LAKEWOOD RANCH — It will be two years Jan. 9 since Ina Gross, 78, a beloved community member and local volunteer, was found murdered in her Lakewood Ranch home.
According to the Manatee Sheriff’s Office report, Gross’ son, Thomas, found her dead at 5:37 a.m. Jan. 9, in the garage of her Riverwalk Hammock home.
Two years later, Sheriff’s Office officials still have released few details surrounding Gross’ death, aside from calling it a homicide and naming her son a “person of interest” in May 2012.
Dave Bristow, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, says investigators have not spoken directly with Thomas Gross, who lives in Israel.
“There is not a lot more we can say,” Bristow said. “We continue to work on it, and it’s a very active investigation. We still have high hopes of resolution. Nothing has changed as far as her son (Thomas Gross). He remains a person of interest. We’re moving forward.”
Two years later, Ina Gross’ daughter, Ellen Gerth, is resolved. She runs outside before it’s light out, part of her training for marathons, and she continues her work as an archaeological curator in Tampa, where she also lives.
Her hope for justice remains constant, as does her belief in the sheriff’s office.
“I am not frustrated; I am confident in the Manatee County Sheriff’s Department,” Gerth said. “It is not unusual for a case like this to take this long. I have received honest updates from the sheriff’s office about the process. I have a clear understanding of the steps involved in achieving justice.”
Two years later, the first murder in Lakewood Ranch history is still the only one, and it lingers beyond the fact that it is unsolved.
“There are days I forget for a moment that my mother is not alive,” Gerth said. “But my mother will never be here for me. My life was turned upside down. It’s right side up now. The tragedy is my mother had her life taken from her at a time in her life when she had so much more to give.”
Gerth gives for her mother.
She serves on the board of directors for Stop Children’s Cancer, an organization her late father, Dr. Samuel Gross, co-founded and her mother supported for decades, and she works with Resurrection House, where Gross volunteered.
She sustains a lectureship series (see sidebar) to benefit children’s cancer in the name of her mother and father, a celebrated medical professor and researcher.
Gerth and her husband, Dave, care for Gross’ dog, Nicky.
Gerth’s parents moved in 2004 to Lakewood Ranch from North Carolina to be closer to Gerth and her husband.
Gerth’s children, Olivia, a University of Florida student who hopes to become a prosecutor, and Gabe, a high school senior, became close with their grandmother.
“It’s a big hole in their lives,” Gerth said.
Bristow says his department hopes to resolve the case of Gross’ murder this year, although he could not promise a resolution.
A lead detective, with assistance from another detective, remains on the case, as they have from the beginning.
The sheriff’s office continues to coordinate with the State Attorney’s Office.
“We don’t want to make an arrest and go to the state without a good case,” Bristow said. “We have to be patient.”
Bristow acknowledged there have been other people of interest besides Thomas Gross, but would not release any names.
Thomas Gross has been hard to reach, Bristow said.
“If he were right here, and not in Israel, things would be easier,” Bristow said.
Gerth has learned to live without her mother, with the help of compassionate family, friends and colleagues.
She sometimes slips.
She hopes justice is less elusive.
“The person who took my mother’s life continues to see the sun rise and the sun set,” Gerth said. “It’s about justice. I will never have closure.”
Ellen Gerth sustains a lectureship series to benefit children’s cancer in her parents’ names. Since January 2012, the “Stop Children’s Cancer Dr. Samuel and Ina Gross Memorial Lectureship” has operated to encourage medical students and pediatric residents to pursue careers in hematology and oncology to help cure children with cancer. The next lectureship will be May 15 at the University of Florida. Money donated will be matched dollar for dollar by Stop Children’s Cancer, a foundation for cancer research co-founded by Dr. Samuel Gross, Gerth’s late father. Donations can be made online at stopchildrenscancer.org/Donate_Online.
Contact Josh Siegel at [email protected].