The more I dig into the disappearance of Susy Tomassi five years ago, the more difficult it becomes for me to believe she died where her skeletal remains were discovered by a fisherman earlier this month – submerged in the mangroves near the Oslo Road Boat Ramp.
Nor can I accept that her death was the result of some tragic mishap.
The more likely scenario, based on my research and interviews, is:
- Tomassi was murdered somewhere else and her lifeless body was hidden, possibly buried, in another location, where it stayed for weeks, months, even years.
- Her killer then, for some reason, decided to move the body and dumped her decomposing remains where they were found on March 3, about 150 yards north of the boat ramp.
- Her death was caused by some type of head trauma – possibly from a gunshot – probably inflicted by the unknown driver who lured her into his white pickup truck at the exit of a South County shopping center on that ill-fated Friday afternoon in March 2018.
In fact, a source familiar with the Sheriff’s Office’s investigation and speaking on the condition of anonymity, told me last week detectives found a bullet-size hole in Tomassi’s skull, which was discovered with portions of bones.
If the bones and joints weren’t intact, the source said, it could indicate the remains were stored somewhere and then moved. That, too, would support my theory, which I’ll continue to embrace until someone produces evidence to prove me wrong.
To believe otherwise – that Tomassi, who was 73 and in the early stages of dementia, was not the victim of foul play and died accidentally where her remains were found – would betray all we’ve learned in the years since she went for a walk through the South Vero Square shopping plaza, got into that white pickup truck and was never again seen alive.
We would need to believe the massive search that ensued after Tomassi’s disappearance somehow missed her, even though the Sheriff’s Office dispatched to the area a helicopter, K-9 and marine units, agricultural units on all-terrain vehicles, a SWAT team, detectives and patrol deputies, all within an hour of the woman being reported missing.
We would need to dismiss the claims of volunteers, including Angels of Hope Outreach Ministries co-founders David and Kelly Long, who said they organized a group that participated in the failed search effort, combing the wooded area and shoreline north of the boat ramp.
We also would need to disregard the definitive remarks of a sheriff’s detective who, after an FBI-enhanced surveillance video was publicly released in October 2019, said the footage not only showed Tomassi getting into that white pickup truck – which then drove east toward the boat ramp – but also revealed she was still in the vehicle when it sped west toward U.S. 1.
“She’s not down there,” Sheriff’s Detective Greg Farless told me in early November 2019, referring to the boat-ramp area. “We’d have found her.”
There’s no good reason to doubt him.
Surely, if Tomassi’s body were in those mangroves the entire time, somebody – perhaps a fisherman, or a boater, or one of the homeless people who camp in the boat-ramp vicinity – would have found her before her corpse was reduced to skeletal remains.
It not as if nobody had gone back there the past five years.
“We know those woods, which is why we wanted to join the search,” Kelly Long said. “We go into those woods at least once or twice a week, looking for homeless camps, so we can offer help. I even have a video of us going through those mangroves after the woman went missing.
“When they found the remains, my husband David said to me: “Do you realize we were there?’” she added. “We searched that whole area, and we weren’t the only ones.
“She wasn’t there – not the whole time, anyway.”
The Longs agreed with my hypothesis that Tomassi was killed elsewhere and her body wasn’t in the mangroves when the initial searches were conducted, saying anyone in the vicinity would’ve noticed the harsh, unmistakable odor that emanates from a decomposing corpse.
They speculated that Tomassi’s body was buried somewhere else, possibly for a year or more, before it was moved to the boat-ramp area.
“We’ve been back there a lot,” she said, “and we never smelled anything.”
It was during our 2019 conversation, though, that Farless, who went through the surveillance video step by step, made what is now the strongest argument against Tomassi having been killed somewhere else.
Farless said the video appeared to show Tomassi, who at about 5 p.m. had wandered away from the Quilted Giraffe restaurant she co-owned with her husband of 37 years, engaging in a brief conversation with the driver of the pickup truck, which had stopped near the shopping plaza’s exit.
She then walked around to the passenger side and got in.
“You can’t really see it, but I believe he said something to her as she walked behind the truck,” said Farless, one of the detectives initially assigned to the case. “I say ‘he,’ because I believe a man was driving the truck.
“The driver then goes east on Oslo Road, but, just a few minutes later, we see him traveling west at a noticeably higher rate of speed,” he continued. “Maybe he was going to do something to her there (in the boat-ramp area), but there were too many people around.
“For whatever reason, he turned around and got out of there,” he added. “She was still in that truck.”
Farless said the westbound truck reappeared on the video only 3 ½ to 4 minutes after first departing eastbound with Tomassi. That’s only slightly longer that the 3 minutes and 15 seconds it took the detective to make a test-run round trip on Oslo Road between the driveway behind South Vero Square and the boat ramp.
That means there was no time for the driver to have done something to Tomassi before heading back toward U.S. 1.
Still, Farless said he believed “whoever was driving that truck did something bad to her.”
That video, which was made public 3 ½ years ago, was the detectives’ last lead in the case – until Tomassi’s skeletal remains, forms of identification and jewelry were found earlier this month.
The hard truth is: We might never know exactly what happened to Tomassi after she stepped into that white pickup truck, which detectives haven’t been able to identify.
Find the driver, though, and I believe we’ll find out who murdered Tomassi.
Photos by Joshua Kodis