searching for the shooter. A strawberry grower's association has offered a $13,000 reward for information leading to an arrest.

Michael White was arrested Feb. 17.

A Sheriff's Office spokesman said that the murder investigation turned up evidence that Michael White had embezzled money from his parents over the course of 2005, writing himself checks from their accounts.

The Sheriff's Office says that two short-barreled shotguns and anabolic steroids were found in Michael White's home when deputies arrived to arrest him.

Michael White's rental car had been reported stolen from a Turkey Creek Road convenience store on Dec. 28. The Sheriff's Office said the car has been found, but won't say how or where.

So far, detectives have interviewed 106 people in east Hillsborough County, Col. Gary Terry said. They are analyzing evidence they found in Michael White's trailer.

The two sawedoff shotguns do not match the murder weapon, Terry said.

Michael White has invoked his right to an attorney and is not cooperating with investigators, Terry said.

"We have a keen interest in Mr. White at this time," he said.

The last time she saw him, she was in basic training in the Army. He told her he would come to visit her. But he never showed.

Years passed. She was divorced again, married again, with children.

In December, she heard Bruce White's name on the radio. She was shocked by his murder. But she didn't contact Michael. She wasn't sure what she would say, or if he would want to heard from her.

S.I. Rosenbaum can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or Staff members Caryn Baird, Justin George and Skip O'Rourke contributed to this report.