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Hillsborough judge notes ‘total depravity’ as she orders man detained in McKay Bay murder

Robert Kessler, accused of killing and dismembering his housemate, will remain jailed without bail.
Catherine Catlin listens to attorneys during the pretrial detention hearing for Robert Kessler, who is accused of murdering Stephanie Crone-Overholts, dismembering her body and dumping her body parts into McKay Bay.
Catherine Catlin listens to attorneys during the pretrial detention hearing for Robert Kessler, who is accused of murdering Stephanie Crone-Overholts, dismembering her body and dumping her body parts into McKay Bay. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Dec. 1, 2021
Updated Dec. 1, 2021

TAMPA — The Lutz man accused of murdering and dismembering a woman and tossing her body parts off the 22nd Street Bridge into McKay Bay will remain jailed without bail, a judge ruled Wednesday.

After hearing two hours of lurid testimony from a homicide detective, Judge Catherine Catlin concluded there were no release conditions she could impose on Robert Kessler that would ensure the community’s safety.

“The total depravity that is evident in this crime leads me to believe there is a risk of harm to community,” the judge said.

Robert Kessler appears in an arrest photo taken in 2015.
Robert Kessler appears in an arrest photo taken in 2015. [ Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office ]

Kessler, 69, did not attend the hearing. His attorneys waived his presence. He is accused of second-degree murder and abuse of a dead human body in the death of Stephanie Crone-Overholts.

Court documents filed by prosecutors depict a virtual trail of evidence that led police to Kessler. It was a trail that began in the waters of McKay Bay on Nov. 11, when a fisherman spotted a severed human leg. The leg bore a tattoo with the names Sean, Greg and Zach.

An image of the tattoo generated a tip that led police to identify Crone-Overholts as the victim. More of her body parts, including another leg and her lower and upper torso were found in the waters southeast of Palmetto Beach in the following days.

Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon reviews evidence photos with Tampa police Homicide Detective Matthew Kirkpatrick during the pretrial detention hearing for Robert Kessler, who is accused of murdering Stephanie Crone-Overholts, dismembering her body and dumping her body parts into McKay Bay.
Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon reviews evidence photos with Tampa police Homicide Detective Matthew Kirkpatrick during the pretrial detention hearing for Robert Kessler, who is accused of murdering Stephanie Crone-Overholts, dismembering her body and dumping her body parts into McKay Bay. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Tampa police homicide Detective Matthew Kirkpatrick detailed an investigation that led to Kessler’s home, where Crone-Overholts had been staying. They found her blood and other evidence inside.

In Wednesday’s hearing, the detective mentioned that investigators still have not found Crone-Overholts’ head and one of her arms. Assistant State Attorney Scott Harmon also noted that forensic analysts identified DNA belonging to another unknown female in the carpet in the same room where the victim was said to have been staying.

The room belonged to Kessler’s 8-year-old daughter, whom police interviewed during their investigation.

Witnesses who had been fishing and kayaking in the area reported seeing a man standing on the 22nd Street Bridge tossing plastic bags and bins into the water.

Assistant Public Defender Maria Dunker argued that much of the detective’s testimony was hearsay. But the judge found there was a substantial probability that Kessler committed a dangerous crime.

She noted that the “heinous act” was committed in a home where a child resides. She also noted the “bravado” of a person disposing of a body by dropping it from a bridge within view of other people.

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“I have no way to protect the community from this individual,” the judge said.