• Who Killed Baby Zachary? Lack of Cooperation Stalls Investigations in Haines City Death

    Published: Monday, May 19, 2014 at 8:51 p.m.

    HAINES CITY | The toy cars, warped by weather and age, sit on top of a tombstone carved in the shape of a teddy bear.

    Eight-week-old Zachary Ernie Durham never had a chance to play with those cars or cuddle a teddy bear of his own.

    His young life was cut short.

    For the past six years, Polk County Sheriff’s Office investigators have been trying to solve the case of the dead baby. But three adults are uncooperative, leaving investigators nowhere to turn.

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  • Nursing Supervisor’s Killing Solved, Sheriff Says

    By  The Ledger

    Published: Friday, November 2, 2012 at 9:53 a.m.

    Tommy Smith

    LAKELAND | A 16-year-old cold case involving the slaying of a 37-year-old nursing supervisor at Lakeland Regional Medical Center has been solved and a Lakeland man has been arrested as a suspect, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said today.

    For years, the slaying left many unanswered questions for the family of Tommy Eugene Smith, of Bartow, who was found dead Oct. 11, 1996, at the edge of a citrus grove off Edison Road, off Old Berkley Road, near Auburndale.

    On Wednesday, a witness contacted the Sheriff’s Office and voluntarily provided details about the homicide that only someone who had intimate knowledge of the crime would have known, the Sheriff’s Office said.

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  • Woman’s Son Arrested; Is a Suspect in 19-Year-Old Cold Case

    Christopher Knight

    By  The Ledger

    Published: Friday, October 26, 2012 at 1:05 p.m.

    MULBERRY | Deputies said Friday that one of Polk County’s most perplexing murder mysteries, the stabbing death of 39-year-old Jahala Watson in 1993, has been solved.

    The accused killer is Watson’s son, Christopher Shane Knight, now 39. Knight is also accused of killing Watson’s unborn son, who was to be named Skylar. Watson was seven months pregnant when she was fatally stabbed in her neck.

    Knight, who goes by his middle name of Shane, was booked into the Polk County Jail late Thursday on second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

    Jahala Watson was well known and liked in Mulberry. She had closed down her Mulberry restaurant, Jahala’s, two months before her death in June 1993.

    During a press conference Friday, Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said Knight was 19 when Watson died. He said mother and son lived together at 3755 Davis Road and fought constantly, usually about money or who was to drive her car.

    Investigators say Watson was killed on June 20, 1993.

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  • Suspect in 27-Year-Old Killings Arrested

    Police say Anthony Jackson admits responsibility in deaths of William Ford in 1984 and Cheryl Boyce in 1985.
    By  &  THE LEDGER
    Published: Monday, December 12, 2011 at 2:00 p.m.

    LAKELAND | Anthony Jackson dialed 911 Saturday night and asked an officer to meet him on a Tampa street corner.

    He had to unburden his soul.

    Darrell Conatser, grandson of victim William Clark Ford, left, and his wife Joy, center, and sister Sharon Scharber, right, during a press conference at Lakeland Police Department. || Photo by Ernst Peters, The Ledger

    A preacher had given out Bibles and urged tenants of a homeless shelter where Jackson stayed to confess their sins. The load Jackson, 47, lifted from his conscience that night was the answer to a pair of cold case killings left unsolved for 27 years, according to the Lakeland Police Department.

    Jackson calmly described to detectives how he tried to rob William Clark Ford Jr., 62, in September 1984 and fatally shot him, police said. He also detailed the night he shot and killed Cheryl Boyce, 16, in her family’s apartment in March 1985.

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  • Man Charged in Woman’s 2001 Disappearance

    By Jeremy Maready
    The Ledger

    Published: Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 1:29 p.m.
    Last Modified: Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 4:21 p.m.
    BARTOW | The boyfriend of a Lake Wales woman missing since 2001 has been arrested and charged with killing her, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office said.

    Dion Kaseta, 50, was indicted by a Polk County grand jury on Wednesday for second-degree murder. He is currently in jail in Chattanooga, Tenn.

