ST. PETERSBURG — More than 25 years ago, Michael Scheumeister, 45, was found dead near Mirror Lake Library. His death was ruled a homicide and for the next 2½ decades his case was unsolved.
On Friday, the St. Petersburg Police Department announced its Cold Case Unit had closed Scheumeister’s homicide investigation after detectives obtained new DNA evidence connecting Patricia Morris to the slaying. Morris was 47 at the time of the homicide and died in 2010.
“Based on the recent DNA evidence and prior investigations, this case is now considered closed with the death of the offender,” a department news release said.
Scheumeister was found in the early morning of Aug. 14, 1997, near the Mirror Lake Library, 280 Fifth St. N, according to police. Detectives suspected robbery was the motive behind his killing. He was found on his back with his pants pockets turned inside out. He had cashed his paycheck earlier that day but the money from his wallet was missing.
The medical examiner concluded Scheumeister died from blunt force trauma to the head and neck.
Investigators later learned that Scheumeister was at a bar the prior evening having drinks with Morris. In an interview with detectives, Morris confirmed having drinks with Scheumeister and leaving in a taxi together, but she said the two went their separate ways after being dropped off by the taxi.
A St. Petersburg Times story published two days after the homicide said detectives distributed flyers with Scheumeister’s picture. According to the article, he lived on the 500 block of Fourth Avenue S, about a half-mile south of where his body was found.
Nearly 20 years later, on May 18, 2016, detectives ran a criminal history report on Morris. The report showed charges of prostitution, battery on law enforcement officers and drugs. The report also said Morris died on Sept. 19, 2010, in Hillsborough County. A brief obituary at the time said she was initially from Plant City and left behind a daughter, among other family and friends.
In March of this year, detectives retrieved Scheumeister’s pants from the property and evidence division and submitted them to the Pinellas County Forensics Lab for DNA reevaluation. On Nov. 2, detectives received a response from the Combined DNA Index System showing that the DNA inside the front and rear pants pockets belonged to Morris.
Detective Wallace Pavelski, who works in the agency’s cold case unit, said he revisits old cases to see if there’s evidence that can be submitted for testing. Scheumeister’s pants had not been processed before, to his knowledge. Detectives at the time relied heavily on visible evidence, given the technologies available, he said.
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“At the time, if they looked at the pants visibly and they didn’t see any blood or anything on it, then they may not have run it at the time,” said Pavelski, who has worked with the agency for 17 years.
Pavelski said the murder appeared to be a “crime of opportunity,” as Morris knew Scheumeister had money and was intoxicated at the time.
“It just presented an opportunity for her to take advantage of the situation,” he said.
Pavelski said it felt good to finally bring the case to a close.
“I like to bring closure to the victims,” he said. “I look at all the cases the same. I look at them all just as seriously.”
Police told Scheumeister’s brother, Rory Scheumeister, that the case had been closed.
Rory Scheumeister said he was pleasantly surprised when he got the news. Having worked as a police officer for 25 years, he knows it’s rare for cold cases to get resolved.
“For 25 years, I thought it was unsolvable,” he said.
Scheumeister remembered his brother as a “free spirit” who traveled the country, hitchhiked and joined the Navy.
“He didn’t deserve to be murdered the way he was,” Rory Scheumeister said.
The St. Petersburg Police Department’s Cold Case Unit was created in 2015. Chief Anthony Holloway tasked the squad with looking at old homicides and missing persons cases exclusively. At the time, there were 212 cold cases dating back to 1962. Pavelski said there are currently 218 open cold cases.