SARASOTA — Within weeks after he was released from federal prison late last year, Delmer Smith III began violently attacking Sarasota women in a string of home invasions, authorities say. The man police are calling a “monster” may also be responsible for several brutal home invasions this year in Manatee County.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube said his detectives will also look for any links between Smith and the Aug. 3 slaying of Kathleen Briles in her Terra Ceia home.
Smith, 38, a Michigan native who moved to Bradenton, is responsible for at least four attacks in Sarasota, Sheriff Tom Knight said Monday in announcing Smith’s arrest. Investigators also suspect Smith in similar crimes in Bradenton and unincorporated Manatee, starting with a Feb. 16 attack on a female jogger who was beaten at gunpoint.
A muti-agency task force has been investigating a string of 11 attacks in Sarasota and Manatee counties that all appeared similar.
Smith, a former federal inmate released in late 2008 on a bank robbery conviction in Michigan, first turned up on law enforcement’s radar in Venice, when the police department began investigating him after a bar fight. He became a suspect in a string of burglaries in the Venice area, and police found a federal warrant accusing him of violating his probation on the 1995 bank robbery conviction. He was arrested Sept. 11.
Venice police notified task force investigators of Smith after searching his home and finding laptop computers, which Sarasota detectives then identified as stolen from home invasion victims in Sarasota. Smith was jailed in Pinellas County on the probation violation, and a match was later made to DNA evidence found at the Sarasota home invasions.
“It took teamwork and great police work by all of the agencies involved to get this monster off the street,” said Venice Police Capt. Tom McNulty.
Smith, who moved to Bradenton after prison and married a woman here, is being held in Pinellas on four counts of armed home invasion, five counts of false imprisonment and two counts of sexual battery and aggravated battery. Authorities say he has also lived in Venice and Sarasota.
Sarasota sheriff’s detectives say the attacks there began Feb. 22, when two women reported a man wearing a black ski mask, gloves and black clothing entered their home in the 3500 block of Osage Terrace, and beat them both. The gunman sexually assaulted one of the women, then tied them up.
Detectives matched Smith’s DNA in September to evidence at the crime scene, and also found a cell phone stolen from the attack while searching Smith’s belongings, according to sheriff’s reports.
Smith has also been linked to a March 7 attack in Sarasota, in which a woman reported being attacked in her Bougainvillea Street backyard. At the time, she said a man hit her over the head with a bottle and beat her before forcing her into her home.
The man then bound and gagged her on her bed and robbed the home. A laptop from the home later turned up in Smith’s possession, and DNA from the scene also matched him, according to officials.
On March 14, authorities say Smith struck again, attacking a woman in her Carmilfra Way home. She told detectives a masked gunman came in her home, bound her hands and feet, and robbed her. A laptop from the robbery was later found in Smith’s possession, and DNA from the attack was a match, according to reports.
On May 26, Smith raped a woman after entering her home on Whispering Sands Drive on Siesta Key, authorities say. The woman said Smith also bound her arms and legs and robbed her home. Authorities matched DNA from the attack to Smith.
Knight said detectives did not initially get a hit on the DNA because federal authorities had not entered Smith’s DNA into a national database.
Smith is also under investigation for two homicides, including an April 5 attack in Sarasota that left 37-year-old Georgiana Smith dead.
In Manatee County, Delmer Smith is under investigation for connections to at least four attacks or home invasions.
Bradenton Police Deputy Chief William Tokajer said Smith is a prime suspect in the Feb. 16 attack on a woman who was beaten at gunpoint while jogging along 26th Street Northwest.
Tokajer said he is also a suspect in the April 20 beating of a couple in their 60s in their home, in the 200 block of 32nd Street Northwest. The man and wife were brutally beaten in the attack and had to be hospitalized.
“We see similarities so we are going to meet with the state attorney’s office to discuss what we have and proceed from there,” said Tokajer.
Manatee sheriff’s spokesman Dave Bristow said Smith may also be behind the March 13 pistol-whipping of an 84-year-old woman in her home in the 8200 block of 19th Avenue Northwest, as well as a home invasion in the 4000 block of 53rd Avenue East in which a 70-year-old woman was attacked.
On April 22, Manatee sheriff’s officials released a sketch of a man seen in the area of the March 13 attack, for which Bristow said Smith is the prime suspect.
“He is a suspect in all of these,” Bristow said. “This guy got around, so it is not unlikely that he had victims in both counties.”
Steube said Smith will also be investigated in the Aug. 3 slaying of Kathleen Briles, wife of Palmetto doctor James Briles.
There is nothing specific linking Smith to the Briles killing, Steube said. But she was bound and beaten to death, and her home was robbed, which is similar to what investigators say is Smith’s method of operating.
“We are not ruling him out,” said Steube.