Over 25 years after his death, detectives with the St. Petersburg Police Department can definitively say who killed Michael Scheumeister thanks to breakthroughs in DNA testing.
Scheumeister’s body was found in the early morning hours of Aug. 14, 1997, near the Mirror Lake Library at 280 5th St. N. He was lying outside on his back, with his pockets turned inside out. The medical examiner determined that blunt force trauma to the head and neck caused his death at 45 years old.
Despite Patricia Morris emerging as a key person of interest at the time, detectives lacked evidence tying her, or anyone else, to the homicide. That changed earlier this month, as advancements in DNA testing irrefutably connected Morris to Scheumeister’s slaying.
An SPPD news release Friday stated that in light of the new DNA evidence and based on prior investigations, the department now considers the 2 ½ decades-old homicide closed. While the assigned detective told the Catalyst his unit never quits attempting to solve over 200 open cold cases, the victim’s brother expressed shock that officers were still looking for leads.
“Not to be ironic, but I thought it was a dead issue,” said Rory Scheumeister. “I said, ‘you got to be kidding me – how the hell did you solve it?’ And then he explained her DNA was in his pockets.”
According to the police report, Investigators learned that Michael Scheumeister was out drinking with Morris, then 47, the night before his murder. She admitted as much but told detectives the two shared a taxi ride home and went their separate ways.
Wally Pavelski, an SPPD cold case unit detective assigned to the case, said Scheumeister bought drinks for Morris throughout the night, and officers believed he was “significantly intoxicated.”
Investigators suspected robbery was the motive, as Scheumeister cashed his paycheck earlier that day, and his money and wallet were missing. In May 2016, nearly 20 years later, officers ran a criminal history report on Morris that uncovered a history of prostitution, battery on law enforcement and narcotics charges.
The report also showed Morris died Sept. 19, 2010, in Hillsborough County. She was 59.
Pavelski said a lack of visible evidence, such as bodily fluids, caused the case to go cold. However, the recent ability to process “touch DNA” led investigators to take a second look at Scheumeister’s pants in March.
The Pinellas County Forensics Lab notified detectives Nov. 2 that DNA found inside the front and rear pockets belonged to Morris.
“If you touch something, you leave your skin cells on it,” explained Pavelski. “It’s a lot more sensitive than the older techniques.”
He elaborated that new technology allows the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) to assign contributor percentages. For example, it could ascertain that 80% of DNA in a pocket belongs to the owner, while 20% belongs to someone else.
Pavelski said police officials never dispose of cold case evidence, and he routinely rechecks items – some date to the 1960s – as new technologies emerge.
“I like to give the families closure,” he added. “Even if the suspect is deceased, they’ll at least get an answer to what happened.”
Rory Scheumeister, a retired police officer from New Jersey that now lives outside Orlando, is grateful for a conclusion to a crime he thought was unsolvable. He believed a group of people jumped out of a vehicle and hit his brother Michael, who he described as “pretty strong,” from behind before robbing him and fleeing the scene.
Rory said that he was unaware investigators focused on a lone female suspect for the last 25 years. He added that he was overwhelmed and ecstatic upon receiving the news, and his sister, Linda, “broke down completely.”
Despite his happiness over a resolution to his brother’s murder, Rory does not mince words when relaying his disappointment that Morris is also dead.
“I wish she was alive, and she was 72 years old,” he said. “And she has grandkids and a daughter and has to spend the rest of her life in jail. I’m not going to sugarcoat it – that would be a dream come true. The easy way out is being dead.”
Most of all, he wants people to know his brother Michael was a good guy who lived a rough life. Their father died when the boys were teens. Their mother died when Rory was 26 and Michael was 32.
Rory called Michael a free spirit who once hitchhiked across the country. He was also a Navy veteran and left behind estranged children. If Michael was alive today, Rory said he would tell him to be proud of his life.
“Your past doesn’t define you,” he added. “You were a caring brother when the time came to be one.”