TERRA CEIA — Many of the residents in this normally quiet community just north of Palmetto hope the charging of Delmer Smith in the murder of one of their neighbors brings relief to her family.
Kathleen Briles was found murdered in her home on Bayshore Drive in August.
Items taken from the crime scene were found in a storage unit tied to Smith, Manatee County Sheriff Brad Stuebe said.
Ben Tillett, owner of The Citrus Place, on U.S. 19, just north of Briles’ home, said he was happy the authorities have a suspect for the family’s sake.
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“She was a very nice lady,” said Tillett, who was born on Terra Ceia Island. “I knew her well. She worked with us for one season.”
DJ Borbidge said she hoped the arrest of Smith will bring closure to the Briles family and the community.
“I feel happy for the Brileses,” Borbidge said. “It had to have worked on the family for not knowing for sure.”
Several residents said the filing of charges also brought relief to the area.
Wilburn Newsome, who has lived in Terra Ceia for five years, said he was worried for his family’s safety.
“I put in an alarm system (after the murder),” said Newsome, who just retired from the Bradenton Fire Department after 27 years of service. “As a fireman I would be away at night sometimes.”
He said the community was upset and started locking their doors, even if they were in their yards.
“You just don’t know,” Newsome said.
Frank Alfonso, who has lived in Terra Ceia for about six years, also said the community was concerned it could happen again.
“In this community, everyone know everyone,” Alfonso said, “and people would leave their doors unlocked.”
That all stopped after the murder, he said.
Just as sheriff’s office investigators considered Smith a suspect since his arrest in several home invasion crimes in Sarasota County, some Terra Ceia residents also had suspicions about him.
“Always had a feeling it was this guy,” said Scott Barrett, who has lived on the island since 2001.
What Barrett was reading in the newspaper about Smith fit the description of what he heard about the crime.
“He seemed too vicious, too wreckless,” he said.
Newsome was not as sure, but he always thought the sheriff’s office would make an arrest, because weeks after the murder, investigators wound up here combing in the woods looking for evidence.
“I read the articles about him, but I really didn’t know,” he said “but I thought they had a suspect in mind.”
Alfonso, a retired court administrator, said he was confident there would be an arrest in the case.
“Generally when (law enforcement) zero in on a suspect, they are generally correct,” he said.
He was confident there would be an arrest sooner or later.
Barrett also was sure there would be an arrest, because he said he called and spoke to someone at the sheriff’s office and they assured him they were working on the case.
Also, when Smith was arrested in Sarasota, all of the home invasions stopped, he said.
Along with the Sarasota home invasions, there was a rash of similar crimes in Northwest Bradenton that occurred over last summer.
Although there is not enough evidence to link Smith to four of the home invasions, investigators with the sheriff’s office and Bradenton Police Department consider him a suspect because of the similarities to the Sarasota County crimes.
“Our entire community was shocked when these home invasions started to occur,” said Bradenton City Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey, “but it brought a lot of neighborhoods together.”
Barnebey said many of the Crime Watch organizations that were started after those crimes are still active.
“As a mom and community leader,” she said, “I think it’s very important to stay alert and to keep an eye out for our neighbors.”