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Days before Mary Ann Zarb’s body was discovered in a remote stand of woods, checks written from her personal account were cashed for more than $25,000 by the man hired to renovate her house, detectives say.
The same man, Shane Simpkins, 24, carried her credit card in his wallet, and he was seen driving her car around town, Lee detectives learned.
Deputies arrested Simpkins and his alleged accomplice, Christopher Neuberger, 25, on Tuesday after each man separately guided detectives to Zarb’s body in a densely wooded area in southern Charlotte County.
In arrest reports released Wednesday, both men blamed the other for the slaying of Zarb, a 64-year-old grandmother who moved to Estero in January.
Witnesses and video taken from a Lee County SunTrust identified Simpkins cashing the checks April 11, according to the reports and the statement of a prosecutor at the suspects’ first appearance in court. Neuberger waited in the car with Zarb while Simpkins was in the bank, Neuberger told detectives.
Neuberger said he was at Zarb’s home earlier that day when Simpkins forced Zarb to write the checks. Simpkins then retrieved a gun from the home, he said, and the three traveled to the bank together in Zarb’s car.
After returning to the Estero home, Simpkins strangled Zarb in another room of the house, he told detectives.
Simpkins pinned the blame on Neuberger. He said that after cashing the checks alone, he returned to Zarb’s home to find her dead on the master bedroom floor. He said Neuberger claimed he was rooting through Zarb’s jewelry when the woman confronted him. Simpkins also told detectives Neuberger took a gun from the house, as well as $6,000 from the cashed checks.
Tuesday’s arrests of both men follow deputies’ initial arrest of Simpkins on April 15, after a deputy investigating Zarb’s disappearance found the Cape Coral contractor at the woman’s home with three other people.
Arrested on drug charges, Simpkins initially told detectives he was at Zarb’s home on the morning of April 11 and that she prepaid him $24,000 to remodel her home. He said Neuberger came to the house the same day to help with the work.
Neuberger initially told detectives that while he was at the home on April 11, Zarb and Simpkins left together. Simpkins later returned alone, he said, and explained that Zarb left with a friend.
Other witnesses placed Simpkins behind the wheel of Zarb’s car in North Fort Myers. Simpkins had $20,000 in cash and was peddling a pair of firearms, detectives were told. Witnesses also reported seeing Neuberger burning what appeared to be a bloody shirt in his backyard.
Simpkins never confessed to the slaying, Assistant State Attorney Dan Feinberg told Lee County Judge James Adams at a hearing for the suspects Tuesday.
Both men were arrested on charges of felony murder, armed burglary of an occupied dwelling and grand theft of more than $20,000.
Both are to be held without bond on the murder charges, Adams ruled.
Neither man is a stranger to law enforcement. Simpkins was released from a Hendry County prison in August 2010, after serving just under two years for conviction on false testimony. He also served a nine-month stretch in 2005 on charges including attempted robbery, burglary and grand theft.
Neuberger is a convicted felon, according to Lee County court records. He was acquitted two years ago of felony murder in the 2005 slaying of Jose Gomez during a home invasion in North Fort Myers.