Editor's Note: This story was written before police announced Tuesday night that they had made an arrest in the Seminole Heights murders. Click here to read the latest developments.
TAMPA — Tina Felton came home Nov. 20 expecting a steak dinner cooked by her husband, Sylvester Penny.
Felton, 65, was having a tough time and looking forward to a good meal. Less than a week earlier, her brother, Ronnie Felton, 60, was gunned down on Nebraska Avenue, the fourth in what police say is a string of unsolved killings in Southeast Seminole Heights.
A cook at Bern's Steakhouse for two decades, Penny knew his way around a grill.
"But when I got home, I didn't smell any steak," Felton said.
So she went back to the bedroom looking for her husband of 29 years. His clothes were laid out on the bed, but he was nowhere in sight.
Then Felton noticed the bathroom door slightly ajar.
"I couldn't open the door," she said, her voice choking with tears. "I couldn't open the door."
She peered inside and saw her 54-year-old husband lying dead on the floor, the victim of an apparent heart attack.
"I couldn't stop screaming," she said.
• • •
Sylvester Penny was a friend of Felton's twin brothers, Ronnie and Reggie, and another brother, Jim.
One night three decades ago, Felton was home after a wake for a friend when Penny showed up with her brothers to have some beers.
"I was the wallflower of the group," she said. "I don't drink."
Jim told her Penny was a guy she should meet, but she was skeptical. Then she heard his deep voice.
"I think I was kind of lonely," Felton recalled. "I was working and taking care of six kids by myself. He said he could take care of my children. I said, 'Don't play with me.' He said, 'I can show you better than tell you, come out and talk.'?"
So the two went out to the porch and talked. They stayed up all night talking. The next day he moved in, and they were together until the day he died.
"He was so kind, so outgoing," Felton said. "He was a real loving person."
At 6-foot-3 and more than 300 pounds, Penny was "the size of a giant teddy bear," she said.
A self-taught musician, Penny played guitar in a blues band. He was a hard worker and became a strict and caring father to Felton's children.
Like any other couple, they had their ups and downs.
"But we loved each other," Felton said. And in the week before he died, Penny, who was suffering from the effects of a stroke, was a huge help as she tried to cope with the loss of her brother.
He drove her out to the crime scene. He helped comfort her afterwards.
"He was a rock when my brother died," she said. "He knew how I felt about my family."
• • •
For Felton, the death of her husband was a second tragedy in the span of a week, exacerbated by the strain of having to pay for not one, but two funerals.
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"We didn't have a lot," she said. "Me and my husband lived check to check. Sometimes I was sick and couldn't work and sometimes he was sick and couldn't work."
She has no money to pay for a funeral, so her husband's remains are still at the funeral home until she can come up with the funds.
But thanks to the Rev. Kenneth Stewart of the Tabernacle of Hope Church, help might be on the way. He set up a GoFundMe page (gofundme.com/tina-felton-fundraiser-for-funeral) to defray the costs. All of the money will go toward the funeral and anything left over will help pay bills, such as the mortgage Felton is struggling to cover.
As of Tuesday evening, the effort had raised about $1,200 toward a goal of $7,500.
"Since our church is in Seminole Heights, we have felt first-hand the fear that has gripped the community with the serial killer,'' Stewart said. "And to think of someone that lost a brother to the serial killer and also to lose their husband just really touched our hearts and we felt we had to do something."
Contact Howard Altman at email@example.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.