Advertisement
  1. News

Woman pointed at stranger to hide infidelity. Then, she said, her boyfriend beat him to death.

Bill Denham was beaten to death more than two years ago in Tampa. One of the men responsible, investigators say, is now incustody. [Courtesy of John Layer]
Published Mar. 26

TAMPA — Days after Bill Denham was found fatally beaten on a Seminole Heights sidewalk in January 2017, at least five witnesses named three suspects in the attack on the 53-year-old social worker as he walked home from the store.

Four months later, police arrested Jadian Zeiders on a murder charge. But the two years that followed saw no more arrests.

The lack of progress grew unbearable for Dan Kane, Denham's partner of more than three decades. Kane attended each of Zeiders' court hearings. He repeatedly voiced his anger to the prosecutor.

"If this was a member of your family," he asked, "would you feel you had done everything you could do?"

Then, two months ago, came a written confession — and last week, a new arrest.

Stephen Mitchell, 34, long suspected as the main aggressor in Denham's death, was jailed Thursday on a second-degree murder charge.

The Hillsborough State Attorney's Office said the charge against Mitchell was based on the "totality of evidence." Kane said Monday a letter suspect Zeiders filed in court may have helped secure the case against him.

Zeiders, 28 agreed to plead guilty in January. With her plea, she submitted a handwritten account of what she says led to Denham's death. She identified Mitchell, who was her former boyfriend, and another man, who has not been charged.

She also dispelled the motive once given in the deadly attack — that Denham had exposed himself to her. It was a notion that many who knew the openly gay man dismissed as absurd.

According to Zeiders' account, she and Mitchell and a second man gathered the night of Jan. 14, 2017, at a house on Escort Avenue, a few yards east of N 15th Street. Sometime that night, Mitchell and his companion left to visit a friend, Zeiders wrote. She was cheating on Mitchell with another man, she wrote, and phoned the man shortly after Mitchell and his companion left.

Zeiders and her secret boyfriend were in the backyard when they heard Mitchell's car pull up unexpectedly, she wrote. She told the boyfriend to hop a rear fence before Mitchell entered the yard.

"Stephen hears some noise by the back fence," she wrote. "He asks me what was I doing. I told him that a guy came into the yard and was masterbating (sic). ... I only told him there was a man in the yard doing that because I was scared that he saw my friend and what I was really doing."

Zeiders, Mitchell and Mitchell's companion left the yard and headed down the street in search of the person Zeiders said she had seen. Near the corner of 15th and Elm Streets, they encountered Denham, who was heading home after buying some frozen dinners at Walmart.

They asked what he was doing in the yard, Zeiders wrote. Denham denied he had been there. Mitchell then attacked him, according to Zeiders.

"I kicked the guy a couple times," she wrote, "only because I was high on drugs and scared of what Stephen would do to me if I didn't back up the story I told him."

Mitchell kept beating Denham as he fell, Zeiders wrote. She yelled at him to stop. Denham got up and tried to walk away. Mitchell attacked him again, she said.

Zeiders said she flagged down a neighbor in a passing truck and told him to call the police. She said Mitchell and the other man pulled Denham onto the sidewalk so he wouldn't get hit by a car. She said she didn't know he was dead until the next day, when homicide detectives came by to question everyone.

"I didn't tell them the truth because I was deathly terrified of my boyfriend," she wrote. "He said if I told them anything , he would beat me until I turned blue."

Zeiders still awaits sentencing. Mitchell was being held in jail Monday on $40,000 bail.

Kane, Denham's partner, said it's his understanding that the state plans to use Zeiders' account and the testimony of Mitchell's companion to prove their case against Mitchell.

"I don't like that," Kane said. "But I can live with it."

The arrest doesn't bring much relief, he said. The pace of the case still frustrates him. And he still grieves his loss.

"It's still something that I deal with every day."

Contact Dan Sullivan at dsullivan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3386. Follow @TimesDan.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Stay with tampabay.com for the latest news and updates. Times
    One person is in custody. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.
  2. Stay with tampabay.com for the latest news and updates. Times
    She was not in a crosswalk when she was hit, troopers say.
  3. Vice President Mike Pence reacts during an immigration and naturalization ceremony in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House grounds, Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon) ALEX BRANDON  |  AP
    Katie Waldman, a former University of Florida student senator, was accused of helping discard independent student newspapers with a front-page endorsement of a rival party’s candidate. | Analysis
  4. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. JAMAL THALJI  |  Tampa Bay Times
    John Clark used a shotgun to kill his mother and another man. Then he returned to the crime scene with a shotgun, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office.
  5. Sandra Gero, a regional search associate at Ray and Associates, hosts a meeting at the Middleton High School auditorium and gathers public comments on what people are looking for for the next Hillsborough County School Superintendent on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019 in Tampa. LUIS SANTANA  |  Times
    Using public meetings and a survey, they’re painting a picture of the ideal school leader.
  6. The main exhibit center at the Museum of Science & Industry in Tampa once stirred the imagination with dinosaurs and stars. Now, it's empty, but on the verge of rebirth as a movie studio.
    The County Commission has set aside $2 million for the project as the Film Commission studies the demand for it.
  7. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Sept. 20, 2019, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky) PATRICK SEMANSKY  |  AP
    Hunter Biden worked for a Ukrainian gas company.
  8. Reclaimed water rates are increasing 6 percent in St. Petersburg.
    Potable, waste and reclaimed water fees will all increase. So will garbage fees, though the stormwater fee will drop for some.
  9. Joshua Russell, 26, faces a charge of aggravated manslaughter, according to deputies. Pinellas County Sheriff's Office
    A dose of kratom caused the caretaker to fall asleep for hours inside a hot minivan with the disabled man in the back seat, investigators said.
  10. Tampa Mayor Jane Castor announces federal grants Friday that will equip at least 600 officers with body cameras. CHARLIE FRAGO  |  Charlie Frago
    Mayor Jane Castor announces a nearly $600,000 Department of Justice grant Friday.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement