A white van comes for the abandoned who die in Hillsborough County. It is bare and unremarkable, a address for those whose lives concluded with little of it.
The van carries anniversary anatomy to the Medical Examiner’s Office, a brick circuitous not far from the thrill-screams of tourists benumbed roller coasters at Busch Gardens. By law, the medical examiner investigates any afterlife that is violent, unexpected, apprehensive or unattended. The ones who die with annihilation or no one end up here.
Inside, the aroma is antibacterial with article added underneath. The anatomy is wheeled beyond apple-pie terrazzo floors. An dissection tech in dejected scrubs pecks at a laptop, bushing in blanks.
Homicide. Suicide. Fall, the final forms will say. Alcohol. Overdose. Hit and run.
(Photo 1 of 2)JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Gurneys sit abandoned in one of the three behemothic air-conditioned accommodation area bodies are stored.
(Photo 2 of 2)JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
A apparent white van is anchored in the barn of the Medical Examiner’s Appointment afterwards bottomward off the charcoal of a abandoned actuality that was begin asleep aftermost year.
The tech works methodically, bendable ’80s bedrock arena in the background. Anniversary anatomy is advised and a toe tag attached. He lifts asleep easily to be active for fingerprints that will say who they were.
The bodies are wheeled into a applicant acknowledgment to anticipate an dissection and afresh burying at aborigine amount — $345 for an adult, $120 for a child. If no one comes to affirmation them, there will be a abandoned burying at sea.
— allotment of an accepted citizenry of abandoned who beddy-bye in cars, batter artery corners, break in shelters, eat at soup kitchens and get arrested for accessory crimes over and over. It is a afterlife assessment that rarely makes headlines.
But who were they, the bodies whose eyes bent castigation for a few abnormal over a agenda assurance that said “homeless, hungry, amuse help?” Who had they already been? How did they abatement so far?
The Tampa Bay Times spent a year chronicling the lives of Hillsborough’s abandoned dead, archetype their paths astern to aback they were someone’s child, lived in a house, slept in a bed.
But alike added was appear through dozens of interviews and hundreds of records:
Consider the acceleration and abatement of Dr. James P. Oakes.
Oakes served in the U.S. Air Force, got his ysis amount from California Accompaniment University at San Bernardino and became a doctor of osteopathy in Tampa and Pinellas. Accompany say he was angrily bright, intense, alike berserk — big voice, big smile, big opinions. Tattooed on his abaft was a affection with a halo. He did not abridgement confidence.
The mugshots of James Oakes alpha in 2007 (far left) and end in 2016 (far right).
He formed out religiously and advised 200 pounds of “brick, not er,” said his above wife Sarah Gordon. Home was four-bedrooms, four-baths on the baptize in Apollo Beach.
He had addition side, accused of calm abandon by three of his four wives. Gordon said he had acclimated steroids but gave them up.
Around 2009, he absitively he didn’t appetite to be a doctor any more. He got absorbed on the b bazaar and spent up to 20 hours a day trading on his computer. He absent friends, weight, and finally, the ancestors fortune.
In 2011, Dr. Oakes approved to advertise three accoutrements of oxycodone — 10,000 pills — for $67,500 to an clandestine cop.
In jail, he fasted himself about cold and alleged his accessible apostle Satan. He pleaded guilty, was bedevilled to 51 months in federal bastille and ordered to get brainy bloom and biologic ysis aback he got out.
When he did, he was no best a doctor. He didn’t alike accept a car. While he was active at a accommodation affairs for the abandoned in 2015, he was answerable with hitting a nurse, begin amateur and beatific to a accompaniment hospital.
Back in bastille in 2017, he fell out of his applesauce and anon afterwards died from a claret clot. He was 55.
“That’s a continued fall,” said Jack Gordon, a bounded advocate who had been his friend. “A continued fall.”
WILL VRAGOVIC | Times
Richard Wiseman lives in his van and parks at assorted locations about Tampa. His accomplice of over 20 years, Robin Swoveland, died of blight Jan. 18. Afterwards she died, Richard was accepted to the hospital with medical issues of his own. He now receives dialysis three times a week.
Robin Swoveland and Richard Wiseman were active affidavit that a able admiration to appointment is no agreement you won’t abatement off the grid.
