Vanished Woman's Case Reopened

October 10, 2009

October 4, 2009
By Suzie Schottelkotte

THE LEDGER

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.

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Third Edition Deck of Statewide Cold Case Playing Cards Unveiled

August 29, 2008

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.

“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

Brothers Hope to Find Out Who Killed Their Mother

September 4, 2006

By DANA WILLHOIT
The Ledger
September 4, 2006

LAKELAND – F or 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 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.

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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.

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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Case of Missing Winter Haven Woman Remains Active

October 5, 2005

By DANA WILLHOIT
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.

Carrol Sparrow, left, sits at his dining room table with wife Elsie, center, and daughter Debra Lucas, and displays a 1980s photo of his three eldest children -- Cindy Lee Smith, left, Daryl Sparrow and Debra. The photo is the last taken of Cindy before she was last seen in April 1987.

Carrol Sparrow, left, sits at his dining room table with wife Elsie, center, and daughter Debra Lucas, and displays a 1980s photo of his three eldest children -- Cindy Lee Smith, left, Daryl Sparrow and Debra. The photo is the last taken of Cindy before she was last seen in April 1987.

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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Killing of Well-Liked Man Still Is Baffling

July 30, 2005

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By Suzie Schottelkotte
The Ledger

July 30, 2005

BARTOW — Carrie and Lester Smith beamed that October morning nearly nine years ago as their son assisted in opening a neurology unit at Lakeland Regional Medical Center. A nursing supervisor at the hospital, Tommy Smith had been tapped to lead the nursing staff in the new unit.

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“We were so proud of Tommy,” Carrie Smith said. “We didn’t know then that we would never see him again.”

Tommy E. Smith

Tommy E. Smith

A couple walking beside an orange grove on Edison Road near Polk City found Smith’s body the next day, Oct. 11, 1996. Smith, 37, had been shot three times with a .22-caliber rifle. His 1984 Jeep Wagoneer was discovered about three miles away, parked along Berkley Road under the Interstate 4 overpass. The rifle used to kill him was nearby.

Detectives grappled with the case from the beginning, and it hasn’t proven any easier over time.

“He was the kind of guy who everybody liked,” said Polk Sheriff’s Detective Larry Roberts, who’s been working the case for about a year. “That’s been one of the problems with this case. We’ve talked to hundreds of people, but we can’t find anybody

who really disliked Tommy or had a real vendetta against him.”

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Woman's 1997 Disappearance Still a Mystery

June 22, 2005

By DANA WILLHOIT
The Ledger

June 22, 2005

LAKELAND — Mary Oursler knows her daughter, Tanya, isn’t coming home. The 25-year-old blonde disappeared from Loughman in the middle of the night in 1997, leaving behind two young children on whom she doted.

A Crimestoppers poster depicts Lewis with her daughters. Lewis has not been seen or heard from since leaving a restaurant in the early morning of Dec. 14, 1997.

A Crimestoppers poster depicts Lewis with her daughters. Lewis has not been seen or heard from since leaving a restaurant in the early morning of Dec. 14, 1997.

Polk County sheriff’s detectives say they are sure she met with foul play.

Still, Oursler sometimes thinks she’s caught a glimpse of her daughter out of the corner of her eye — just for an instant.

“Sometimes I’ll be in a grocery store and I’ll see a tall, blonde girl from behind, and I think she’ll turn around and it’ll be her,” Oursler said.

It never is.

In 1997, Tanya HumennyjLewis lived with her boyfriend, Timothy Easterbrook, her daughters, Jessica, 4, and Tabitha, 6, and a male roommate. She was divorced and had no contact with her ex-husband.

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