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KILLING MYSTIFIES FAMILY, DEPUTIES

Investigators say a mistake over a gang affiliation led to the slaying.

Arthur Johannesen knew something was wrong when an employee from his son's apartment complex reported that she had found his wallet and checkbook abandoned by the pool.

On Saturday night, the father called the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office.

When deputies went to check on 34-year-old Thomas Johannesen, they found the apartment empty except for his dog, Doobie. Then, they looked in his bedroom closet.

Johannesen had been dead at least a day, deputies said. His killers had beat him over the head with a whiskey bottle, wrapped his dead body in a sheet and covered his head with a plastic grocery bag.

"He always thought the best of people," his father remembered. "That was maybe one of his faults."

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Thomas Johannesen spent most of his time hanging around the pool at his apartment complex, at 14606 Gilligans Way, near the University of South Florida.

Family members told him to be careful - they worried a bout the people he spent time with. He let strangers in his home to use the bathroom, his father said. His son could be too friendly, even a little gullible.

It's still unclear how he knew the two young men charged in the killing, or even how the two suspects knew each other.

Christopher Cox, 22, has been arrested 27 times in Florida, with a record that begins at age 11 and includes burglary, battery, car theft, shoplifting, violation of probation, failure to appear in court, marijuana possession and possession of drug paraphernalia.

Amer Ejak 16, has no prior arrests in this state.

They now both face charges of first-degree murder.

Cox is being held in the Hillsborough County Jail without bail. Ejak is at the Juvenile Assessment Center.

An arrest report states that Cox told a witness he and Ejak noticed gang paraphernalia that contradicted previous claims by Johannesen that he was a member of the Blood gang.

The report states that sometime between Sept. 10 and 11, Cox gave Ejak a whiskey bottle and told him to "take care of this." Cox left the apartment, and when he came back a short time later, Johannesen was dead on the couch. Cox helped Ejak wrap Johannesen's body in a sheet and hide it in the bedroom closet, took off the dead man's Adidas tennis shoes, covered up the body with items in the closet and left the scene.

Cox walked out of the home wearing the dead man's shoes, the arrest report says. He and Ejak came back later to show two friends the body. One of those friends told someone else, and that person called authorities, sheriff's spokeswoman Debbie Carter said.

There is no evidence Johannesen was in a gang.

His father is bewildered. So is the victim's wife, 27-year-old Anne Johannesen.

"I have no clue what would make human beings want to be so cruel," she said.

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Thomas and Anne met on Sept. 11, 2001, at the University of South Florida Sun Dome. He was working as a mechanical technician at the arena. She was a theater student. They watched the news together that day as Johannesen learned that his cousin, Sean, who worked in the World Trade Center, died when a plane struck the first tower.

They began dating shortly after and had a son in 2003. They named him Sean.

The two got married on Sept. 11, 2004, but recently separated.

"That doesn't make it any easier," said Anne, who now lives in Davenport. "I love him."

He may have died on their anniversary.

Johannesen was unemployed and looking for a new job, she said. He had some trouble with alcohol - records reflect a 2000 charge for driving under the influence - but his wife says he was a good man.

"He was a very sweet man," she said, "a very kind soul."

She said their son, Sean, now 5, said he knows that death means his dad is in heaven, and that he already prayed to God for Daddy and Doobie.

"Mom," he told her, "I'm being brave."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3386.

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