TARPON SPRINGS — Neighbors knew for a week that something was wrong at the home in Meadows Mobile Home Park. But it wasn’t until police showed up on New Year’s Day that they learned there were three people dead inside.
Tarpon Springs police investigators are treating the deaths as homicides but said they’re waiting to announce names of the victims until the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's office confirms their identities and detectives can notify family members.
Three small dogs were also found dead inside.
The “working theory,” police Maj. Jeffrey Young said at a news conference Wednesday, is that the victims include the residents of the home at 1954 Juanita Way and that they knew whoever killed them. The occupants had lived there for about eight months.
Next-door neighbor James Petrzelka, 76, said his attention was drawn to the home around Christmas when he noticed a foul odor and the air conditioning unit left on.
“That thing ran all night,” he said.
The odor had grown stronger when he went to drop a letter in his mailbox Tuesday, and the air conditioning unit had ice on top. The park office was closed for the holiday, he said, so he told a fellow resident who was an officer in the homeowners’ association.
They flipped the circuit breaker to turn off the air conditioning unit, worried it would burn out.
Soon after, police officers came to Petrzelka’s house and said they were checking on his next-door neighbors. Police were asked to check on the home by an out-of-state son of one of the residents.
Young said officers found the bodies in an “advanced state of decomposition” at about 12:15 p.m.
The major said he expects investigators will spend another day examining the crime scene. On Wednesday morning, two forensic investigators measured and photographed a hole and a fresh pile of dirt in front of the home, trying to figure out the hole's depth.
Petrzelka, who has lived in the Meadows for 11 years, said the occupants of the home kept “all to themselves,” a sentiment echoed by other neighbors.
He said he believes they were a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s who were often visited by a son.
Another neighbor, Bruce Hoover, 73, said a gray minivan parked in the driveway belonged to the son.
But Hoover said it’s been a week since he saw a burgundy SUV that the couple also drove. He also recently saw a child playing outside. Resident Jill Rooney said she used to see a boy there whom she believed to be a grandson of the residents.
“It’s a wonderful neighborhood,” Rooney said. “This is so sad.”
Staff writers Daniel Figueroa and Carl Lisciandrello contributed to this report. Contact Kathryn Varn at (727) 893-8913 or [email protected] Follow @kathrynvarn