TAMPA — A Florida man is behind bars after authorities in Tampa linked him to a woman whose dismembered body parts were recovered from a nearby bay earlier this month.
Robert Lee Kessler, 69, of Lutz, is charged with second-degree murder and abuse of a human body in connection with the killing of Stephanie Crone-Overholts.
Crone-Overholts, 47, of Erie, Pennsylvania, had recently moved to the Tampa area, according to authorities. Her mother reported her missing to police in Erie on Nov. 11, the same day that an angler fishing in Tampa’s McKay Bay discovered a human leg bobbing in the water.
Police began searching the bay and discovered additional body parts the following day.
Authorities released an image of a tattoo found on the slain woman’s calf. The tattoo depicted three red hearts with names on blue ribbons over each heart. Sean. Greg. Zach.
The photo, which went viral, was seen by Crone-Overholts’ family, who identified it as her tattoo.
“My family and I are devastated. This has been a living nightmare,” Crone-Overholts’ son, Sean Overholts, said in a statement obtained by the Tampa Bay Times. “It is unimaginable what she went through. My mother will be deeply missed.”
Overholts told WFLA in Tampa that his mother did not always make the best decisions in her life but that she loved her family very much.
“She did not deserve what has happened to her in any way,” he said. “No one, no matter what, deserves what happened to her.”
According to Chief Ruben Delgado, interim chief of the Tampa Police Department, detectives learned that Crone-Overholts vanished while she was staying with Kessler at his home in Lutz. The investigators tracked Kessler down at his home on Nov. 14.
Watch Chief Ruben Delgado talk about the case below.
Kessler told the detectives that he had met Crone-Overholts, who was living out of her car, at a fast-food restaurant and offered her a place to stay.
“When we went out to speak to Mr. Kessler about the missing person report that was filed upon (Crone-Overholts) in Pennsylvania, he told us that Stephanie was staying there for a while but however had left a few weeks prior,” Delgado said.
Kessler told WFLA earlier this month that he had a chance meeting with Crone-Overholts at a McDonald’s.
“Me and my little girl met her and she had a Pennsylvania plate and was in her car, and it was obvious to see that she was homeless and stayed in her car, and she explained to me that her ankles swell up because she slept in her car,” Kessler told the news station. “I just invited her to stay because I have three bedrooms and two baths, and she was from Erie, Pennsylvania, and I had worked for the City of Erie one time 40 years ago.”
The investigation, as well as undisclosed evidence recovered by detectives, indicated that Kessler was lying, the chief said.
Two days after speaking to Kessler, on Nov. 16, authorities found Crone-Overholts’ abandoned Hyundai Elantra. Her blood was found inside the car.
A search warrant executed at Kessler’s home turned up additional blood there, according to the chief.
Kessler told WFLA that his van had been confiscated.
“They got a search warrant and they took my van, and they’re not going to find anything,” he said at the time. “There is no evidence in there. There is evidence that she had been in here probably, but that’s it.”
Delgado said Crone-Overholts’ blood was found in the van, as well.
Kessler, who was already in custody on an unrelated drug charge, was booked Wednesday on the murder and abuse charges. He remained Monday in the Hillsborough County Jail.
Delgado said it was unclear exactly when Crone-Overholts was killed.
“It’s hard to say. We know we have some activity on the 5th and 6th by the water that we’re still trying to piece together,” he said.
Kessler has a long criminal history dating back to 1986, the Times reported. State prison records show that most of his arrests have stemmed from the possession and sale of cocaine.
He was last released from prison in 2013.
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