Lutz man arrested in murder of woman whose partial remains were found in McKay Bay

Tampa police have made an arrest in the homicide of Stephanie Crone-Overholts, a Pennsylvania woman whose partial remains were discovered by fishermen in McKay Bay near downtown Tampa.

The Tampa Police Department says Robert Kessler, of Lutz, was already in custody on a drug charge when he was arrested and charged with second-degree murder and abuse of a body.

The arrest comes days after police publicly identified Crone-Overholts, whose partial remains were found in pieces in McKay Bay near downtown Tampa earlier this month. On Thursday, November 11, a fisherman found a leg bearing a tattoo, which eventually helped police identify Crone-Overholts. 

The following day, another angler found another piece of human remains in McKay Bay, prompting TPD to announce a homicide investigation. 

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TPD said Crone-Overholts had apparently been staying with Kessler at his home in Lutz when she disappeared. 

Her mother reported her missing in Pennsylvania on the same day the first fisherman found Crone-Overholts' leg in the bay. It was a tattoo on her leg – a trio of hearts and the names Sean, Greg, and Zach – that helped police quickly identify the victim. 

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Tampa PD Interim Chief Ruben Delgado said the investigation led officers to Robert Kessler, who was interviewed on Nov. 14., when he admitted Crone-Overholts had stayed in his house, but left a few weeks prior. Kessler told officers he met Crone-Overholts at a restaurant and she told him she was living in her car, so he invited her to live with him.

Robert Kessler (TPD)

Two days after talking to Kessler at his home, TPD officers and Hillsborough County deputies found Crone-Overholts' vehicle, and her blood was found inside. 

Delgado said officers returned to Kessler's residence on Nov. 16 with a search warrant, where they found more of Crone-Overholts' blood. 

Delgado said Kessler was already being held on a drug charge Wednesday, Nov. 24 when Tampa officers arrested and charged him with second-degree murder and abuse of a body.

Delgado said Kessler has a criminal history, most of which is related to drug charges. The interim chief said the investigation is ongoing as more forensic evidence and witness interviews are conducted. 

Delgado confirmed one witness came forward claiming to have seen someone throwing items into the bay around the time when Crone-Overholts went missing.

Courtesy: Tampa Police Department

Back in Erie, PA, Police Chief Dan Spizarny told FOX 13 that Crone-Overholts' mother first reported her missing Nov. 11. Chief Spizarny also confirmed Crone-Overholts' mother had received a message from her daughter, who had recently moved to Florida, saying she needed help. Spizarny did not elaborate on why the woman needed help.

Retired Tampa FBI agent Stacy Arruda told FOX 13 that investigators were likely busy interviewing family, friends and anyone who had contact with Crone-Overholts in the days leading up to her disappearance and death, which Tampa police have said was a homicide.

"It's a murder and dismemberment, that potentially leads to something that probably was personal," Arruda said. "What the investigators will seek to do is recreate her pattern of life prior to her going missing."

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Detectives likely combed Crone-Overholts' social media accounts, including at least five Facebook profiles under variations of her name. Arruda said investigators will look for red flags, potentially including a post from last December in which Stephanie accuses two people of logging into her Facebook and bank accounts. 

But Arruda said police often rely heavily on the victim’s loved ones to develop leads.

"A lot of that's going to come from the family. Was she having a problem with someone? For instance, did she leave Pennsylvania to come here to escape from someone? Or was it just a fresh start?" she said.

Tampa police have not commented on the case since the second body part was discovered more than a week ago. It's unclear where Crone-Overholts was living at the time of her death, although her social media accounts appear to indicate she has spent time in Jacksonville.