Man shoots ill girlfriend, rapes girl, then kills himself
A life filled with family turmoil ends as he feels everything closing in on him.
SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published August 18, 2004
TAMPA - Robert G. Able started his crime odyssey Monday morning by shooting his ailing girlfriend, once in the head and once in her heart.
Then he lured a 12-year-old neighborhood girl into his home and raped her.
Less than 24 hours later, as police searched the city for him, Able shot himself in the head with the same gun. He died inside a pickup truck at the Bill Currie Ford body shop where he has worked for the past 16 years.
In between, police say, the 40-year-old former neighborhood crime watch leader visited the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing south of Ocala and found time to write a suicide note with detailed instructions on how to care for the Rottweiler and three mixed-breed dogs he left behind.
Police say Able apparently caved in to the pressures of mounting debt and his girlfriend's health troubles.
Veronica J. Maddox, 40, had diabetes and arterial-venous malformation in her brain, a condition that meant an oversized vein could burst at any time, killing her.
"It appears he just snapped," said police spokeswoman Laura McElroy. Able's family has a tragic history. His father is in prison for molesting Able's two daughters. He has an ex-wife in Georgia, who after leaving him fell in love with her biological brother and bore his child. In 1999, she was jailed on charges connected to the fatal stabbing of a sister-in-law.
Tampa police began hunting for Able Monday morning, after a 12-year-old Adams Middle School student told a school resource officer she had just been raped by Able, her neighbor and family friend.
McElroy said Able invited the girl into his house as she walked to her school bus stop. The girl did not hesitate because she'd been inside the tiny beige house in Sulphur Springs many times.
Veronica Maddox, Able's live-in girlfriend of 10 years, often babysat the girl, McElroy said. "She considered Veronica a second mother and was very close to her."
Able took the girl to a guest bedroom and raped her, then drove her to school.
Police staked out Able's house, at 8407 N Huntley Ave., and alerted officers throughout the city to be on the lookout for his pickup truck.
It wasn't until after 8 p.m. Monday, when Maddox's mother and brother went to the house because they hadn't heard from Maddox, that police discovered her body in the master bedroom. Investigators believe she was killed at about 8 a.m. - less than an hour before he raped the girl.
Police found a suicide note in the house. Able spent the first few lines explaining that he killed Maddox "for her own good."
"He said she was better off now because she had medical problems," McElroy said. "He said he was about to lose everything, that he was more than $50,000 in debt.
"Then he spent the majority of the letter saying how much he loved his four dogs, and giving instructions on how to take care of them."
At 3 a.m. Tuesday, police discovered Able's body inside a totaled F-150 pickup truck parked at the Bill Currie Ford body shop, 5815 N Dale Mabry Hwy.
After the body shop closed Monday night, Able had parked his own pickup truck next to the F-150. He climbed inside, closed the door, put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger.
In Able's truck, police found a receipt from earlier that day for entry into the Don Garlits Museum of Drag Racing in Ocala.
The museum, with its 300 cars on display, was a favorite haunt of Able's. He apparently decided to go one last time.
Able has no criminal history in Florida or Georgia, where he lived through the late 1980s before moving to Hillsborough County.
He started a neighborhood crime watch group, Southeast Grid 28, in May 2001. It never met regularly, and was officially taken off the city's roster of watch groups in January.
But Able maintained his interest in law enforcement. In July, he began attending a free eight-week citizens academy offered by the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office, said spokeswoman Debbie Carter.
Able's father, 75-year-old James Able Jr., is in a state prison serving 25 years for the sexual battery of Robert Able's two daughters. Able Jr. was sentenced in June 2003 for 15 counts that occurred between 1994 and 2002.
McElroy said the state took Able's daughters from him seven years ago, and James Able Jr. took legal custody of them. The girls are now in foster care.
Officials of the Department of Children and Families would not comment on the case.
Georgia records show Robert Able was 22 when he married Melissa Fuss, just 16 at the time, in DeKalb County. The wedding was on Valentine's Day, 1987.
In 1991, Robert and Melissa Fuss Able were forced out of an apartment following a landlord dispute, county records show. After that, there is no record of Melissa living in Hillsborough.
At some point, Melissa Fuss Able began a relationship with her biological brother, Joel Lee Dominguez. She gave birth to his child, according to newspaper accounts in Georgia.
She later remarried and had three more children. In 1999 she and Dominguez were charged with the murder of the wife of her adopted brother. Fuss Able was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading to lesser charges of burglary in connection with the slaying.
By then, Robert Able had been living with Veronica Maddox in Tampa for five years.
Neighbors said theirs was a quiet life. Maddox, who has adult children living in Alabama, often had yard sales. She went with Able to the car shows he loved so much.
Tuesday afternoon, the back porch light of their house was still on. The screened front porch was filled with lawn ornaments brought in during the preparations for Hurricane Charley.
"She was very friendly," neighbor Virginia Ann Roberts said of Maddox. "They did everything together."
Staff researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.