    Kimberly Bumbalough Mimmovich, who was 37 at the time of her disappearance, went missing Dec. 8, 2001 in Deerfield Beach after telling Kaseta she wanted to see the sun rise over the beach in the quiet of a Sunday morning, police said at the time.

    Kaseta told police he last saw her walking near the water in Deerfield Beach.

    Her disappearance baffled police and left her mother, her daughter and other members of her Polk County family in anguish.

    Detectives in Polk and Broward counties told her mother, Dorothy Bumbalough, that her disappearance was suspicious.

    At the time of her disappearance, Mimmovich and Kaseta had been dating for about four months. They had met at Gator Promotions in Winter Haven where they both worked.

    The couple had driven to Deerfield Beach on Dec. 8, 2001 where Kaseta’s sister lived.

    Kaseta showed Mimmovich his sister’s house so she could find her way there, dropped her off at the beach then drove back to his sister’s home. The two were supposed to meet later that day, but Mimmovich never arrived, police said.

    Kaseta told police he searched the beach for several hours and then filed a missing person’s report with the Broward Sheriff’s Office.

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  • Vanished Woman’s Case Reopened

    October 4, 2009
    By Suzie Schottelkotte


    FORT MEADE | More than 20 years after Fort Meade native Vickie Davis vanished from her Florida Panhandle home, state investigators are taking another stab at determining her fate.

    Joseph Baker beside the grave of his sister Joy Nicholas and her son Steven at the Lakeside Memorial Park in Winter Haven. Joy Nicholas was murdered with her 4-year-old son, Steven, in 1984 at a Winter Haven lumber yard.

    Joseph Baker beside the grave of his sister Joy Nicholas and her son Steven at the Lakeside Memorial Park in Winter Haven. Joy Nicholas was murdered with her 4-year-old son, Steven, in 1984 at a Winter Haven lumber yard.

    A cold-case team is taking a new look at the disappearance, an FDLE investigator said last week.

    Police and her family always have suspected Davis, who was 20 at the time, didn’t just walk out on her 21-year-old husband, Douglas, and 2-year-old daughter Melissa.

    That’s in part because of who Douglas Davis is. Twenty-five years ago, he was accused of beating a co-worker and her 4-year-old son to death with a board at a Bartow lumberyard.

    A jury acquitted him of murder charges in June 1986, though investigators maintain they had the right man.

    Doug Davis, now remarried and living in Arkansas, said last week he would welcome closure in the disappearance of his former wife, saying he’ll have one question for her if she is found.

    “I’d like to ask her why” she left, he said when contacted at his home in Lincoln, Ark.

    But her parents say Vickie Davis won’t be able to answer. Jimmy and Barbara Bryant of Fort Meade said they think their daughter is dead, and they want to know what happened.

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  • Third Edition Deck of Statewide Cold Case Playing Cards Unveiled

    The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE), Department of Corrections (DC), the Attorney General’s Office, and the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers again teamed up with Florida sheriffs and police chiefs to create a new deck of statewide cold case playing cards. The third edition features 52 of Florida’s unsolved homicide and missing person cases. Beginning today, the decks will be distributed to inmates in all 67 county jails and to supervised offenders reporting in through the state’s 156 probation offices. Each card features a photograph of the victim and factual information about the case.

    Cold Case Playing Cards

    Cold Case Playing Cards

    “This is a creative and well-crafted approach to investigating some of Florida’s toughest cases,” said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. “I’m proud of the collaboration between law enforcement agencies to put this program in place. It’s worked before and we’re betting it will work again.”

    There are approximately 65,000 inmates in the state’s county jails and 141,000 supervised offenders serving on state probation. By distributing the cold case playing cards to offenders, law enforcement will reach thousands of potential sources who may be able to provide critical information about an unsolved case. Printing for the third edition deck was funded through federal grant monies.

    Read FDLE Press Release

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  • Brothers Hope to Find Out Who Killed Their Mother

    The Ledger
    September 4, 2006

    LAKELAND – For two Lakeland men, today is an an anniversary of the bitterest kind. Twenty-five years ago today, on Sept. 4, 1981, Jeff and Tim Slaten were awakened by police officers, who rushed them out of their small duplex apartment.


