Police: No suspects in "brutal" St. Pete murders, but not random - FOX 13 News

Police: No suspects in "brutal" St. Pete murders, but not random

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Photos courtesy SPPD. Photos courtesy SPPD.

St. Petersburg's small community of vocal community activists is stunned by the murder of one of their own, described by police as "brutal."

Paula Witthaus frequently spoke at public forums, such as a city budget hearing last May.

"I am a tireless advocate for health care for all," Witthaus told that gathering, then suggested the city develop a community fresh food bank. She introduced herself as "...a proud new homeowner in District 8...," referring to what would become a gruesome crime scene.

Tuesday afternoon, a handyman discovered Witthaus' body and that of 67-year-old James Rapp, a roommate in poor health police say she cared for.

St. Petersburg Police spokesman Michael Puetz confirmed at least two dogs were also in the house, the only witnesses to causes of death yet to be disclosed.

"This particular crime scene...went over the top," Puetz said. "In other words, it wasn't just a single act of violence, it was probably multiple acts of violence that took place to these people."

That level of violence, combined with no evidence of forcible entry, suggests the murders were not random, and possibly not impersonal.

"It could indicate an emotional issue, it could indicate a mental health issue, it certainly could indicate an anger issue," Puetz offered.

Lacking solid clues, investigators are starting to reconstruct the victims' lives.

"We have to start looking at their inner circle and then work our way out," Puetz explained. "Who knew about them, who would be inclined to come visit them, who knew about their house, who knew about their activities, was there a dispute of some sort that they were having with somebody, was there some motivation for robbery from these folks?"

Detectives also want to speak to anyone who may have seen the victims in the days before their demise.

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