MANATEE — The last memory Brenda Steely has of her sister is sweet but also bitter.
Sweet because Kathleen Briles left her sister’s home in Cincinnati as happy as Steely had ever seen her.
Bitter because seeing her sister off to the airport turned out to be their final moments together.
Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies are still investigating who beat Briles to death Aug. 3 and left her bound in her living room, to be found by her husband, well-known Palmetto Dr. James Briles.
For Steely, the memory of their final visit is still as fresh as the horrible news that she had lost her sister.
“It is so painful to know now that was the last time I will ever see her,” Steely said.
Briles had gone to Cincinnati in July to celebrate the 80th birthday of their mother, who lives with Steely.
The family held a huge party at a local park, where the food was abundant. There were siblings, cousins, grandchildren, aunts and uncles all around, and Briles was shining, Steely said.
“She was doing so great, so happy, so beautiful,” said Steely.
The party was a huge success for the large family of nine sisters and two brothers.
“We are a tight-knit group, and Kathy was such a bright spot,” she said. “We are all just devastated.”
The morning after the party, Steely had coffee and breakfast with her sister, before Briles hopped in a rental car to head to the airport.
She had an early flight, so they hugged in the driveway and off Briles went.
Steely said she felt warm after her sister’s visit, a trip Briles often made to see their mother. But the unimaginable news of her death that would come still has the family stunned and in pain, she said.
“We just can’t imagine who could have done this to her,” she said. “No one should die they way she died. The loss of our sweet, beautiful, loving, funny, compassionate, full-of-life Kathleen is more than some of us can talk about.”
After Dr. Briles found his wife, sheriff’s crime scene investigators spent almost two days combing the Briles home off Bayshore Drive on Terra Ceia Island for evidence.
A mountain of fingerprint and DNA evidence was found, and the hope is results of laboratory testing of that evidence may come back by week’s end, sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow said.
Then it will be run through state and national databases in hopes of a match.
Sheriff Brad Steube has said several items were missing from the Briles’ home after the killing. Detectives continue to search for them.
A motive for the killing is still unclear as sheriff’s officials have steered clear of classifying it as a robbery or home invasion.
“We are still doing a lot of work and a big part of that is looking at the results that come back on the evidence,” Bristow said.