Monday, April 13, 2009

I Smell Dead People: Florida Noir


A while back I re-read Thieves Like Us, Edward Anderson’s classic 1937 crime novel. It’s the story of Bowie, Chicamaw, and T-Dub, three hapless criminals who shoot and blunder their way through a series of prison breaks and bank robberies. Bowie picks up Keechie, a sweet but disturbed country girl who becomes part of their downward spiral of misadventure. What makes these characters weirdly compelling is the way their plans—criminal and otherwise—are constantly undone by their old habits and impulses. They may talk about going straight after just one more heist, they may dream of getting married, but they always end up sabotaging themselves.

Anderson’s dark tale was on my mind the past two weeks as I followed the news from Cape Coral, Florida. The story emerged from excellent shoe-leather reporting by Connor Holmes of the Cape Coral Daily Breeze, and Denes Husty III of the Fort Myers News-Press. It began on March 31 with a story by Holmes:
A neighbor smelled the rotten scent and contacted police, who discovered a body inside an apartment at 4921 Coronado Parkway at about 7:56 a.m.
As with almost every item we post on ISDP, the key element is a neighbor calling police about a “foul odor.” In modern American journalism this phrase is reserved exclusively for cases of this kind. These stories are inherently sad—the deceased is so tenuously connected to the world that only the odor of decay brings their disappearance to someone’s attention. This case was no exception, but it unspooled in ever more noir-ish fashion.

The next day, Holmes reported that the body was that of Shannon Michelle Sweet, a 27-year-old who had been living in the apartment with her boyfriend, 29-year-old Matthew Franklin Gullett. Police issued a warrant for his arrest on charges of second-degree homicide.

The Daily Breeze of April 2 gave the Cape Coral PD’s physical description of the suspect—including the “White Pride” tattoo on his stomach—and their belief that he was now driving a stolen car: a 1995 Cadillac El Dorado with plates that read “RDSTWRT.” (White Power? Rod Stewart? This was getting strange even by Gulf Coast standards.)

In the April 2 News-Press Husty reported that Glenn Gullett, the suspect’s father, was “asking his son to turn himself in.” According to the father, “his son and Sweet had both been abusing drugs.” Husty reveals that Matthew Gullett had a lengthy rap sheet in Zanesville, Ohio that included burglary, grand theft auto, theft, receiving stolen property, and six counts of forgery.

The next day, Holmes reports that Gullet was arrested in Zanesville after being wounded in a shootout with police. Sheriff’s officers in Muskingum County, Ohio, had spotted the stolen El Dorado parked at a Best Value Inn.

On April 4, Holmes reports that two detectives from Cape Coral were on their way to Ohio to retrieve Gullett who, after his release from prison in 2005, had violated his probation by
testing positive for cocaine, associating with a sexually-oriented offender, violating curfew and failing to make regular reports to Probation Supervisor Wil Champlin.
The same day, News-Press reporter Brian Liberatore filled in details of Gullet’s apprehension: as sheriffs knocked on the front door of his hotel room, the suspect fled out the back through a sliding door and ran for his car. Gullet was shot as he struggled with deputies. Liberatore interviewed Steve Johnson, the owner of the stolen El Dorado, who had left the vehicle running as he popped into a Hess station convenience store on U.S. 41.
The car thief, Johnson said, had been waiting around the parking lot for hours. Patrons at the gas station tried to follow the fleeing driver, Johnson said, but “he was driving too crazy.
Finally, Liberatore sheds light on the relationship between suspect and victim:
Family members said drug abuse marred Gullett’s six-month relationship with Sweet. Gullett’s father, who lives in Fort Myers, said his son and Sweet were using crack cocaine and heroin. Gullett had kicked his son out of his house because of his continuing drug problem, and failed attempts at rehabilitation.
On April 5, Denes Husty has more from family members. Sweet’s mother, 47-year-old Vicki Shepard of Vermont, tells him, “I think he should get murder one and be executed.”

Husty also gets the scoop on the cause of death: police told the victim’s mother they believe Sweet was strangled.

Husty interviews Gullet’s 73-year-old father Glenn, who tells him “I don’t know how long it will be before I’ll be able to see my son. I don’t know if I can ever look at him again.”

On April 7, Connor Holmes gets the scoop on motive:
Gullett, 26, reportedly admitted to an individual, whose name was redacted from police documents, that he had strangled Sweet, 27, during an argument because she “just wouldn’t shut the (expletive) up.
Also, according to the Medical Examiner, Sweet’s death was caused by strangulation: she was found with pants and a belt wrapped around her neck.

On April 8, Holmes provides more crime scene details: Sweet’s body was found in a shower stall, underneath a blow-up mattress. According to the Lee County, Florida Sheriff’s Office, after the murder Gullett stole Sweet’s car and crashed it “in a DUI accident” and later “stole and wrecked a truck belonging to his father.”

