TAMPA — George McNamara is convinced David Levi Mayle killed three men.
Whether Mayle killed a fourth, though, has always haunted McNamara, a retired Tampa police major.
Either way, Mayle is the only person to know what happened the night Tampa convenience store clerk Scott Cohen vanished three decades ago, McNamara believes.
And that would mean the answers died with Mayle last month at a prison medical center in Devens, Mass. He was 69.
"If I could have gotten just 20 minutes with David Mayle before he died, maybe I could have gotten him to tell me where Scott's at," McNamara said. "This body is out there. I believe it is. I can't prove it, but he needs to be found."
Mayle was in prison at the time of his death for preying upon a friend with a disability who disappeared and was never found. Mayle was never charged with murder, but authorities so closely linked him to two killings and a disappearance in Florida and Ohio that a federal judge sentenced him in 2001 to 30 years rather than the typical two years for mail fraud and other charges he faced. Mayle's family could not be located for this story.
Finding Cohen may be the only satisfaction left for McNamara. But it could prove a difficult task if he was hidden with as much care as the other Florida man whose death was tied to Mayle.
• • •
The body of Brett Woehlk, a "good looking little surfer guy," was rolled in a carpet and buried under plywood in Lowry Park, McNamara said. Woehlk, who worked at the same Farm Stores as Mayle, never returned home from work on April 1, 1990. Called to the scene once the body was found April 7, McNamara was pulling gear from his car trunk when he felt the odd sensation of being watched.
Two men were staring at him from inside a parked, light-green Pontiac on the southern edge of the park. McNamara sent another officer to get their names — David Mayle and Paul DeLay, Mayle's boyfriend at the time.
The men watched as McNamara inspected the 21-year-old's body, badly bloated and decaying. Investigators counted seven stab wounds through the blood-soaked Farm Stores uniform shirt. His throat was slit.
McNamara went through reports from the Farm Stores on N Armenia Ave., where Woehlk worked 6 p.m. to midnight as an assistant manager, and learned Woehlk had been named a suspect in a theft from the store the night he disappeared.
Mayle, manager of the store, filed the report April 3. Woehlk's car was found the same day, a few blocks from the store, with empty Farm Stores bank bags inside.
"I said to myself, 'Something doesn't seem right here,' " McNamara said. "Here this kid thought Mayle was going to train him to become manager, and the whole time he was just scheming."
When McNamara questioned DeLay, the boyfriend told him Mayle had come home during the early morning hours of April 2 with blood on his hands saying he killed Woehlk during an argument over money. In court, though, DeLay recanted his statements and was jailed for perjury.
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The 175-day window to prosecute Mayle ran out. He moved to Canton, Ohio.
McNamara kept digging, eventually turning up the mysterious case of Scott Michael Cohen.
Cohen was "a little slow," McNamara said, and lived in apartments across the street from Woehlk and his parents. One night in 1989, Cohen was working at a Farm Stores at Florida and Linebaugh avenues when he abruptly left, telling his co-workers Mayle asked him to make a night deposit at Bank of America.
After Cohen left on his bicycle, Mayle stopped by the store to check in and confirm Cohen had taken the money, McNamara learned. The following Monday morning, it was discovered Cohen and the bank deposits were missing.
Tampa police obtained a warrant for Cohen's arrest on a charge of grand theft. It was "eerily similar" to what happened to Woehlk, McNamara said.
McNamara talked to the manager of Cohen's apartment, who said Cohen never came back to get his belongings. After a few months of missed rent, the complex gave them away. McNamara's search for Cohen's relatives produced only a distant relative in Israel.
"How could this guy just disappear into thin air and nobody go looking for him?" McNamara said. "As a homicide detective I started to put all these pieces together and said, 'Brett wasn't the first time David Mayle had killed someone.' "
• • •
While McNamara continued his search for Cohen, Mayle was linked to two disappearances in Canton.
In June 1994, Mayle drove Harry Hazzard, 29, to an Ohio bank, where he withdrew his life savings, $719, saying a friend was going to help him with his finances. Hazzard had cerebral palsy and received Social Security payments. That was the last time he was seen alive. Bones found in an Ohio field in 1995 were matched to Hazzard in 2000.
A Mayle family friend, Joseph Newman, disappeared in 1995. Newman received food stamps and Social Security checks, and lived with Mayle for two weeks before disappearing. Newman's sister filed a missing person report in 1996 and his Social Security was stopped, but Mayle continued to cash Newman's checks by forging his signature, according to court records.
When Secret Service investigators discovered the ruse and searched Mayle's home in 1997, they found Newman's wallet and driver's license, Social Security card and birth certificate.
This discovery led to federal charges, and in 2001, Mayle was convicted of mail fraud, forging Treasury checks and providing false statements to a federal agent. McNamara, DeLay and others presented extensive evidence linking Mayle to the fate of the three men, and he was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Mayle filed a number of appeals but all were denied.
"Before he left, I told David Mayle, 'I will see you again at some point in time. Every day I'm going to work on this case,' " McNamara said. "I remember when I finally saw him again in Ohio, he was shaking."
To the end, Mayle gave up no answers. His only words on the matter came to the home of Woehlk's parents in 1990, written in a small script on a sheet of yellow legal paper. He said he had nothing to do with Woehlk's death. He apologized for missing the man's funeral. Someday, he said, he hoped he could talk to the family and help them in their search to find the killer.
"This has been hard for me. …And I know it must be hard on both of you," Mayle wrote then. "It has almost ruined my life, and for what."
Information from the Associated Press and Times archives was used in this report. Contact Anastasia Dawson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.