Stephanie Crone-Overholts murder: What led detectives to suspect Robert Kessler?

Hillsborough County

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — The Tampa Bay man accused in the gruesome murder and dismemberment of a Pennsylvania woman should not be released before standing trial, the state attorney’s office argued in a petition sent to a judge this week.

State Attorney Andrew Warren sent a motion to the Circuit Court of the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit on Monday, asking the court to order pretrial detention for Robert Kessler. Kessler is charged with murder in the second degree and abuse of a dead human body after police say he killed Stephanie Crone-Overholts, whose body parts were found in McKay Bay in mid-November.

“[Kessler] has committed a dangerous crime, and the facts and circumstances indicate a disregard for the safety of the community, and there are no conditions of release that will adequately protect the community,” Warren wrote in the motion.

The motion filed Monday included information from a criminal report affidavit outlining what led detectives to arrest Kessler. Here’s some of the evidence that was unveiled in the affidavit:

What witnesses saw

According to the affidavit, filled out by a Tampa police detective, two witnesses claimed to have heard “several loud splashes” while fishing in McKay Bay on Sunday, Nov. 7. When they looked up, the witnesses said they saw an older white man with white hair holding a black garbage bag over the side of the bridge. When the man saw the fishermen, he dropped the bag into the water, the affidavit said.

A third witness then came forward and said he was fishing at McKay Bay on Tuesday, Nov. 9 when he saw an older white man with white hair standing on the 22nd Street Bridge near a dark Dodge minivan. According to police, the witness said he saw the man throw bins and trash bags over the bridge and into the water. The witness claimed he paddled over to one of the bins that was floating and wanted to investigate, but told police “the bins had a very foul odor and he didn’t open it up.”

Police in the affidavit wrote that a blue bin similar to the one spotted by the witness was later recovered during a search of the water.

Body parts found in McKay Bay

Tampa police were called to McKay Bay on Thursday, Nov. 11 when a witness reported finding what appeared to be a human leg floating in the water near the 22nd Street Bridge. When officers got to the scene, they found and recovered the leg.

According to the affidavit, the leg found on Nov. 11 was a right leg severed a few inches above the knee with a “distinct tattoo” – three hearts with ribbons running across them with the names Sean, Greg and Zach.

Police said they got another call on Friday, Nov. 12 about another body part found floating in the water near McKay Bay. Responding officers said a witness led them to the body part – a left leg that was severed at about the same length as the right leg found the day before.

While police waited for the dive unit, officers said another body part, which appeared to be a woman’s lower torso, was found floating in the area. A few hours later, police said internal organs were also recovered from McKay Bay.

Several days later, detectives said a Pasco County Sheriff’s Office cadaver dog helped lead them to an area where they found a woman’s upper torso and an arm.

Detectives later identified that the body parts belonged to Stephanie Crone-Overholts, a woman who was reported missing from Pennsylvania and had a last-known address in Lutz, Florida.

Conversation with Kessler

According to the affidavit, detectives went to the Crone-Overholts’ last-known address in Lutz on Sunday, Nov. 14 to speak with the homeowner, identified as Robert Kessler. The affidavit said Kessler drove a dark blue Dodge minivan and had a “similar physical appearance” to the man witnesses described seeing throwing items into McKay Bay.

During the interview, police said Kessler admitted Crone-Overholts lived with him for several weeks after the two met at a McDonalds nearby. Kessler said she was in need of a place to live and he invited her to stay at his house in Lutz. Kessler told detectives Crone-Overholts was living at his house and staying in his daughter’s bedroom.

Detectives said Kessler told them he did not know Crone-Overholts’ location, could not remember the last time he saw her and could not remember where he had been in the last week.

According to the affidavit, Kessler told police Crone-Overholts and her car were gone when he came home on Friday, Nov. 5. He also said the woman left all of her belongings in the house and that he threw them all away in the trash, according to police.

What Kessler’s daughter said

Detectives said they spoke with Kessler’s 8-year-old daughter while she was at school on Nov. 15. According to the affidavit, she told detectives Crone-Overholts had been staying with her and her father for about a week.

During that interview, detectives said the girl told them Crone-Overholts kept calling her father while they were at gymnastics on Nov. 5 and that she remembered seeing Crone-Overholts that night when they got home.

