Piles of dirt dot the backyard of an Ybor home where law enforcement officials have spent the past few days searching for a body they believe may have been buried there.
Detectives with the Tampa Police Department’s Unsolved Crimes Unit partnered with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement after receiving information that a body may be buried at the home located at 1707 E. Fifth Ave. The homeowner, Kurt Schleicher, told the Tampa Bay Times that officials had been out to the home multiple times over the past few weeks and had paused searching the backyard on Monday.
The investigation is another addition to the home’s macabre history.
Nearly a century ago, the home was the site of one of Tampa’s most gruesome and notorious mass murders when Victor Licata, 21, killed his parents and three siblings with an ax.
As of Monday, police had not found any signs of human remains in the home’s backyard, according to the Tampa Police Department.
Officers did not identify whose body they were looking for, or what led them to search there.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement confirmed agents were assisting in the investigation, though a spokesperson said it was not the lead agency in the case and could not provide further information.
Schleicher, who police say is not a suspect in the investigation, said he first received a knock on his door in June when agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement sought permission to dig through his backyard in search of a body.
Schleicher said officials told him they wanted to search the home after a man who lived there in the late 1980s and early ’90s — when rooms in the house were rented out — admitted before his death to killing a woman and burying her in the backyard.
For weeks over the summer, a small red “x” was marked under a tree in Schleicher’s backyard by law enforcement. Officials told Schleicher that was the area where they thought the body they were searching for may be buried.
Schleicher said investigators had found what appeared to be bullets and a bone in his backyard.
In 1933, law enforcement flocked to the pastel home after it became the site of a grisly mass murder. Licata, the son of the homeowners, Michael and Rosalia Licata, slaughtered his parents and three siblings with an ax inside the home. News archives report Licata told police he didn’t kill anyone.
He said that while he slept, his parents pulled him from his bed, sawed off his arms with a knife and jabbed wooden arms with iron claws into his stumps while his siblings laughed. Licata then said he grabbed a “funny axe” that he thought was made of rubber, and knocked each of the family members unconscious.
Want breaking news in your inbox?
Subscribe to our free News Alerts newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
The Tampa Times said the following day that it was a “dream, of course.”
Investigators initially believed Licata killed his family under the influence of marijuana, a theory that served as fuel for the federal criminalization of the drug but has since been disproven.
Licata was known to be dangerous and mentally unstable, and the state attorney chose not to indict him. Instead, Licata was sentenced to life at a mental institution.
The home’s history was unknown to Schleicher at the time he bought it, but he has since embraced it. He keeps memorabilia from the movie “Reefer Madness,” which was allegedly inspired by the murders, throughout the home.
“It’s not about me, it’s about the families that can hopefully find closure,” Schleicher said of the investigation this week. “As far as the house, it’s par for the course.”
Times staff writer Paul Guzzo contributed to this report.