They met in alone Indiana area both got jobs with the railroad active to aces up engineers afterwards a run to Cleveland or Kokomo. He had served 23 years in bastille for coffer robbery. She was his U-turn.
She told him she’d been kicked about aback she was little and larboard abaft a annulment and two kids. She said he didn’t accept to be like he’d consistently been. “I assumption that’s maybe one of the greatest things Robin anytime did,” Wiseman told the Times. “Teaching me to be happy.”
In Las Vegas he opened a carpentry boutique and she formed as a aegis guard. She admired the uniform, the responsibility. They had an apartment, car, bills paid on time. Once, she fabricated abundant on the nickel slots to pay a month’s rent. “We were so blessed there,” he said.
(Photo 1 of 3)Courtesy of Richard Wiseman
Undated photo of Robin Swoveland who died abandoned in Tampa in 2017.
(Photo 2 of 3)Courtesy of Richard Wiseman
Undated advertisement photo of Robin Swoveland aback she formed at a nursing home in Nevada.
(Photo 3 of 3)Times file
Robin Swoveland panhandles on South Dale Mabry a Best Buy in Tampa on Oct. 5, 2010.
It all fell afar in 2007 aback they became statistics in the Great Recession that would annihilate about 9 actor jobs, including theirs.
With their aftermost $5,000, they bought a acclimated motor home and headed to Tampa, area Wiseman had formed at the Borden dairy as a teenager. Their little white dog, Ruff, rode on the acknowledgment that was their refrigerator.
They accustomed in a burghal so afflicted they got lost, the dairy continued gone. They chock-full in a parking lot abaft a Sweet Tomatoes to amount out what to do next. It was home for three years.
Some days, Swoveland stood by the alley alfresco a Best Buy captivation a assurance that listed her years as maid, landscaper, adolescent affliction worker. Advice me please. I allegation some gas money, acquisition a job. No beer or drugs. God Bless You, her assurance said.
She approved to avoid the animal things men said. On a acceptable day she could accomplish $85, abundant for a cabin and a hot shower.
‘Homeless can appear to anybody…’
Wiseman got appointment as a cabin aliment man and Swoveland begin a aegis bouncer job. With paychecks and a accumulated $270 in account abundance allowances for groceries, they confused into a $660 a ages adaptable home. At Goodwill, she bought a tiny Christmas timberline and a bells dress that fit her perfectly. They were accomplishing okay. Afresh she started to limp.
A dispensary beatific her to Moffitt Blight Center. While they were aggravating to amount out what was wrong, an boot apprehension went up on the trailer. Their accouterments were broadcast outside, and by the time they got to them, her bells dress was gone. Now their Ford Taurus was home, him sleeping in front, her in back. They anchored a a Wawa for bathrooms and beneath a sprawling oak by a Walmart for shade.
The aing doctor put her in the hospital. Cervical cancer, they said — generally preventable and treatable. But like abounding abandoned people, Swoveland had no allowance and not abundant acquaintance with doctors. Her case was advanced.
She had absent a borderline applying for Medicare. He asked if she could use his Medicare, but they said it didn’t appointment that way. He begin an allowance policy, $30 a month, but she had a above-mentioned condition, a appellation he grew to hate. Swoveland, 59, confused from hospital to hospital to a Salvation Army medical bed. He traded the car for a van with the aback seats removed so she could lie down.
After Christmas they explained auberge affliction to him, how it would be bigger if she died affably instead of actuality rushed to the aing hospital. She told him she admired him. She said she was scared. Aloof afore 10 a.m. on Jan. 18, she died beneath crisp, apple-pie bedding with a morphine dribble in her arm and the adulation of her activity captivation her hand.
Daniel McDonald, a abandoned communication administrator with the Tampa Police, doesn’t accept anyone wants to be out there. But some bodies get acclimated to it.
“I anticipate animation is one of our greatest assets,” he said. “And our greatest weaknesses.”
Richard Stubbs chose a activity afterwards walls. He was a appealing acceptable guy growing up, his sister Lisa Winkelpleck said, but he started accepting in trouble, break-in and application drugs. He was a accomplished artisan but didn’t do abundant with it. He alone out in 11th brand and got his GED.
Their ancestor was a bastille deputy. Aback his son got arrested, he knew it. “That bankrupt my dad’s heart,” she said.
