LEE COUNTY — Detectives dug through trash cans outside homes in a south Lee County neighborhood Wednesday looking for clues into the killing of a 55-year-old woman.
Late Tuesday, deputies found Debra Striano's body inside the home she shared with her boyfriend and their border collie, Scruffy, in the Three Oaks community, just west of Insterstate 75. A day later, questions remained about the hours leading up to their discovery.
Lindsey Striano, 20, said she didn't know what led to her aunt's killing, which Lee County sheriff's officials have called a homicide.
"She was just a very warm, friendly person," Lindsey Striano said. "She was just very happy."
Sheriff's officials said Debra Striano's boyfriend, Russell Myers Jr., had been questioned and released by mid-Wednesday. He was not named as a person of interest or a suspect and told investigators he was not home at the time of the homicide, agency spokesman Lt. Larry King said.
Myers left to get dog food Tuesday night and found Debra Striano dead upon his return, Lindsey Striano told NBC-2. Neighbors said they saw Myers walking around the neighborhood Wednesday afternoon, but attempts by the Daily News to reach him by phone were unsuccessful.
Officials would not say if there were signs of forced entry to the couple's home, but King said there did not seem to be a threat to the surrounding community and that the killing did not appear to be random.
Details about a cause or manner of Striano's death were not made public.
Lindsey Striano said her aunt and Myers had been dating for more than a decade after meeting at a sports bar, though she described the relationship as "more of convenience than anything." Myers owns his own landscaping company, with Debra Striano performing administrative duties, Lindsey Striano said.
"I do know it was more of a work relationship," she said. "They weren't too intimate with each other."
Chantelle Betten, a renter at one of Myers' six San Carlos Park properties, said Myers told her he had been with Striano for 14 years. Myers said the couple did not have children and had never considered marriage.
"We think paper ruins everything," Betten recalled him saying.
Myers was hit June 28 with a $231,000 federal tax lien for unpaid taxes in 2008, 2009, 2010, according to documents from the Lee County Clerk of Courts website. Sheriff's officials declined to comment on whether they believe the recent tax lien is connected to the homicide.
Betten said she did not know about the tax lien, but suspected Myers was having financial problems because her house is up for a short sale. Since living in his home on Tangelo Boulevard for about three months, Betten had occasionally been over to the couple's home and described them as friendly and easy to get along with.
"He was a great landlord," Betten said. "I've never had a landlord like him, you know? I'd sit and talk to him for 20 or 30 minutes."
Emile Pearl, who lives a few doors down from Myers and Striano on Pittsburgh Boulevard, said the couple showed no signs of trouble.
"We were at each other's house every once in a while our dogs were playing together," he said. "There was nothing indicating that."
Early Wednesday as he stood outside with other neighbors, Pearl struggled to understand what had happened.
"They're great neighbors; great wonderful people," he said. "We're just hoping everyone is OK."