Man charged with killing wife in Bradenton was a 'good cop'

ejohnson@bradenton.comOctober 3, 2012 

MANATEE -- A 68-year-old Manatee man charged with shooting his wife to death at their Bradenton home Monday formerly worked as a public servant.

Thomas Fleming began working at the Bradenton Police Department in September 1967 and retired in May 1985, according to the Human Resources Department.

Now, Fleming is behind bars, held without bond at the Manatee County jail, in connection with the death of his 67-year-old wife, Claire.

Bradenton Councilman Gene Gallo, who formerly worked at the Bradenton Fire Department, remembers serving with Thomas Fleming on several committees and boards.

"He was a good cop, a very serious man on the job," Gallo said. "I'm just totally shocked. I never would have dreamed anything would happen like this."

Fleming was charged with murder after deputies responded about 7 p.m. Monday to the Flemings home in the 2300 block of 45th Court West.

Deputies found Claire Fleming in the master bedroom with a gunshot wound to her head, a report states.

Outside, Fleming was sitting on the tailgate of his pickup truck when deputies responded to the domestic-related 911 call. He said deputies "should just kill him," a report states.

A neighbor reported the shooting after Fleming approached him and said, "I just shot my wife, I just shot Claire," a report states.

The motive for the shooting is unclear, deputies said. Dave Bristow, sheriff's office spokesman, said there was no sign of a struggle and investigators are unaware of any medical issues that may have played a part in the incident.

Records dating back five

years show no dispatched calls to the Flemings' address indicated previous domestic problems, Bristow said.

Gallo said Fleming contacted him several years ago with concerns about his health insurance and pension. Court documents show a lawsuit dating back to 1985 between Fleming and the Bradenton Police Department regarding those issues.

"I considered him a nice guy, respectable," Gallo recalled. "When he did leave, he was a very stressed person because of the job."

Gallo is not the only person surprised by the murder charge against the former police officer.

Jeff Hottman, who served on the force with Fleming, said he was shocked by the news. Hottman said he ran into another former cop after the incident who agreed Fleming's actions were unexpected.

"This is out of character for the Tom Fleming I knew," Hottman said. "I just feel so sorry for the family."

Hottman's wife recalled being pregnant at the same time as Claire, but said the families lost touch when Fleming retired. Hottman said the Fleming's had a son and daughter.

Thomas and Claire Fleming were parishioners at St. Joseph Catholic Church in Bradenton, a church employee confirmed Tuesday. The Flemings' children attended school there, too.

The shooting occurred on the same night that 60 people held a candlelight vigil in honor of former Bradenton resident Russell Byrd, who, allegedly, was also a domestic violence victim. Police say Byrd's wife, Sharon, stabbed him multiple times in the chest on Sept. 25 in St. Petersburg. She is charged with second-degree murder.

Claire Fleming is the 18th homicide victim in Manatee County in 2012. Two additional slayings were later ruled to be the result of self-defense.

Elizabeth Johnson, Herald crime reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. Follow her on Twitter @EJohnsonBHcrime.

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