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Serial Killer in Seminole Heights, Tampa Nabbed via Odd Circumstances

“Although a significant monetary reward for information/tips leading to a suspect was amassed, it was an impromptu event which tipped the justice scales to an apprehension.”

For close to two months, a serial killer has been extinguishing lives in Seminole Heights, a historical community comprised of clapboard homes in Tampa, Florida. Elusive throughout four killings (three involving a firearm), to help nab the serial killer, the Tampa police enlisted help from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office as well as agents from the US Marshals Service, the FBI, ATF, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Florida Highway Patrol and several other Bay area law enforcement agencies who supplemented the investigation.

Albeit unorthodox, door-to-door consensual contact searches became a reality. Several buddies of mine with the Tampa police force exhausted all measures, to no avail.

Albeit fuzzy, some video surveillance footage was publicized so that the public could potentially ID the male individual. Although Tampa police received in excess of 5000 tips, nothing substantive came of it. Police forged on and blanketed Seminole Heights with resources of their own as well as those borrowed from other law enforcement agencies.

Then nature kind of assumed the wheel.

On November 28, 2017 an odd mix of circumstances culminated in an arrest of  Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, who Tampa cops believe is their serial killer.

Alleged Seminole Heights, Tampa serial killer, Howell Emanuel Donaldson III, 24, was arrested November 28, 2017 after a two-month-long manhunt. Tampa police believe Donaldson is responsible for killing four people. (Credit: Facebook/Florida Sentinel Bulletin)

Although a significant monetary reward for information/tips leading to a suspect was amassed, it was an impromptu event which tipped the justice scales to an apprehension.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III walked into an Ybor City, Tampa McDonald’s restaurant where he was employed and asked the on-duty manager to hold his loaded firearm while he drove to Amscot to take out a payday loan. The McDonald’s manager shared the strange interaction with another McDonald’s employee, both of whom observed an on-duty Tampa police officer eating a meal while writing reports.

Howell Emanuel Donaldson III walked into an Ybor City, Tampa McDonald’s restaurant where he was employed and asked the on-duty manager to hold his loaded firearm while he drove to Amscot to take out a payday loan.

That Tampa cop was approached by the McDonald’s employees, informed of the circumstances, and turned over the firearm passed-off by Mr. Donaldson while speculations surrounding the on-the-loose serial killer came to the fore. The Tampa policewoman called for back-up which was met with a phalanx of Tampa cops and federal agents working the case.

It was decided to hover somewhat covertly until Donaldson returned to the McDonald’s to retrieve his handgun. That happened. Police carefully approached Donaldson after which an interview ensued. Ultimately, Donaldson was handcuffed and led out of the McDonald’s eatery.

The firearm was impounded for ballistic/forensic analysis. Donaldson’s cell phone became evidence too. Crime scene tape was strung around a red sports car parked in the McDonald’s lot. Tampa cops believe it belongs to Donaldson’s father.

Police surround suspects car in a Ybor City, Tampa McDonald’s parking lot

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn took to the media waves after Donaldson’s arrest, saying “Justice will be served. Thank you to the men & women of Tampa Police Department and the supporting agencies that worked tirelessly to restore peace to the Seminole Heights community.”

Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan announced Donaldson’s arrest and the charging documents being prepared by Tampa Homicide detectives.

According to Heavy.com, Mr. Donaldson did not come from poverty. He was raised by a hardworking set of parents whose business thrives in the Tampa area. He was a rising basketball star in high school. He attained a college degree in computer science from St. John’s University. At one point he worked for the New York Mets organization, Adidas and the NBA. It seems promise and a fulfilling life awaited a young man, leaving many to wonder why it went grossly wrong.

Motive for killing four young lives (one of whom was autistic) remains a mystery.

Although it does not bring back four lives lost to a maniacal killer, Mayor Buckhorn described the two-month long search for a suspect as the battle “between good and evil” and that “goodness has won.”

As Tampa police Chief Dugan qualified, “It took one person stepping forward and doing the right thing.”

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Stephen Owsinski

Stephen Owsinski is an OpsLens Content Manager and Contributor. Owsinski is a retired law enforcement officer whose career included assignments in the Uniformed Patrol Division and Field Training Officer (FTO) unit. He is currently a researcher and writer. Follow Stephen on Twitter @uniformblue.

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