We also learn why the person Gullett confessed to didn’t turn him in. The answer reads like something T-Dub might have said to Bowie:
The witness said he did not believe Gullett killed Sweet at the time because “Gullett had talked in the past about how Shannon drove him crazy and how he wanted to kill her, but (the witness) believed it was just the aggravation talking.”
Also on April 8, Denes Husty peels one more layer from the onion:
Matthew Gullett said his girlfriend, Shannon Sweet, wouldn’t stop complaining about him taking money from her purse she earned as an escort.
According to a detective, neighbors said Sweet “was an escort and Matt was her boyfriend and driver.”

Husty pieces together the couple’s last day:
On the night of March 23 and into the early morning hours of March 24 neighbors said “that they heard Matt and Shay arguing very loudly,” and heard her tell him to leave, [Detective] Ellis said.

A short time later, neighbors said that Sweet came out onto the lanai and she “said something to the effect that she was ‘over it’ and needed to ‘move on,’” Ellis said.

That was the last time neighbors saw her or her car.

Later that morning, Gullett was involved in a head-on crash on College Parkway while driving Sweet’s 2000 Honda. Later, he bolted from Lee Memorial Hospital’s emergency room, with an IV still in his left arm, before deputies could talk to him.

Gullett then allegedly broke into his father’s house in south Lee County and stole his truck and a .38-caliber handgun. His father, who was out of town, reported the crimes after he returned March 30 and found his truck wrecked on the side of U.S. 41 near Six Mile Cypress Parkway.
Drugs, prostitution, car theft, burglary, murder, escape, car crashes, inter-state flight, a police shoot-out, and capture. The end of the road for Matthew Franklin Gullett and a lingering foul odor in Apartment 3, 4921 Coronado Parkway.

7 comments:

Victoria said...

I just read this post and am unsure really what to think. I am Shannon Sweets cousin up in Vermont and I guess the thoughts I had throughout, was that Shannon was NOT so
"These stories are inherently sad—the deceased is so tenuously connected to the world that only the odor of decay brings their disappearance to someone’s attention."
Shannon was loved and missed and even before her body was found, her disapearance was an ALARM. The reason she fought with her killer so long and hard the night of her death was because she planned to use the $800 that he had stolen to COME HOME!
No one should have their life taken away from them for any reason in the world. And he needs his just punishment.

Avery Gilbert said...

Victoria:

I am sorry she didn't make it home.

And I hope the State of Florida prosecutes her killer to the fullest extent of the law.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happened to 'innocent until PROVEN guilty?". I hope her killer is eventually punished as well, but she was an escort and engaged in a risky lifestyle. Any number of people could have been responsible for this. Just don't convict someone in the press and destroy their chance at a fair trial that is their RIGHT under the AMERICAN CONSTITUTION.

Avery Gilbert said...

Anonymous:

Matthew Gullett, like all Americans, has the presumption of innocence in a court of law and I am confident he will receive it at trial. In the meantime, public opinion can view him guilty or not as it likes. Based on the available facts cited in my post, most people wouldn't find it a stretch to think that he's guilty of Shannon Sweet's murder.

The fact that "she was an escort and engaged in a risky lifestyle" doesn't do much to reduce suspicions about Gullett. If you are an escort, part of the risk is that your boyfriend might get jealous, and that he might take your money, especially if he's also your "driver."

Anonymous said...

Innocent until proven guilty is all good and fine but in this situation you have this man admitting to a friend that he had indeed strangled her because she wouldn't shut up. Sounds pretty open and shut to me yes?

Also, in this day and age, do we really believe "you brought it on yourself" is a logical reasoning? This was not about jealousy, this was about someone taking money he wanted for drugs from a girl who was trying to escape, come home where she wouldn't be pimped out by someone who supposedly loved her.

Anonymous said...

I met Shannon Sweet here in Florida while at work. I end up spending some time with her this night and then again a few months later at another house she was "working" out of. No i'm not a "John". I'm a cop here in Fl. When a fellow cop called me that day and told me about her death I was not so much shocked as sad. Bother times meeting Shannon she admited her problems to me both times she wishes she could just go home with her family. Both times she was in full on tears. I know the detectives and SAO's on this case will do the right thing and her killer will be brought to justice. RIP Shannon Sweet. She is a reminder of the world around us and also a reminder of how hard this job is. Thank a cop of you see one.

Anonymous said...

I knew Shannon as a young girl into her teen years, she was insecure but sweet as could be. to hear the situation she had found herself in and to hear her cry out to have wanted to come home..breaks my heart. I do not have a ton of money but would have helped her come home if I had just known....Saddened to hear this and Hope that her Killer gets his some day...Prison just isnt enough ...