The boat was called the Relax-Inn.
Its occupants, John Travlos and his longtime friend Germana Morin, were doing just that, living out Travlos’ dream of retiring on a houseboat, spending time with his grandchildren. He built a slide onto the back of the 72-foot vessel, docked at a St. Petersburg marina, so his kid grandson could swish down into the water.
“They loved it. It was second home to them,” said Michelle Robinson, Travlos’ stepdaughter and the mother of two of his grandchildren.
Their idyllic weekends on the Relax-Inn ended abruptly on the morning of April 12, 2013. A home healthcare worker boarded the boat to find Travlos, 75, and Morin, 74, stabbed to death inside the master bedroom. Police quickly identified a handyman and friend to the couple, Reynaldo Figueroa-Sanabria, as the likely culprit and arrested him on two counts of first-degree murder. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.
After 6½ years, his case will go to trial Tuesday.
A lot can happen in that time. Lawsuits can be lobbed back and forth, then settled. A court file can pile up with transcripts and delays and attorney turnovers. A grandson can grow up, his 18th birthday falling the day before the trial start date.
“We feel that people have forgotten about it, what it’s all about — that they were people,” said Robinson, 52.
Travlos and his wife, Judith, moved in 1989 to St. Petersburg from Long Island, Robinson said. He started Island Automated Medical Services, a medical support business that Robinson and her siblings went on to work for over the years.
Travlos raised Robinson and her brothers as his own from when she was 11. He was a loving father and always someone she could go to for advice, she said. The family was close, working together and spending quality time on holidays and weekends.
A string of tragedies for the family began in 2006. Robinson’s husband died from a heart condition. Then, in 2010, her mother — Travlos’ wife —died of lung cancer.
“A lot of death has hit our family. We’ve managed to get through it and accept it, except for Poppy," Robinson said, referring to the name her son called his grandfather.
Robinson’s children, especially her son, grew close to their grandfather. They also got to know the handyman, Figueroa-Sanabria. He would join them on the boat for dinner sometimes, Robinson said. Neighbors often saw him riding Travlos’ golf cart back and forth to his apartment from the Loggerhead Marina at 5821 32nd Way S.
So it was not only grief but a feeling of betrayal that rocked the family as details of the apparent murders began to spill out. St. Petersburg police said at the time it was a crime motivated by robbery.
According to court records, Figueroa-Sanabria’s girlfriend told investigators that, on the day the couple was found, she had picked him up early that morning near the marina and driven him to several places, including a 7-Eleven, a jewelry store and a car rental business.
Detectives found two shirts and a pair of jeans in the convenience store trash bin. Testing showed blood on the clothes matched Travlos and Morin. DNA matching Travlos was also found on the floor of the car in which Figueroa-Sanabria’s girlfriend picked him up, and duct tape from the scene of the crime was tied to Figueroa-Sanabria.
At the jewelry store, the handyman sold a necklace and bracelet belonging to Travlos. He mailed more jewelry to his brother in Utica, N.Y.
At the car rental shop, Figueroa-Sanabria rented a 2004 Ford Taurus and took off, police said. He was stopped about 1 a.m. April 14, 2013, on Interstate 95 in North Carolina. He told officers he was headed to family in New York.
The case has gone through starts and stops ever since. Death penalty cases were put on hold in 2016 because the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s capital punishment procedure unconstitutional. The first two assigned prosecutors went on to become judges. And more delays: DNA testing, wrangling uncooperative witnesses, Figueroa-Sanabria wanting to represent himself.
After all this time, Robinson and her family are ready. She said she hopes Figueroa-Sanabria, now 47, gets the death penalty.
“I just pray," she said, “that he gets what he’s got coming to him."