Clearwater man charged with killing, burying girlfriend in yard - WFLA News Channel 8

Clearwater man charged with killing, burying girlfriend in yard

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By Stephen Thompson

Troubles with William Routenberg and girls started when he was barely a teenager.

At 14, was accused of raping an 11-year-old girl in the hallway of the now-closed Riviera Middle School in St. Petersburg, between sixth and seventh period. She was the last of nine girls prosecutors said Routenberg had raped, molested or inappropriately touched by then.

On Friday – after a failed shot at rehabilitation at the now-closed Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna – Routenberg, now 35, was charged again in connection with a crime involving a female.

This time, the woman is dead.

Routenberg was charged with first-degree murder after authorities say they dug up his backyard Thursday, and found the body of his girlfriend, Shanessa Lynn Chappie, 24. Six to eight weeks ago, the two got into an argument over drugs in the bedroom they shared, and Routenberg stabbed her in the neck, an arrest affidavit says.

He put her in a garbage can and carted her around Pinellas County, unsuccessfully looking for a trash bin to dump her body in, then brought her back to his house at 6217 148th Ave. N. and buried her, according to the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office.

In an odd twist of events, she apparently lay there while the sheriff's narcotics detectives had been eyeing Rothenberg as a suspected drug dealer for days, even sending a confidential informant into the house to buy cocaine and Oxycodone from him, according to court records.

They and their colleagues in the homicide division were unaware of Chappie's possible fate until late Wednesday, when homicide detectives were told a slaying involving a woman might have occurred on the property about a month ago, said sheriff's Sgt. Tom Nestor.

The homicide detectives and the narcotics detectives executed two separate search warrants Thursday – one to search for Chappie, the other to gather evidence involving Rothenberg's drug dealing, Nestor said.

Rothenberg was arrested Thursday in connection with the drugs – possession of cocaine, possession of drug paraphernalia, and possession of Oxycontin. In the home were 1.1 grams of Oxycontin, and a scale with traces of powder cocaine on it, according to investigators.

When the Pinellas-Pasco Medical Examiner's Office on Friday confirmed the body was Chappie, a murder charge was added, Nestor said.

Ann Harper, a longtime neighbor, said Routenberg's home has been a problem in the neighborhood for a long time, with frequent visitors and loud arguing. She said she's heard gunshots and her mother found a syringe in the yard.

"We knew it was drugs,'' Harper said. "It was obvious. People stay there two or three minutes. See ya, bye.''

At the time Routenberg was charged with raping the 11-year-old girl in the school hallway, in 1990, he already had two other cases pending against him involving young girls, court records show.

Circuit Judge Claire Luten sentenced Routenberg to six years in prison, but she OK'd the transfer of Routenberg from the Department of Corrections to the Arthur G. Dozier School School for Boys, court records show.

One of the girl's parents commended her, saying in a letter that, with intensive counseling, he might have a chance of turning his life around. "We feel this is the only chance he has to overcome his many problems and perhaps lead a non-violent life," wrote the parents.

But Routenberg didn't thrive at the Dozier school, court records show. He was accused of inappropriately touching his mother, grandmother, and a female staff member.

"It seems unlikely that anything about his arrest and incarceration could result in deterring him from future offenses should he be released at the present time," wrote school psychologist Kirk Heilbrun.

Routenberg was released from the school in December of 1993, but was later charged and convicted with engaging in lewd and lascivious conduct with a boy at the school earlier that year.

A hearing was held the following year to determine his sentence.

"If he gets out on the street, it's not a matter of who's going to be the next victim, it's just going to be when and where," Assistant State Attorney Bill Loughery told Judge Luten. "This is one of the scariest individuals that we've had in this county."

Four days later, on June 19, 1995, Luten announced her decision. "You scare me to death," she told Routenberg in court. "I have been frightened of you since the first day you appeared in my courtroom."

She sentenced him to life. But the Second District Court of Appeal overturned the sentence, saying it was too harsh. Routenberg was eventually sentenced to the maximum 17 years allowed under sentencing guidelines, with a probation period of 23 years to follow.

He was released in 2002, according to the Department of Corrections. He was charged with violating his probation in 2005 for marijuana use. As a result, the terms were changed so he could serve his probation as a drug offender.

He was arrested again in 2009, accused of assaulting his pregnant girlfriend while trying to take away her cell phone.

By virtue of the new criminal charge, he was accused of violating his probation. The next month, that charge – along with a charge of aggravated battery on a pregnant female – was dropped. It was determined Routenberg was not a danger to the community.

That pregnant girlfriend -- Sara Brancho, then 21 – was not the same one dug up Thursday.

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