CLEARWATER, Fla. — Wherever Thomas Hampton Frederick went for the last week and a half, the detectives were not far behind. They watched him go to work. They watched him as he slept. They watched him when he went out at night.
They waited patiently for Frederick to give them something. Last week, he gave them a cigarette.
The smoldering butt he flicked from the passenger window of a car at the intersection of Belcher and Ulmerton roads gave forensic technicians a sample of his DNA. They sent it for testing.
On Wednesday, authorities said, test results confirmed what they suspected: Frederick was the man who raped and killed Adrianne Robert in her Clearwater apartment.
Frederick, 23, was arrested Wednesday afternoon on charges of first-degree murder and grand theft auto in connection with Robert’s July 14 death. The two did not know each other prior to the crime, making the case particularly alarming.
Robert, 29, grew up in Greene, Maine, attended Leavitt Area High School in Turner and worked at the Sun Journal as a page designer after graduating from the University of Maine at Augusta. She lived in Lewiston before moving to Florida.
“We got a real bad guy off the street,” Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said at a news conference Wednesday announcing the arrest. “This is the most dangerous kind of crime, because he was willing to take somebody he didn’t know and rape and kill her.”
Authorities had released few details regarding the investigation of the 29-year-old graphic designer’s death before Wednesday, even declining to say whether the case appeared to be a homicide. The decision was a strategic one, Gualtieri said. They didn’t want Frederick to know what they knew.
“We were very concerned,” Gualtieri said. “This was the No. 1 priority for the Sheriff’s Office since July 14.”
It all began the night before.
Robert and her male roommate, Jay Leffue, had gone to Diamond Dolls, a strip club about a mile from their apartment at 2958 Pinecone Circle. When they arrived at the club, they struck up a conversation with Frederick, who had been lingering in the bar area since late afternoon, the sheriff said.
Robert left about 1:30 a.m. and planned to walk home. Leffue stayed behind at the club.
A surveillance camera captured images of Robert leaving the club alone before a man ran up to give her a black shawl she left on a chair, Gualtieri said. The two then walked off together.
Leffue returned to the apartment about two hours later and noticed the bathroom door was closed. He called out for Robert and got no answer.
When he opened the door, he saw her on the floor, a single stab wound to her chest.
There were signs of a struggle, Gualtieri said. She had bruises on her body and the toilet seat was broken.
When deputies searched the apartment, they found that a section of a sheet on Robert’s bed had been cut out, Gualtieri said. Detectives suspected the killer had tried to remove his DNA from the scene.
But they located DNA on Robert’s body and on a mattress.
Robert’s orange Jeep also was missing. It was later recovered near East Bay Drive and U.S. 19.
Detectives initially had no idea of the identity of the man with whom Robert left.
“This was a hard one,” Gualtieri said. “This very easily could have been a whodunit.”
The first break in the case came when detectives learned that the man seen with Robert had arrived at Diamond Dolls earlier in the day in a taxi. The cab company gave detectives the phone number from which the man had called.
The same number was found in a sheriff’s office database as belonging to Frederick. The number had been entered into the database after a Clearwater police officer had questioned Frederick when he spotted him walking alone in the early morning hours of June 11, Gualtieri said. The officer got his cell phone number.
Once detectives identified Frederick, they placed him under constant surveillance. He was arrested Wednesday at Hit Promotion Products, a Largo company where he worked.
In interviews with detectives, Frederick “made admissions,” Gualtieri said. He also told detectives where they could find the murder weapon and Robert’s car keys. A search for those items was ongoing Wednesday evening, Gualtieri said.
Frederick has no prior criminal history in Florida. Sheriff’s officials described him as a transient whose last known address was in New York.
News of the arrest came as welcome news for Robert’s parents, Mark and Lori Robert of Greene, Maine.
“Today is their 25th wedding anniversary,” said Cindy Boisvert, Adrianne Robert’s aunt. “I think my brother said this is the best gift they could have received.”
Robert had moved from Maine to Florida in 2007 and had attended the University of South Florida, her family said. She had planned to move out of the apartment she shared with Leffue and move in with her boyfriend.
Her family is planning a celebration for Saturday to honor her life.
“They’re doing as good as can be expected,” Robert’s uncle, Ron Boisvert, said of the family. “I don’t think it will fully hit home until the service has been completed.”