ANNA MARIA ISLAND -- Bradenton's Jennifer Otto stares at pictures of wheelchair-bound David Viens on the Internet and the man she sees bears no resemblance to the happy, smiling, relaxed man she once knew from Anna Maria Island in the early 2000s.
"I look at his picture online and don't recognize him," Otto said Friday.
Otto is among scores of Anna Maria Island residents who knew or heard of Viens and have beentransfixed by what has become of the once adoredAnna Maria Island chef,who, with his wife, Dawn,
ran two Island eateries.
Most agree the now-defunct Beach City Market at 1701 Gulf Drive in Bradenton Beach and the Island Kitchen and Market at 414 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, have appreciated to legendary status over the last decade while Viens' life has tumbled.
On Thursday in Los Angeles, Viens was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Dawn Viens, who went missing in 2009 and has never been found.
Viens, who is in a wheelchair after trying to take his own life while police were investigating the case by jumping off a cliff, told police he boiled his wife's body for four days at his Thyme Contemporary Cafe in Lomita, Calif.
The Viens' case was being discussed Friday by patrons and staff at Costaville, a pizza and grinder specialty restaurant at 101 Bridge Street in Bradenton Beach.
"It's sick," said customer Scooter Tillison. "He's a sick man. It's never, ever good to boil your wife."
Costaville owner Alfonso T. Rossi, who knew Viens as one restaurant man to another, takes a more reasonable stance.
"He told police that it was an accident," Rossi said.
During the trial, testimony revealed that Viens taped his wife's mouth with duct tape then fell asleep. When he awoke, she was dead.
"Was he really trying to kill her?" Rossi said. "He woke up and said, 'What do I do now?'"
Viens staged an elaborate deception, using cell phone texts to try to convince Dawn Viens' friends and family that she had left David in 2009 and was seeking some space from him.
Over at the Bridge Street Bazaar, patrons cut Viens no slack. "He's got to be a nut job," said clerk Bev Cullinan. "It's too gruesome to fathom."
"Awful," said Bridge Street Bazaar night manager Michelle Lochrie. "He cooked his wife at his own restaurant. But he had other problems. He turned state's evidence not once, but twice. He sold drugs while living next to Anna Maria Island Elementary School. I'm surprised he is still alive."
In January 2005, David Viens was charged with possession of a large amount of marijuana within 1,000 feet of Anna Maria Elementary School, according to Herald archives.
He and his wife disappeared from Anna Maria Island shortly after that.
"I knew them both," Otto said. "Dawn was very bubbly and always friendly. She worked the front and he worked the back of the restaurant. He was the brains."
"The Beach City Market was fantastic," Otto added. "I ate there four times a week. It was very fresh, homemade and incredible. They were a wonderful addition to Bradenton Beach."
David Viens shook things up on the Island when he began to use mopeds to deliver food, Otto said.
"Smart guy," Otto said. "To my knowledge, no one was doing moped delivery and I don't think anyone is doing it now."
Carol Clifford, owner of Back Alley, a coffee, wine, beer and art emporium on Bridge Street, has been following the case.
"I am very sad," Clifford said. "It's horrific. We can't forget, Dawn was someone's sister, daughter and friend. I feel justice has been done."