    Tim Slaten holds the Crime Stoppers card that bears the face of his mother and the details of her slaying outside the apartment where she was killed in 1981 in Lakeland

     Tim and Jeff Slaten stare at the apartment where their mother was killed in 1981. They added $8,000 of their own to the reward for information leading to a conviction in the case.

    Jeff didn’t know what was happening, but Tim glanced into his mother’s bedroom, and what he saw nearly knocked him over. His mother, 31-year-old Linda Slaten, was dead, a metal coat hanger twisted around her neck.

    “It was brutal,” Tim said.

    Police say Slaten was raped and murdered while her two sons slept. To this day, her killer has not been caught.

    In an effort to bring attention to the case, and in the hopes of getting someone with information about the crime to come forward, the two have added $8,000 to the $2,000 reward already being offered by Crime Stoppers for information leading to a conviction in the case.

    It was an idea the two men came up with several months ago, as the anniversary of their mother’s murder approached.

    Jeff, who was 15 when his mother died, worked overtime shifts at his job as a truck driver. Tim, who was 12 when his mother died, recently sold his house, and used some money from the sale toward the reward.

    “Anything that will help, it’s worth a try,” Jeff Slaten said. Friday afternoon, he and his brother came to the apartment complex at 303 Brunell Parkway, where their mother was murdered, to talk about the case.

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  • Lakeland Man Charged in 2004 Home Slaying

    The Ledger

    Published: Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 2:51 a.m.
    Last Modified: Tuesday, December 6, 2005 at 6:57 a.m.

    LAKELAND — A Lakeland man was arrested Monday and charged in the 2004 slaying of a man at an apartment.

    Jason Seawright

    Jason Seawright, 29, of 2146 Whitetail Trail, was arrested Monday after being indicted in November for first-degree murder, armed burglary and attempted armed robbery.

    The grand jury records were unsealed Monday after his arrest.

    Thomas Wayne Grammer, 36, was shot to death May 7, 2004, inside his apartment on Lenox Street, a block south of Ariana Street and west of South Florida Avenue.

    Grammer was home with his wife, Lisa Grammer, about 3:15 a.m. when two men and a woman came inside for an unknown reason, Lakeland police reported at the time.

    Grammer’s wife said her husband argued with the three people and that’s when one of the men shot him several times with a handgun.

    The suspects then drove away, according to the LPD report.

    Grammer died at Lakeland Regional Medical Center shortly after the shooting.

    A small amount of drugs were found at the apartment at 213 Lenox St., but officials would not say then whether the shooting was drug-related.

    LPD spokesman Jack Gillen said he couldn’t give any details on how detectives found Seawright because the case will go to trial.

    According to the indictment, Seawright broke into Grammer’s home planning to steal his property. During the burglary, Seawright shot Grammer.

    Gillen said he couldn’t comment on whether detectives are looking for the two other people involved in the incident.

    Julia Crouse can be reached at julia.crouse@theledger.com or 863-802-7536.

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  • Case of Missing Winter Haven Woman Remains Active

    The Ledger

    October 5, 2005

    WINTER HAVEN – It’s been 18 years since 26-year-old Cindy Lee Smith left work, climbed into her boyfriend’s car and drove away, never to be seen again. She left behind her parents, sister, brother, and her adored 7-year-old son Shane. She left behind her job at Kmart, her car, her two dogs and a tax refund she never picked up.

    William Donald Taylor, her boyfriend, told sheriff’s detectives that Smith and he were getting along just fine. But the last time he saw her she told him she was going to Daytona Beach, and she got into a car with a man he didn’t know and left.

    Her family doesn’t believe it.

    “She would not leave us like that,” her mother, Elsie Sparrow, said recently.

    According to Elsie and Carrol Sparrow, Smith’s parents, Smith and her son. Shane (from Cindy’s ex-husband, Wayne Smith), were living with Taylor in Winter Haven at the time.

    Smith told her parents that she was leaving Taylor. She asked them whether she and Shane could move in with them; they were supposed to meet her at the house she shared with Taylor that weekend to help her move her things.

    On Friday, April 3, 1987, co-workers at Kmart on Havendale Boulevard saw Smith get into Taylor’s car, and the two drove away, according to Detective Ivan Navarro of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

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