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‘I Still Reach Out And She’s Not There’: Housekeeper Found Slain In Motel Room Where She Was Working

Tina Strader was discovered by her husband unconscious and gagged in a motel room she'd been cleaning. Stephen Havrilka, who had been staying at the Rodeway Inn in question, has been arrested in her death.

By Dorian Geiger
Housekeeper Found Murdered In Motel Room Where She Worked

A Florida housekeeper was brutally murdered while cleaning rooms at the motel she worked at last week, authorities said.

Tina Strader, 46, was beaten and suffocated, allegedly by Stephen Havrilka, at the Rodeway Inn in Venice on April 20.

Strader was found unconscious near a bloody mattress around 10:30 a.m. in room 205 with a towel stuffed in her mouth, according to a probable cause statement obtained by Oxygen.com. She’d suffered bruising to her head and face, and showed signs of defensive wounds on her hands. 

The Florida grandmother was rushed to hospital where she died.

“She was doing her job,” Sarasota County Sheriff Kurt Hoffman told reporters on Wednesday. “She was certainly terrorized, battered, and now is deceased.”

Havrilka was later arrested at a nearby bank roughly two miles south of the hotel. He was partially nude, “speaking gibberish,” and was “praying” on his knees when authorities located him, according to the probable cause statement. It took five deputies to restrain Havrilka. Authorities suspect he was using drugs or alcohol. 

Gerald Tina Strader

“He was literally speaking in tongues,” Hoffman said. “He was clearly under the influence of narcotics or some type of stimulant.”

Havrilka was arrested and transported to a hospital for evaluation. A K-9 unit later recovered his watch and T-shirt from a wooded area.

The 30-year-old suspect checked into the Rodeway Inn approximately a week earlier, investigators said. He’d been staying in room 209 — doors down from where the Strader’s body was found last Tuesday.

Surveillance footage captured Havrilka entering and exiting the room Strader was cleaning. 

Havrilka was uncooperative and “combative” when questioned by police. He was charged with second-degree murder. 

“There is no other way to describe Mr. Havrilka — he is an animal,” Hoffman stated.

No motive in the suspected slaying had been released.

Stephen Havrilka Pd

“Right now nothing makes sense to me,” Gerald Strader, Tina Strader's husband, told Oxygen.com. “It’s still surreal.”

Gerald Strader, who is disabled and uses a wheelchair, lives at the Rodeway Inn in a corner suite he shared with his spouse on the same floor she was killed. He was the first person to find her after the suspected attack. He discovered his wife, collapsed motionless on the hotel room's floor.

“I let myself in and I see her feet from behind one of the beds and a little bit of blood,” he said. “I thought she lost her balance. When I found her she looked very peaceful. She was flat on her back. As soon as I touched her, I knew she was gone. He stuffed that towel completely down her throat.”

He described his wife's suspected killer as a "monster."

A preliminary autopsy hasn’t yet been released, according to the Sarasota County Medical Examiner’s Office.

“She was an angel on earth and now she’s an angel in heaven,” Michael Rusden, 56, the Rodeway Inn's front desk manager, told Oxygen.com. “It’s an incredible loss to the whole family, the whole area. There’s been such an outpouring of support. Nothing like that happens in Venice. ... It’s an unforgivable act."

Tina Strader was born in Longview, Texas. She had four children and two grandchildren from a previous relationship. She was hired as a housekeeper at the Rodeway Inn in early January 2020. The 46-year-old previously worked in home health care, her husband said.

Gerald Strader described his wife as an “amazing,” “bubbly,” but “fiery” woman who had a soft spot for animals. 

“We were truly best friends,” Gerald Strader said. “We spent all our time together and we could talk about everything. She loved making me laugh no matter how little it was or how big it was. That was just her.” 

The couple met at a poultry processing plant in Wilkesboro, North Carolina roughly seven years ago. Gerald Strader said he first spotted his wife wearing snow pants and a sweater on the facility’s frosty production line. 

“She just caught my eye,” he explained. “She was very quiet, reserved, and just beautiful.” 

They married four months after their first date, he said. In 2019, the Straders moved to Florida. However, roughly a year later, in May 2020, Gerald Stroder lost the use of his legs, paralyzed by an aggressive autoimmune disease. The former firefighter and UPS driver suffered through seizures, blood transfusions, several surgical procedures, and spent more than 90 days in the hospital in the past year. He’s now confined to a wheelchair. Last month, his elderly mother died while he was hospitalized. Through it all, he said, Tina never left his side.

“She was right there ... every time,” Gerald Strader said.

Each morning, Tina Strader helped her husband out of bed and wheeled him to the shower. She prepared his medications and retrieved his breakfast — typically coffee and croissants from 7-Eleven — before going to work.

“She literally did everything for me for so long,” Gerald Strader described. “I would lay in bed some nights screaming in pain. It frustrated the hell out of her that she couldn't fix it or take the pain away. ... I still reach out and she’s not there. It hasn’t hit me yet.”

A GoFundMe has raised more than $42,000 to help cover Tina Strader’s funeral costs, as well as her husband’s living expenses. Their family is currently organizing a life celebration for the 46-year-old.

Havrilka was booked into a Sarasota County detention center on April 20, according to online jail records. He’s being held without bond. His arraignment is scheduled for May 28.

Havrilka’s public defender, Larry L. Eger, declined to comment on the case when contacted by Oxygen.com Monday.

Authorities noted that Havrilka has several tattoos suggesting white supremacist or neo-Nazi affiliations. The 30-year-old has been arrested dozens of times — and has racked up 19 felony convictions, dating back to 2009 — on domestic violence, battery burglary, trespassing, drug-related and other charges. He has served time in prison on four separate occasions.

In 2011, Havrilka choked his girlfriend and threatened to kill her at a Venice apartment, according to a separate arrest affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com. He was convicted of domestic battery by strangulation, additional court documents show. Havrilka was subsequently sentenced to 15 months in prison.

If convicted in Tina Strader’s murder, Havrilka faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.

“It’s too early in the process to even think about him and that part of it,” Gerald Strader added, holding back tears. “My mind is just on her.”

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