CLEARWATER — A home at the center of an unsolved homicide caught fire early Wednesday morning, authorities said, adding another wrinkle to a languishing case tinged with family conflict.
No one was hurt in the blaze at 1506 Meadow Dale Drive, said Clearwater Fire & Rescue spokesman Rob Shaw. The home was vacant. Firefighters were called to the scene at about 3:30 a.m.
Clearwater Fire & Rescue and the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office are investigating the cause of the fire. Sheriff’s Sgt. Jessica Mackesy said “it will be some time before we will have anything further.”
That agency has also been investigating a homicide at the home since deputies found Daniel Gillespie, 71, dead there Nov. 15, 2018. The Sheriff’s Office said at the time he died of unnatural causes but provided no other information. The agency said Wednesday that investigation was still active and declined to release more details.
After his death, ownership of the home was transferred to his four adult children, who all have a quarter share, according to court records. Three of the children wanted to sell the home. The fourth, Shannon Gillespie, who was living in the house, refused.
After a lengthy court battle, the court sided with the three children. Under a special magistrate appointed to the case, the home was set to be sold to an investor for $190,000 at the end of this month.
But Shannon Gillespie was still living there as of Friday, spurring the magistrate to file a motion asking a judge to force her out. She and siblings Beth and Anthony Gillespie appeared in court Wednesday to discuss several issues regarding the ownership and condition of the home, including disbursement of a potential home insurance payment as a result of Wednesday’s fire.
The siblings’ lawyers twice all but accused Shannon Gillespie of starting the fire, to which her attorney Rita Briles objected, saying there was no evidence of that allegation. The judge sustained Briles’ objections.
“Unfortunately, the house ... was burnt to the ground last night," said Daniel Kortenhaus, an attorney for the three pro-sale siblings. "And speculation on our side of course is that the defendant ... was probably culpable in regards to that.”
Shannon Gillespie told the Tampa Bay Times that she and her four children had nothing to do with the fire. She said they moved out Tuesday.
“I was not there,” she told the Times. "We did not set the fire.”
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While testifying in court, Shannon Gillespie admitted that she had recently dismantled parts of the house, such as the garage doors and certain appliances, ahead of the scheduled sale. She justified her actions by saying the things she took were “only what I paid for, what I have receipts for."
The judge ruled that insurance proceeds will go into a trust account to be distributed by the special magistrate, and that Shannon Gillespie’s proceeds will be held until further hearings.
The fire was another twist in a series of escalating family disputes. Along with the conflict over the home, the siblings have lobbed blame on each other for their father’s death.
Beth Gillespie told the Times on Wednesday that she’s frustrated with the pace of the homicide investigation and the lack of accountability for her sister, who she believes had a hand in both incidents.
“This has been our fear from the very beginning is that she was going to do something to the house. If she couldn’t have it, she didn’t want anyone else to have it," she said. “Nobody’s given us accountability for our father’s murder. I want accountability for this.”
Shannon Gillespie has denied involvement in the homicide and has in turn leveled the accusation against her sister Beth.
Before her father’s death, Shannon Gillespie and her children had been living in the home with him, but their relationship began to sour in 2018, according to court records.
It culminated in the elder Gillespie asking a judge to evict his daughter. The judge sided with him, and Shannon Gillespie moved out.
Days later, he was found dead.