21 Solved in ‘21 : Day 7 : Denise Marie Stafford
On October 13, 1985, 28-year-old Denise Marie Stafford was found dead in her home in the 300 block of Tarpon Avenue in Sarasota, Florida. Her daughter, who was 1 at the time, was in the home unharmed. Police believed that she was murdered sometime between 11pm Oct. 12 and 3:10am Oct. 13, 1985. In 2020, detective Birdwell made the decision to retest evidence for DNA, including a pair of pants that had been found at the crime scene. This test revealed a direct DNA match to a man who had been arrested found guilty of the unrelated murder of Kathleen Leonard on March 8, 1995. Denise’s killer was also suspected in the January 1987 murder of 19-year-old Elizabeth Zea. Her killer is also suspected of having killed others. If even one additional case he’s suspected of being involved with can be attributed to him, Denise Marie Stafford was murdered by a serial killer. The killer was not native to Florida, and it’s believed that “a lot of work” will need to be done to determine if additional victims exist elsewhere. Detective Birdwell believes that the murderer killed to fund his drug habit.
The killer was working as a bouncer at the bar where Denise’s husband worked. He had sold Denise a pair of seat covers at one point. He had also been inside the Stafford’s home on several occasions. The convicted murderer died in prison in 2015 while serving a life sentence for murdering Kathleen.
Denise was a new mother, and was described by her own mother as loving, and a good daughter.