Ronald Benjamin was working as the front desk clerk at Peterborough apartments, a downtown high-rise for the elderly, when he stepped outside for a smoke early Wednesday and saw the body of a 96-year-old woman lying in the parking lot.
Benjamin, 61, didn't think it was a body. He thought it was a mannequin and someone was playing an April Fools' Day prank on him. He went back inside.
About an hour-and-a-half later, at 6 a.m., his relief, Rose Anne Beavers, 62, arrived at the 16-story apartment building at 440 Fourth Ave. N.
Beavers believed it was a body. But Benjamin told her it was a joke, St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz said.
Then, Benjamin, Beavers and a third employee decided if it were a prank it needed to be removed from the parking lot, Puetz said. They decided the blood they saw underneath the body was red paint.
Benjamin enlisted the help of a couple delivering newspapers, and they and Benjamin dumped the body into a trash bin.
Two hours later, at 8 a.m., maintenance worker Johnny Williams, 42, arrived for work, Puetz said. Benjamin was gone, and Beavers told him what happened. Williams looked at the blood and thought it was no joke. He looked in the trash bin and recognized the body for what it was, and someone called the police.
Puetz said when investigators went to woman's 16th-floor apartment, they found a suicide note and a stool she used to climb over the balcony wall.
Detectives have not found the woman's family to notify them of her death.
Residents of the 153-unit building said she was from England, and that she sometimes talked about World War II. One said she had lived at the 62-and-over subsidized independent living facility for at least 20 years.
“We're tore over it,” resident Frances O. Watts, 82, said. “You just want to sit down and cry.”
“I feel bad for her, I do feel bad for her,” said Randy D. Crowley, 47, who lives at Peterborough because of a brain injury.