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Florida Man Accused Of Killing, Dismembering Pennsylvania Woman Refused Bail As Judge Cites 'Total Depravity' Of Crime

The judge said it was "evident" that "there is a risk of harm to community" if Robert Kessler were granted bail after being charged with the murder of Stephanie Crone-Overholts.

By Megan Carpentier
Police Identify Dismembered Leg As Remains Of Florida Mom

A Florida senior citizen accused of a horrific murder will have to remain behind bars until trial, a judge ruled this week.

Robert Kessler, 69, is accused of murdering Stephanie Crone-Overholts, 47, and disposing of her dismembered remains in McKay Bay, on the south side of Tampa. In a Wednesday hearing to determine whether Kessler should be released on bail pending trial, Hillsborough County Judge Catherine Catlin ruled that the details of the alleged crime are so horrific that the accused should remain in jail until his trial, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times.

"The total depravity that is evident in this crime leads me to believe there is a risk of harm to community" if Kessler is freed, Catlin said.

The charges against Kessler in Crone-Overholts' death were unveiled by the Tampa Police just before Thanksgiving, but more details in the case have emerged since the charging documents became public.

After police recovered body parts from McKay Bay on Nov. 11 and 12, and eventually determined to be the remains of Crone-Overholts, two different sets of witnesses came forward to tell police that they'd seen a man dumping things into the water on Nov. 7 and 8, according to the Times.

Robert Kessler Pd

Two people said they had been fishing around 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 near the 22nd Street Bridge, when they heard splashing noises. They then witnessed a man dump a bag into the water and drive off; police confirmed the presence of Kessler and his car via surveillance video.

Another witness was fishing in a watercraft in the same area on Nov. 9 when he witnessed a man throwing plastic bins in the water. That witness paddled over to the bins to see what was inside, but was deterred from opening them by the smell. Police said cell photo data placed Kessler there at the time.

Police recovered those bins and found more of Crone-Overholts' remains inside.

In Wednesday's bail hearing, authorities told the judge that they have yet to recover the victim's head or one of her arms, the Times reported.

In the previously-reported interview police conducted with Kessler on Nov. 14, the suspect told them that he hadn't seen Crone-Overholts since he got home from work on Nov. 5 and wasn't sure when he'd last seen her. But police determined that both people's cell phones were using the nearby cell tower on the evening of Nov. 5, which was when the last call from Crone-Overholts' cell was placed.

But on Nov. 15, police interviewed Kessler's 8-year-old daughter who also lived at the home, according to the Times — and she told a very different story.

The child told police that Crone-Overholts had lived in the family's home for about a week, and Kessler gave the woman his daughter's bedroom. On Nov. 5, the daughter was at gymnastics practice when their guest called her father several times asking for money, and the two adults were arguing when she and her father got home, according to police.

Her father told her to go to sleep, and then next morning told her that Crone-Overholts had been picked up by her boyfriend and was gone. The child, however, noted that Crone-Overholts' car was still in the driveway, and witnessed her father putting some of their former guest's possessions in the car and throwing away others, police said.

The girl said her room smelled bad after Crone-Overholts left, but her father promised to redecorate it.

On Nov. 7, she added, her dad drove off in Crone-Overholts' car, telling her he was going to return it to the woman. Surveillance video showed a man resembling Kessler driving the car into a parking lot on the 2200 block of East Bears Avenue in his hometown of Lutz — there are shopping plazas on both sides of the street — removing a white bag from it and leaving, according to authorities.

A search warrant served on Kessler at his home on Nov. 20 allegedly turned up traces of Crone-Overholts' blood throughout the house and in Kessler's daughter's room. At Wednesday's bail hearing, the Times reported, prosecutors told the judge that DNA belonging to an unknown woman was also found in the carpet of the daughter's bedroom.

On Nov. 23 — the day before he was charged with the murder — Kessler reportedly told police that he'd recently replaced his daughter's carpet.

Kessler's daughter is currently in the custody of the Department of Children and Families since her father's arrest, according to the Times, though her maternal family members are seeking custody. The girl's mother, April Thompson, 34, died of an accidental drug overdose in September, though her family indicated to the paper that she'd lost primary custody of her daughter before then.

The child was briefly placed with her grandparents several years ago after a domestic dispute between Thompson and Kessler, who was described by Thompson's relatives as "erratic." Court records indicate that Kessler had filed stalking charges against Thompson, and Thompson's family had filed similar charges against him — apparently during the time in which Thompson's parents were awarded temporary custody.

Thompson's sister and brother-in-law, Sarah and Michael Gray, said their niece didn't seem afraid of Kessler but, after the harassment, threats and name-calling, they were.

According to Michael Gray, Kessler even told Sarah Gray that he would "cut her up like a hog," the Times reported.

The Department of Children and Families refused to comment on the status of the girl or her relatives' request for custody. The Grays told the paper that it took from the announcement of Kessler's charges on Wednesday until Monday to received word from the department that they had custody of the girl at all.

Tampa Police said at the time they announced the murder charges against Kessler that he had already been taken into custody on drug charges. Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office records indicate that he was taken into custody around 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 23 on a felony charge of possession of cocaine with intent to sell or distribute.