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Date of Issue: December 06, 2007

HBPD investigates killing; body found near beach

Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine peers through the branches of a seagrape tree near the beach and the Gulffront rental home at 50th Street, where a decomposing female body was found Dec. 1. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy
Carla Ann Beard, 29
The home at 5002 Fifth Ave., Holmes Beach, where renters found a dead body Dec. 1. Islander Photo: Bonner Joy

While hundreds started the December holiday season with merrymaking at Island events, a vacationing family began the month with the discovery of a body in Holmes Beach.

An autopsy performed Dec. 2 indicated the victim, Carla Ann Beard, 29, of Sarasota, had died of blunt trauma to the head. In the 12th month of 2007, the Holmes Beach Police Department was investigating its first homicide of the year.

HBPD Chief Jay Romine was asking “that anyone with information about the victim’s activities during the past week” contact the police department at 941-708-5800 or the Manatee County Crime Stoppers at 866-634-8477 (TIPS).

“We are following up on several leads right now, but have no specific suspect at this point,” the chief said.

Beard’s body was found in a wooded area near a rental residence at Fifth Avenue and 50th Street in Holmes Beach at about 4:40 p.m. Dec. 1.

Authorities believe the body had been in the location for several days - and that Beard was killed on the Island.

“We have nothing to indicate that she wasn’t,” Romine said.

Police have not been able to account for the woman’s whereabouts since about Nov. 26, when she was released from a treatment facility in Sarasota.

“We’re just trying to trace her whereabouts,” Romine said.

Beard’s body was found by a visiting family that had arrived Friday night and dismissed a foul odor as that of dead fish or seaweed.

The next day, with the odor more intense, they scouted around the property and discovered a decomposing body under the branches of an overgrown seagrape tree a short distance from the beach and the beachfront home.

The finding prompted the vacationers to cancel plans for a party and to instead put in a call to the police.

The partially clothed, decomposed body was carried from the scene that evening, with police characterizing the death as “suspicious.”

Reports from the scene indicated that Beard’s pants and shoes were missing.

An autopsy took place Sunday, with HBPD detective Terri Davis attending. The examination found that “the manner of death is believed to be blunt trauma to the head,” stated a news release from HBPD.

Fingerprints were used to identify Beard’s body.

A spokeswoman with the district medical examiner’s office said the autopsy report would not be released without permission from the state attorney’s office. Such permission is often delayed in a homicide investigation.

Little was known about Beard as The Islander went to press on Monday. A relative in Sarasota declined to comment and police were still collecting details about the victim’s life.

A review of records with Manatee and Sarasota clerk of court offices found a request for a temporary injunction filed by Beard in regards to a 2000 domestic violence incident in Sarasota.

Romine said authorities were reviewing the court records but added, “That’s such an old case, we’re looking at some more recent matters.” He declined to be more specific.

Court records in Sarasota also contained a child support matter involving Beard and her grandmother, who helped raise the victim. Romine said authorities had not determined as of Monday morning whether the victim had any children, however.

The investigation on Monday also continued to involve a search for a weapon and Beard’s missing clothing, according to the chief.

On Sunday at the scene, an intense grid search was under way to locate evidence or clues. “We collected numerous items off of the beach to be submitted to the lab to determine if they are connected, but there’s nothing that we know of at this point,” Romine said.

Romine said that an unoccupied home at 105 51st St., just a few doors away from where the body was discovered, had been broken into. His officers found a rear window broken by a concrete block while searching the area Dec. 2.

The chief also noted another home, 111 50th St., had been broken into about six weeks earlier and an arrest of a homeless person had been made.

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger learned of the discovery of the body late Saturday afternoon from Romine.

“It’s the kind of thing that can happen in any neighborhood,” Bohnenberger said. “People are people and crime does occur.”

On Monday, the mayor expressed concern over a problem with the homeless on the Island and urged residents to report suspicious activity.

“Our Island is becoming a destination for people at night,” Bohnenberger said, adding his disappointment that a county ordinance intended to crack down on vagrancy was not tougher.

The rental property where Beard’s body was found is co-owned by Deborah W. Barber of Avon Park, Fla., and Marcia Ward and William R. Ward, for which no address was provided, according to the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Web site.

The line of trees where the body was discovered went from the beach to the road along the north property line. The seagrape leaves where the body laid were compressed and decomposed, and maggots were still present on Sunday.

The killing is the only suspected homicide to be investigated on the Island this year.

In May, Gregorio Lopez-Chavarria was arrested in connection with a fatal accident on the Anna Maria Island Bridge and faces a charge of DUI manslaughter.

In April, two men were arrested in connection with the shooting of three men on Coquina Beach. Santiago Delgado Jr. has pleaded no contest to several charges and Rene Vasquez-Mendoza faces three counts of attempted first-degree murder, carrying a concealed firearm, improper exhibition of a firearm and discharge of a firearm in public.