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Detectives continue hunt for ’03 killer

BRADENTON — It wasn’t the prison love letters scattered throughout the home that caught Bradenton Police detectives off guard.

It was what was in the bathroom.

Inside the tub, they discovered the bloody, beaten corpse of 42-year-old Denisha Victoria Principal Williams.

Someone severely beat her, then left her to die.

On Feb. 28, 2003, at about 9 p.m., Williams was brutally killed inside her Bradenton apartment in the 1900 block of Fifth Street West.

Williams was born Donald Curtis Pierson, but lived life as a woman and made a legal name change, said BPD Sgt. James Wilkenson, with the homicide unit.

Officers discovered her body in the tub submerged in water after a friend had difficulty contacting her.

The medical examiner ruled her death a homicide caused by blunt force trauma to the head and neck, Wilkenson said.

Before she was discovered, Edy Butler — Williams’ friend and neighbor — said Williams almost always answered her phone and wouldn’t leave her newspaper outside.

When Butler noticed her newspaper outside and couldn’t reach Williams by phone, she contacted police.

Police found Williams’ body with “blunt trauma” in several areas, detectives say.

Wilkenson said detectives believe they located the item used to bludgeon Williams to death.

They obtained DNA from it, and are using it as evidence in hopes of cracking the case.

So far, though, they haven’t had any hits.

At the time of her death, Williams lived in the Cedar Tree Condominiums. Today the area is called City Walk.

Often referred to as friendly and quiet, Williams kept to herself mostly, neighbors there said.

Occasionally, she would hang out at Club RJ’s, said Detective Mike Skoumal, who worked the homicide.

The evening before she was killed, Williams spent hours on the phone with a friend from Jacksonville named Stephanie Butler.

“They were watching a basketball game and talking about getting their hair done the next day, then going to Mardi Gras in Rubonia,” Skoumal said.

Skoumal said officers believe she was killed 24 hours before they found her body.

He said Williams had relationships with several prison inmates.

“There were letters of people from prison everywhere,” Skoumal said.

Likely, her killer is someone she knew well, he said.

That’s because there were no signs of forced entry in the home.

Neighbors told police that she was a safe resident — that she always locked her dead bolt when inside the apartment, Skoumal said.

“It had to be someone she knew and let in,” she said.

Witnesses told police that Williams lived with a boyfriend whom he had recently kicked out of her apartment. Butler said the boyfriend was angry and kept returning to the residence although Williams asked him to stay away.

But when his DNA didn’t match, detectives quickly ruled him out as a suspect.

In March 2007, officers thought they found their killer. Two Bradenton detectives traveled to New Jersey to check a man’s DNA.

But it didn’t match, either, said BPD Deputy Chief William Tokajer.

“We’re still hoping for a DNA hit,” Tokajer said.

Added Wilkensen, “Our hopes is that eventually we will get a DNA hit and match it to the evidence recovered at the scene.”