A Florida motel housekeeper sent a text. Then her husband found her killed in a closet

Howard Cohen
·4 min read

The Strader family had lived at the Rodeway Inn in Venice, Florida, just south of Sarasota.

Tina Strader, a mother to four and a grandmother, was the housekeeping manager at the motel. Her husband, Gerald, told News Channel 8 how they would watch out for one another and would text when she worked inside a room.

Just in case.

Just in case happened Tuesday.

Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman said deputies got to the Rodeway Inn at 1710 S. Tamiami Trail just after 10:30 a.m. because a woman was reported to be bleeding and unconscious in Room 205. She was severely battered, according to the sheriff department’s arrest report.

Her husband found her inside the room’s closet with a towel stuffed in her mouth. He had last heard from her when she texted him at 8:49 a.m. to tell him that she was going to clean Room 205. Two minutes later, he texted her back. No response. He sent another at 9:44 a.m. and still didn’t get a response.

Gerald Strader was worried. This was not like her to not return a text.

According to deputies, Tina Strader’s husband is the one who found her inside the closet, battered and not breathing. He shouted for help and he and another employee pulled her out of the closet. Her husband began CPR until deputies arrived.

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“What I’m about to share with you, as a sheriff, is difficult,” Hoffman said at a news conference from headquarters Wednesday. “This is one of the most egregious crimes we’ve seen recently.”

According to deputies, the motel’s surveillance video shows Tina Stradler entering Room 205 at 8:49 am. — exactly when she texted her husband. One minute later, at 8:50 a.m. ,the suspect, identified as Stephen Matthew Havrilka, 30, is seen entering the room where he remains until 9:04 a.m.

At that time, he leaves the room, carrying a white towel and his shoes, and walks north until he’s out of view of the surveillance cameras.

At 9:12 a.m. Havrilka is seen again on the surveillance video leaving the motel from its north door, according to the sheriff’s office. No one else is seen entering Room 205 from the time Havrilka left it until the victim’s husband enters at 10:07 a.m.

Despite her husband’s efforts, and paramedics, Tina Stradler, 46, never regained consciousness, Sheriff Hoffman said.

Stephen Matthew Havrilka’s booking photo at Sarasota County Jail on April 20, 2021.
Stephen Matthew Havrilka’s booking photo at Sarasota County Jail on April 20, 2021.

Havrilka, “an animal ... with neo-Nazi alliances,” Hoffman said, was found not far away from the motel after detectives got a call at 10:38 a.m. about a “suspicious white male at Alligator Drive and South Tamiami Trail near a Regions Bank” wearing jeans and shirtless.

Deputies caught up to Havrilka near the bank. He has 34 prior felony charges, 19 felony convictions, 16 misdemeanor charges, 10 misdemeanor convictions and four stints in prison, according to the sheriff’s department and court records.

He was “acting erratic, speaking gibberish, and he started kneeling and praying on the ground. He appeared to be under the influence of alcohol and/or narcotics,” the arrest report said. “Speaking in tongues,” Hoffman added.

“It took five deputies to place him in custody,” Hoffman said.

At a press conference on April 21, 2021, that announced the details of the murder of a Venice County motel housekeeper, Sarasota Sheriff’s Office deputies show a poster board featuring mugshots of the man, Stephen Havrilka, who was arrested and charged with second degree murder. He has 34 prior felony arrests.
At a press conference on April 21, 2021, that announced the details of the murder of a Venice County motel housekeeper, Sarasota Sheriff’s Office deputies show a poster board featuring mugshots of the man, Stephen Havrilka, who was arrested and charged with second degree murder. He has 34 prior felony arrests.

Havrilka was registered as a guest of the Rodeway Inn. Room 209. The same floor and a few rooms over from where Tina Stradler was attacked.

She fought hard for her life. According to deputies, she had defensive wounds on her hands, bruising on her face and head. There was blood on the bed and on the towel that had been placed in her mouth.

“He did not know the victim but perhaps spent days observing her,” Hoffman said. “There is no other way to describe Havrilka. He is an animal. She was doing her job and was terrorized, battered. As a husband, I can’t imagine what this victim’s husband is feeling now,” Hoffman said. “I want to see that this man is put away for life.”

Havrilka, whose previous arrests include domestic violence with strangulation and battery of someone 65 or older, is charged with second-degree murder. He is being held in the Sarasota County Jail without bond. His arraignment is scheduled for May 28.

“It has been amazing the messages and the stories that I have been told,” Gerald Strader told reporters at News Channel 8. “She was the only reason that they stayed there and the kind little things she did for them.”

Strader also posted to his Facebook page and set up a GoFundMe to help with funeral expenses.

“At 5:55 p.m. April 20, 2021 My entire world Tina Strader passed away. Murdered by some random crazy person that suffocated her to death while she was at work. In less than one month I’ve lost my mother and my wife,” Strader posted on Tuesday.

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