A once-prominent central Pasco developer long suspected of killing his ex-wife has been arrested in connection with her murder.
Budwin "Bud" Brace is not charged with killing Loma Brace, who was found Feb. 1, 1987, bludgeoned and strangled in her Lakeland apartment.
He was arrested Friday on a charge of perjury.
The murderer, Lakeland police say, is Clayton Fivecoat, a longtime mechanic for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office. He was charged with first-degree murder and perjury on Friday.
Police say the men lied in testimony before a grand jury now investigating the cold case, which may hinge on a divorce and a large amount of money.
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Fivecoat had known Loma Brace since about 1970, when she was married to Grover Matlock, who owned an auto shop in Tampa. Fivecoat worked there, said Lakeland Detective Brad Grice.
After the couple divorced and Loma married Bud Brace in 1982, she and Fivecoat remained friends. He struck up a friendship with her new husband.
Bud Brace was a prominent developer in Pasco County, having supervised construction of Lake Myrtle Elementary in Land O'Lakes, San Antonio Elementary, Hudson Middle School and additions at Land O'Lakes and Zephyrhills high schools and Richey Elementary.
He and Loma also bought and ran Mr. B's lounge and package store on U.S. 41, and next door to that, they built the 45,000-square-foot Central Pasco Professional Center. Considered the first modern office space in a historically rural swath of Pasco, it now houses county offices.
"Business-wise, I think the two of them were good for each other," said Whittney Matlock, Loma Brace's son.
Fivecoat operated a wrecker business and dabbled in car sales. County records show him as the proprietor of Mark Fleet Service, BC & M Automotive and Gold Medal Used Cars.
Grice said Brace built an office for Fivecoat on U.S. 41, next to Land O'Lakes High School.
"Bud collected antique cars, so Clay actually would do work on these antique cars for Bud," Grice said. He wouldn't say whether one man was indebted to the other.
In 1985, Fivecoat went to work in the Sheriff's Office garage. He most recently held the title of mechanic III, earning about $50,000 a year. Fivecoat, who has no previous arrests in Florida, was fired on Friday.
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By 1986, the Braces' marriage was crumbling. They began divorce proceedings that December.
Loma Brace, who alleged that her husband had threatened her with physical harm, moved to an apartment in Lakeland and found work as banquet coordinator at a Ramada hotel.
It all surprised her son.
"Suddenly, she and Bud had a falling out and they were getting divorced," Matlock said.
On Jan. 11, 1987, documents were filed in Pasco County deeding ownership of three of their properties to Bud Brace alone, removing his wife as co-owner. They included the professional center, the bar and a 10-acre parcel in San Antonio, together worth almost $3-million at the time.
But in the Braces' final divorce order - filed 11 days later - a judge declared joint ownership of the properties.
"So now, guess what, she's fixing to find out (about the discrepancy)," Grice said.
On Feb. 1, Loma Brace failed to show up for work. Her co-workers called, and when they didn't reach her, drove to her apartment.
"When they knocked on the door, the door swung open," Grice said. "He stepped in, saw blood and came back out and called the police."
Brace's body was found in the bathroom, badly beaten with a blunt object - maybe a hammer - and strangled. She had broken bones in her face, puncture wounds to the head and several cracked ribs.
Grice would not say what the motive for the killing was, but he said it's a matter of looking at the "whole picture."
"They were going through a bitter divorce, there was property involved that was worth a lot of money," the detective said. "All of that was fixing to come to a head."
Do investigators think Brace hired Fivecoat to kill his ex-wife?
Grice would not say.
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Months after Loma's death, when attorneys were working to settle her estate, the forgery came out.
First there was a civil suit, then criminal charges, accusing Brace of forging his ex-wife's signature to obtain sole ownership of their property. A barmaid at Mr. B's named Annie Rau told police that Brace had her practice and then forge his ex-wife's signature on some documents.
Rau said that as she finished the three forgeries, she told Brace that his ex-wife would "scream like a stuck pig" when she found out.
According to Rau, Brace replied, "It's either do this or kill her."
In 1990, Brace pleaded no contest to forgery and grand theft charges and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. The lawsuit was settled.
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All along, police publicly called Bud Brace, now 64, a suspect in his ex-wife's murder.
Grice said Friday that new testimony and new technology, including DNA testing, led to the arrests. More charges, possibly against other people, are likely.
Matlock, 40, is a massage therapist living outside Washington, D.C. He said he was surprised to learn that Fivecoat, who he long knew as a family friend, could be responsible for his mother's murder.
But like police, he always suspected Brace.
"What came out in the forgery," Matlock said, "certainly gives me a reason to think that he's the person that might want something to happen to her."
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Molly Moorhead can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6245.