ST. PETERSBURG – More than 25 years ago, Michael Scheumeister, 45, was found dead near the Mirror Lake Library. His death was ruled a homicide and for the next two and a half decades his case remained unsolved.
On Friday, the St. Petersburg Police Department announced that its Cold Case Unit had dropped Schuemeister’s murder investigation after detectives obtained new DNA evidence linking Patricia Morris to the murder. Morris was 47 at the time of the murder and died in 2010.
“Based on the most recent DNA evidence and previous investigations, this case is now considered closed with the perpetrator’s death,” the department said in a press release.
According to police, Scheumeister was found in the early morning of August 14, 1997 near the Mirror Lake Library at 280 5th Street N. Investigators suspect robbery was the motive for his killing. He was found lying on his back with his pockets turned out. He had cashed his paycheck earlier that day, but the money was missing from his wallet.
The coroner concluded that Scheumeister died from blunt force trauma to the head and neck.
Investigators later learned that Scheumeister was in a bar the night before and had a drink with Morris. In an interview with Detectives, Morris confirmed that she had been drinking with Scheumeister and took a cab together, but she said the two went their separate ways after being dropped off by the cab.
A story in the St. Petersburg Times, published two days after the murder, says detectives distributed flyers with Scheumeister’s picture on them. According to the article, he lived at the 500 block of Fourth Avenue S, about half a mile south of where his body was found.
Almost 20 years later, on May 18, 2016, detectives conducted a criminal history report on Morris. The report included charges of prostitution, assaulting law enforcement officers and drugs. The report also said Morris died on September 19, 2010 in Hillsborough County. A brief obituary at the time stated that she was originally from Plant City and was survived by a daughter alongside other family members and friends.
In March of that year, detectives retrieved Scheumeister’s pants from the Property and Evidence Division and submitted them to the Pinellas County Forensic Laboratory for DNA re-evaluation. On November 2, detectives received a response from the Combined DNA Index System showing that the DNA in the front and back pants pockets belonged to Morris.
Det. Wallace Pavelski, who works in the agency’s cold case unit, said he’s looking back at old cases to see if there’s evidence that can be submitted for testing. As far as he knew, Scheumeister’s trousers had not been processed beforehand. Detectives at the time relied heavily on visible evidence given the technology available, he said.
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“If they visibly looked at the pants at the time and didn’t see blood or anything on them, then maybe they weren’t running them at the time,” said Pavelski, who has worked for the agency for 17 years.
Pavelski said the murder was a “felony of opportunity” as Morris knew Scheumeister had money and was drunk at the time.
“It was just an opportunity for them to take advantage of the situation,” he said.
Pavelski said it felt good to finally bring the case to a close.
“I like bringing closure to the victims,” he said. “I see all cases the same. I look at them all just as seriously.”
Police said Scheumeister’s brother, Rory Scheumeister, said the case was closed.
Rory Scheumeister said he was pleasantly surprised when he heard the news. Having worked as a police officer for 25 years, he knows that unsolved cases are rarely solved.
“For 25 years I thought it was unsolvable,” he said.
Scheumeister remembered his brother as a “free spirit” who traveled the country, hitchhiked and joined the Navy.
“He didn’t deserve to be murdered like that,” said Rory Scheumeister.
The St. Petersburg Police Department’s Cold Case Unit was established in 2015. Chief Anthony Holloway assigned the force to deal exclusively with old homicides and missing persons cases. At that time there were 212 cases of the common cold from 1962. Pavelski said there are currently 218 open cases of the common cold.