Editor’s note: This story contains graphic details about a death.
TAMPA — Investigators searching a Lutz man’s home, including the bedroom of his 8-year-old daughter, found blood and DNA from a woman whose dismembered body was found in Tampa’s McKay Bay, an arrest affidavit said.
The man, Robert Kessler, 69, was arrested Wednesday on charges of second-degree murder and abuse of a dead human body in the slaying of Stephanie Crone-Overholts, 47. An arrest affidavit describes the investigation into the discovery of a leg and other body parts Nov. 11 and 12.
Callers reported the gruesome find to Tampa police and the agency sought the public’s help with identification, distributing images of a tattoo on a leg bearing the names “Sean,” “Greg” and “Zach.”
Police later interviewed two people who had been fishing near the 22nd Street Bridge at McKay Bay about 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 when they heard a series of splashes, according to the affidavit. They went to investigate, heard a louder splash and saw a man dropping a bag into the water, the affidavit said.
They gave police a description of the man and a car. Surveillance video at the Port of Tampa corroborated their account.
A third witness reported he was paddling and fishing in the area two days later, Nov. 9. when he saw a man throw bins into the water, the report said. The witness paddled to the bins to see what was inside but didn’t open them because of a foul smell, the affidavit said.
Cell phone data placed Kessler in the area at the time, the report said.
Investigators later located the bins and identified Crone-Overholts as the victim, tracking her to a Lutz home owned by Kessler that she had listed as her address.
They interviewed Kessler on Nov. 14 and he told them that Crone-Overholts lived with him for several weeks, the affidavit said. They met at a McDonald’s restaurant in the area and he invited her to stay in his daughter’s bedroom, the affidavit said.
Kessler said when he got home Nov. 5, Crone-Overholts wasn’t there, the affidavit said. Kessler said he couldn’t remember when had last seen her and didn’t know where she had gone.
Cell phone data showed both Kessler and Crone-Overholts were using the same nearby cell tower the night of Nov. 5, contradicting Kessler’s statement, the affidavit said. The last call Crone-Overholts made from her phone was the night of Nov. 5, the affidavit said.
A fourth witness, identified as Kessler’s 8-year-old daughter, said Crone-Overholts had been living with her and her father for about a week. She said the woman had called her father a number of times while he was at the girl’s gymnastics class Nov. 5, the affidavit said.
The last time the girl saw Crone-Overholts was after the class, she told investigators. The woman had asked for $200 and was arguing with her father, she said. Kessler told his daughter to go to sleep and the next day, informed her that Crone-Overholts had been picked up by her boyfriend, the girl told investigators.
Kessler threw away some of Crone-Overholts’ things and put some in the trunk of Crone-Overholts’ car, the girl told investigators. Two days later, her father told the girl he took the car to return it to Crone-Overholts, she said.
Surveillance video from Nov. 7 shows a man resembling Kessler driving the car into a parking lot in the 2200 block of E Bearss Avenue, the report said. The man opened car doors and the trunk and removed a white bag, the affidavit said.
Cell phone data puts Kessler in the Bearss Avenue location around the same time, the affidavit said. A police K-9 later detected blood or decomposing remains on the rear passenger door.
An autopsy turned up wounds consistent with a possible stabbing as well as defensive injuries, leading the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office to determine that Crone-Overholts was the victim of a homicide, the affidavit said.
Detectives obtained a search warrant Nov. 20 and found blood visible throughout Kessler’s house and car, the affidavit said. A lab analysis linked blood and DNA found during the searches to Crone-Overholts, the report said.
In an interview with investigators Nov. 23, Kessler said he had recently redecorated his daughter’s room and installed new carpet, the report said.
The Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office is asking that Kessler be held without bail until trial. A hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Kessler has faced criminal charges on some 40 occasions since 1986, mainly involving the sale of cocaine and related offenses in the Tampa Bay area, according to Florida Department of Law Enforcement records. He has been sentenced to state prison at least four times, the longest for seven years in 2000 and the most recent for two years in 2011.