Over the years, Stubbs did stints in accompaniment bastille for break-in and admirable theft. In contempo years, he mostly got arrested for aimless and trespassing, crimes of the homeless.
Winkelpleck and her bedmate gave him money but he didn’t appetite advice advancing in from the streets. At one point, she said, her brother was hit over the arch and agape unconscious. Afterwards that he wasn’t the same.
Courtesy of Cindy Davis
Richard Stubbs, who was a advance at the Trinity Cafe, died Feb. 3, 2017.
The mugshots of Richard Stubbs were amid 2002 and 2017, aloof weeks afore he died.
One day he showed up at Trinity Cafe, area anyone athirst is served a hot meal. He’d been a admired advance there for years, benumbed his bike afar from his affected a MacDill Air Force Base to tie on a white accessory and bus tables. Now bodies at Trinity saw he was shakier, weaker, not as clean, not as articulate. Now he didn’t action to appointment — aloof came for a meal like anyone else.
Just afterwards 1 a.m. on a Friday in February, a man called David Franklin and his wife were headed home on Gandy Boulevard afterwards watching the Tampa Bay Lightning lose and afresh a stop at the I Don’t Affliction Bar.
A amount in aphotic accouterment limped out into traffic. Franklin’s auto beatific the man flying. Broadcast about him were his bedraggled brawl cap, flashlight and larboard Nike sneaker.
A 21-year-old veterinary apprentice got out of a car to help. She acquainted the man’s aside pulse, agee his arch to bright claret from his mouth. She captivated his duke as paramedics accustomed and started alive on him. He awkward her duke afresh and afresh until the ambulance took him away.
Richard Stubbs, 57, was cutting this cap aback he was addled and asleep by a motorist a the circle of West Gandy Boulevard and South MacDill Avenue on Feb. 3, 2017. credit: Tampa Badge Department
Franklin was arrested and answerable with abomination DUI. Fingerprints taken at the medical examiner’s appointment articular the asleep man as Stubbs, who had been active beneath a Crosstown Expressway bypass nearby.
Nine months later, Franklin stood afore a canton adjudicator and pleaded no challenge to a bargain allegation of adventuresome driving. He got 12 months’ probation. There was no acknowledgment of Stubbs. The adjudicator was not told anyone died.
Franklin afterwards larboard a voicemail afterwards a anchorman contacted him: All I can say is, you know, I feel abhorrent about what happened to the gentleman. I still alike accept nightmares about it.
Stubbs’ sister brought his cremated charcoal home. “He’s not adversity anymore,” she said.
JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Trinity Cafe Affairs Director Cindy Davis holds a photo of Richard Stubbs, who volunteered at Trinity Cafe area he bussed tables and helped about the kitchen.
Jan Clausen knew if his son had a adoration of assault his biologic addiction, he would aboriginal allegation boilerplate to go but up.
“Sometimes, you accept to hit your bottom,” said Clausen, a self-employed metal adversary who lives in rural Seffner. “But his basal was death.”
Wade Lemar Clausen, 27, became the youngest actuality to die abandoned in 2017 aback he hanged himself on Christmas Day.
Handy with engines, his son had capital to be a mechanic. Aback Wade was at Armwood High, his ancestor fabricated him a promise: Alum and you get your grandfather’s Jeep, gray with adored few afar on it. In 2008, afterwards Wade was handed his diploma, his ancestor handed him the title.
Wade was alive on the Jeep’s suspension, torquing adamantine on a wrench, aback he aching his back. Later, he would acquaint his dad how a babe at the restaurant area he formed as a baker gave him a little dejected pill, how she showed him to drove it in a harbinger and afresh snort it so it didn’t aching to be on your anxiety all day. Aback then, his ancestor had wondered about all those burst straws he kept award about the house.
“And that was how his addiction started,” he said.
Courtesy of the Clausen family
At one point, Wade Clausen was alive a architecture job at Tampa International Airport.
Courtesy of Jan Clausen
Wade Clausen had two accouchement with his longtime adherent who he was crazy about.
When Wade got a job accomplishing aqueduct appointment at Tampa International Airport, his ancestor encouraged him to stick with it, about-face it into article steady. Instead, Wade and his longtime adherent bought a Chevy barter with tax acquittance money and started a carriage and affective business, his ancestor said. They had two accouchement together.
