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Community Grieving Over Mysterious Deaths of Three Florida Vacationers

June 10, 1989 GMT

WILLSHIRE, Ohio (AP) _ Stunned villagers said a woman and her two daughters found drowned in Florida’s Tampa Bay, bound to cinder blocks, were part of a hard-working farm family.

″Everybody is shocked,″ said Susan Reynolds, 19, a waitress at the Village Restaurant, a popular place in the northwestern Ohio community of about 500 people. ″No one could believe it. It’s not that it couldn’t happen to somebody in a small town. The reality is that it did.″

The bodies of Joan M. Rogers, 36, and her daughters, Michelle, 17, and Christie, 14, were identified from dental records Friday, five days after they were found in the bay - gagged, with hands bound and tied to cinder blocks, police said. All were naked from the waist down.

Police said they had no leads and no suspects. They speculated that the three may have been thrown into the water alive because the bodies showed no sign of trauma, such as shooting or stab wounds.

St. Petersburg police were deluged with telephone tips Saturday, but there was ″nothing hot,″ said Detective M. Mahoney. ″We’re getting hundreds of calls, but we won’t know until we check them out,″ he said.

Mahoney said a published reference to a blue-and-white boat possibly linked to the crime spurred most of the calls. ″That boat’s been seen from Jacksonville to Key West,″ Mahoney said, noting that many pleasure boats fit that description.

The victims had been vacationing in the Walt Disney World area and were on the way home when they stopped in Tampa on June 1, said St. Petersburg police spokesman Wendall Creager.

Mrs. Rogers’ husband, Hal, who had stayed home to tend the family’s dairy farm, reported his wife and daughters missing June 4 when they failed to return.

Ms. Reynolds said Hal and Joan Rogers often came into the restaurant to eat breakfast.

″They always looked happy but tired,″ she said. ″You could see that the hard work took its toll on them. It’s just so sad what happened.″

″This grief is forever, a scar no one can remove,″ said the Rev. Gary Luderman of Zion Lutheran Church, the family’s pastor.

″This is a small, tight-knit community. Everybody knows everybody. We’re an extended family and when one person hurts, we all hurt.″

He said special services and counseling might be offered, particularly for young friends of the victims, to help them come to terms with their grief.

Michelle would have been a high school senior this fall in Convoy, where she was a member of Future Farmers of America, school officials said. Christie, who was about to start her freshman year in high school, was a cheerleader, 4-H member and marching band member.

Rogers’ 31-year-old brother, John F. Rogers, is in prison on a sexual assault charge. A second charge against him relating to an alleged assault against Michelle was dropped in a plea agreement. Luderman said some residents wonder if the killings and the assault case are linked, though authorities in Florida are discounting the notion.

″Some of the rumors are ridiculous,″ Luderman said. ″We are trying to stop them.″