The daughter told detectives that, when they got home, her father asked Crone-Overholts to leave after an argument. She said she overheard Crone-Overholts ask her father for $200, saying that she would leave if he paid her. The girl told police her father then told her to go to sleep, and that her father and Crone-Overholts then went outside.

“Detectives noted that the statement of seeing Stephanie on Friday night after gymnastics and her father arguing with Stephanie are in stark contrast to Robert Kessler’s statement,” police wrote in the affidavit.

According to the affidavit, Kessler told his daughter the next morning that Crone-Overholts was picked up by her boyfriend the previous night. The daughter told detectives she was unaware of Crone-Overholts having a boyfriend and said she saw the woman’s car still at the house that day.

Detectives said the 8-year-old also told them that “the room where Stephanie was staying smelled bad and that her dad was going to redecorate it.” According to the affidavit, the daughter said some items belonging to Crone-Overholts were left behind. She told detectives her father threw some of the items away and put others in the trunk of the woman’s car.

The daughter told detectives Kessler later claimed to take the vehicle to Crone-Overholts.

Search of vehicles

Detectives said the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office found Crone-Overholts’ vehicle in a plaza on East Bearss Avenue the morning of Nov. 16. According to the affidavit, police reviewed surveillance footage from a business across the street and saw the car was dropped off around 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 7.

Police said a man was seen on the footage getting out of the driver’s seat, opening the trunk and passenger side doors and the removing a white bag from the driver’s side door before walking away. The affidavit said the man in the video fit the “general physical characteristics of Robert Kessler” but noted that the video is “not of great quality.”

The car found at the plaza was later sealed, photographed by crime scene technicians and towed to the Tampa Police Department’s impound lot.

According to the affidavit, detectives saw what appeared to be a red substance on the rear passenger’s side door. Detectives brought in a cadaver dog from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office and said the dog “alerted” near that door, indicating that the dog smelled “the presence of blood or decomposition of remains.”

A court-authorized search of Crone-Overholts’ car was performed on Nov. 16 and, according to detectives, revealed the presence of suspected blood on the hood and both exterior sides of the car, as well as on the driver’s side floorboard and trunk inside.

Detectives later searched Kessler’s minivan and said they found suspected blood inside.

Phone records

According to the affidavit, detectives obtained phone records for Crone-Overholts and found several text messages exchanged between her and Kessler on Nov. 5. Detectives said the last call on Nov. 5 was made around 9:30 p.m. and was an incoming call from Kessler to Crone-Overholts. There were no other calls or texts from her phone after that time, police said.

Detectives also obtained a warrant for the stored communication data on the phones of both the suspect and victim. The affidavit said both phones were using the same cell tower near Kessler’s home the night of Nov. 5.

Search of suspect’s home

Detectives said they obtained a search warrant for Kessler’s home on Nov. 20 and that crime scene technicians found “numerous areas of visible blood” throughout the house.

According to the affidavit, the bedroom where Kessler said Crone-Overholts had been staying had new carpet laid down. Detectives said they removed the new layer of carpet to reveal a second and third layer of older carpet. Crime scene technicians found several large spots throughout the bedroom indicating the presence of a large amount of blood, the affidavit said.

Detectives also wrote in the affidavit that they found several areas of suspected blood splatter on the walls, as well as a small circle cut out of the top of the mattress in the bedroom that had a discoloration around the edges. Crime scene technicians applied a chemical to that area of the mattress that, according to the affidavit, showed a possible sign of blood. The affidavit said a “blood swipe” was also found on a kitchen cabinet in the home.

According to the affidavit, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement biology analyst determined the blood and DNA discovered on the mattress and the kitchen cabinet matched the DNA of Crone-Overholts.

What comes next?

Kessler refused to leave his jail cell for a routine court appearance on Monday, Nov. 29. The state attorney’s office has asked a court to order Kessler be held on pretrial detention, stating that he “poses a threat of harm to the community” because he’s charged with a “dangerous crime.”

Meanwhile, family members of Kessler’s daughter are fighting for custody of the 8-year-old girl, who is currently in the care of the Department of Children and Families.

Copyright 2022 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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