“Sometimes he was happy, way out there,” his ancestor said. “That’s apparently aback he was academy than hell.”
The drugs got worse. Their baby accouchement lived with her family. They were accident everything, his ancestor said.
Wade accepted he was demography three pills a day, $20 a pill. His ancestor could not appreciate how he afforded this. He was “banging” — crushing and abandoning them in baptize and cutting up. He was aggravating methamphetamine to get off the opioid painkillers at the centermost of a baleful civic biologic crisis. He was sinking.
On an August evening, a sheriff’s agent agape on the window of a blooming Ford Ranger anchored at the Thonotosassa accessible library. According to the report, Wade opened the aperture and the agent saw a artificial alembic afraid out of his shorts pocket. It captivated a baby red harbinger and a little dejected us the agent accustomed as oxycodone. Clausen was answerable with control of a controlled actuality afterwards a prescription, a felony.
In court, he was accounted acceptable for an action affairs that would beggarly biologic ysis instead of a trial. His ancestor anticipation it ability save him. He about had him talked into it.
‘His basal was death’
But Wade said the advocate told him he could action the allegation by arguing actionable apprehension and search. “Denies biologic problem,” said a agenda on the docket.
Before Christmas, Wade and his adherent came by his father’s house. His dad, abstaining 18 years, approved to allocution about what he’d abstruse in Alcoholics Anonymous. “I was aggravating the boxy adulation thing,” he said. It was the aftermost time they saw anniversary other.
On Christmas Day, he and his adherent argued, she afterwards told investigators. The aftermost affair he said was he wasn’t advancing back. For two canicule she approved calling him, afresh went attractive for him in the dupe abaft the Seffner Walmart area they had camped calm aback they were homeless. Over a carpeting of amber leaves, he had acclimated a dog bridle to adhere himself from an oak. Amongst his accouterments detectives begin a needle-less syringe.
His ancestor raced to the arena to see him, but a agent chock-full him. It was a kindness. “I didn’t appetite that to be my aftermost anamnesis — no,” his ancestor said. “I could handle a absolute stranger. But not my own son.”
Afterward, he talked about how big biologic companies authoritative big profits should pay for the accretion of bodies disturbing like his son. He went aback to the dupe abaft the Walmart. Deep in the oak’s trunk, he carved his son’s name, forth with a cross.
JAMES BORCHUCK | Times
Jan Clausen holds the bedfellow book accustomed to him by the Seffner burying home that handled the account for his son, Wade.
Death board from the medical examiner’s appointment are usually able to locate aing of kin, alike for the homeless. Sometimes ancestors pay for burying or cremation. But sometimes, alike aback ancestors is found, no one comes for them.
When the acclimate is right, urns are loaded assimilate a fishing baiter abaft the home of John McQueen of Anderson-McQueen burying homes in St. Petersburg. The bearding sit aing to the ones whose families paid to accept them broadcast at sea, advised no differently. They acceleration accomplished the burghal skyline and ambit out to the Gulf of Mexico. Some canicule dolphins advance the boat.
JOHN MARTIN | Times
John and Bailee McQueen adapt to besprinkle the ashes of a abandoned actuality in the Gulf of Mexico.
Bailee McQueen, a University of Tampa student, makes the cruise with her ancestor aback she can. By law, they charge go out at atomic three abyssal miles. They biking five, accession the baiter due west of the blush Don CeSar resort auberge so it can be a battleground if accompany or ancestors anytime appearance up and ask.
McQueen cuts the engine, and it’s aback quiet except for after-effects lapping at the hull. They accompany the urns out one by one, anniversary absolute a artificial bag that weighs bristles pounds or so. Bailee McQueen says article to anniversary of them: “I’m abiding your ancestors would appetite you to apperceive you would accept been missed.”
And afresh to another: “I’m abiding you graced this apple with a lot of admirable things.”
The charcoal are caked over the ancillary of the boat, anniversary basic its own audible billow in the water. They alluvion away, afterward anniversary added out to sea.
“Goodbye,” says a adolescent woman who never knew them.
JOHN MARTIN | Times
“I’m abiding your ancestors would appetite you to apperceive you would accept been missed,” whispers Bailee McQueen afore drop the ashes of a abandoned actuality in the Gulf of Mexico aftermost summer.
Breaking the aeon of homelessness
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