LAKEWOOD RANCH — It is the first murder to occur in Lakewood Ranch.
What Manatee County Sheriff’s Office officials initially called a “suspicious death” was confirmed as a homicide Tuesday Jan. 10, following a Jan. 9 autopsy.
Ina Gross, 78, was found dead at 5:37 a.m. Jan. 9, in her garage in the 11000 block of Hyacinth Place in Riverwalk Hammock. Her son, Thomas Gross, discovered her body, a Sheriff’s Office report states. Deputies arrived to find Ina Ross on the floor of her garage.
Investigators had not released any more details about the homicide — including cause of death — as of press time Tuesday.
The news rocked the ordinarily quiet Lakewood Ranch street, and neighbors remembered Ina Gross as a kind, caring person who loved her dog, Nicky.
“She was a lovely lady,” neighbor Marc Soss said, adding Gross took her dog, Nicky, for a walk every day and regularly visited with neighbors. “She was friends with everybody.”
Ina Gross was active in supporting local charities, and an active member of the Lakewood Ranch Dog Park. She also was involved at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, where she was a member of the Lifelong Learning Academy.
Her husband, Dr. Samuel Gross, died in August 2010, of cancer. Dr. Gross enjoyed a long career as a celebrated medical professor and researcher.
“She was a wonderful woman, and I’m going to miss her,” said friend Crystal Rothhaar, who met Gross seven years ago at the Paw Park in Greenbrook. “She was a very no-nonsense woman. She had a great sense of humor. She was very sweet to everybody. She was always smiling and always laughing.
“Both she and her husband were such amazing people,” Rothhaar said. “It’s hard to believe something like this could happen to someone like her. The only consolation I can have in this whole thing is that they (Ina and Sam) are together again. It’s really hard to believe.”
Friend Cindy Morton agreed and recalled the couple’s deep love for one another.
“Ina and Sam Gross were the ‘happily-married, thrilled-every-day-to-be-with-you’ couple,” she said. “The Paw Park was their morning ‘cup of coffee,’ where sports and politics and love of dogs played out every morning. On Ina’s birthday, Sam would hire a bagpiper to march up the field at Paw Park for her. He adored her and she him.
“She was an amazing woman with an opinion wrapped in clarity and honesty,” Morton said. “Ina was a wonderful, caring woman. She was a dear friend for many years.”
Neighbors also praised Gross as a person and expressed mixed feelings about the incident that took her life.
“It’s definitely scary,” one neighbor said, adding Gross regularly spoke with her children and even kept an eye out for strangers. “We think we live in a safe neighborhood. Now, I don’t know.”
Soss said he believes the incident is isolated. Hyacinth Place has many families who work from home and keep any eye out for suspicious activities, he said. In 10 years on the street, he’s never gotten a ding on his car or a Halloween prank, he said.
“Everybody pretty much knows everybody in the neighborhood,” he said.
In the wake of Ina Gross’ murder, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office Crime Prevention Deputy Alan Fifield said there are several steps Lakewood Ranch residents can take to increase security in the community.
“One of the most important items that would help the Sheriff’s Office would be that the citizens report anything suspicious they see,” Fifield said. “A lot of times, folks see things but are too busy or do not want to get involved, so they don’t report it to us.
“Reporting suspicious activity and getting a patrol unit in the area can help greatly in stopping a potential crime from occurring,” he said. “Even if we don’t find anything, having that marked patrol car drive through a neighborhood will hopefully scare off any would be thieves, as well as simply provide an extra patrol through the neighborhood.”
Furthermore, Fifield suggested a neighborhood watch program. Above all, he said, remember to use common sense in and around the home.
“(Residents) need to remember not to open their door to strangers and talk to them through a locked door while keeping their cell phone handy, in case they need to call 911 quickly,” he said. “Home security systems are very good to have if they can afford them.”
The Sheriff’s Office also offers a free service in which a crime prevention practitioner will visit a home to conduct a security survey and offer suggestions to incre ase safety. To schedule a survey, call 747-3011, Ext 2500.
EAST COUNTY HOMICIDES AND SUSPICIOUS DEATHS
The Brannon Murders
Myakka City landscaper Larry Parks was convicted of brutally stabbing Sherry Brannon and her two young daughters, Shelby and Cassidy, on Sept. 16, 1999.
Skeletal remains of Venice resident Doree Lamountain, 34, were discovered in April 2003 in a field near the Braden River Post Office.
Thirty-four-year-old Ingrid Lugo’s body was discovered in December 2004 in a retention pond near Cooper Creek Boulevard. An autopsy later revealed she had been strangled. After going unsolved for nearly three years, an inmate in the Florida prison system supplied tips that led to the arrest and conviction of Brian Curry, 37, Lugo’s ex-boyfriend.
Richard and Kathleen Ross
Blaine Ross in January 2004 killed his parents, Richard and Kathleen Ross, by beating them with a baseball bat in their Lionshead home. Blaine Ross was sentence to death in 2007.
Twenty-five-year-old Jessica Stock was found dead on July 6, 2004, on State Road 64 near Interstate 75. Investigators originally believed it was a traffic fatality, but evidence later suggested foul play. Her case is still open.
Sal Corso, the 25-year-old restaurateur who opened June Restaurant in 2005, was found dead inside his Lakewood Ranch home on July 11, 2005. It was an apparent suicide.
The Henderson Murders
Myakka City resident Richard Henderson Jr., in 2007 was convicted of killing his parents, grandmother and 11-year-old brother on Thanksgiving Day in 2005.
Tara resident Susan Fast returned home from a business trip to the Bahamas on June 28, 2007. The next day, her husband returned to find her missing. One month later, Manatee County Sheriff’s Office detectives discovered Susan Fast’s dismembered body in plastic bags in a storm drain in Lakewood Ranch. Thomas Fast, Bruce Fast’s son, was charged with Susan Fast’s murder.
Nicole Rose Scott
A motorcyclist discovered the body of 29-year-old Nicole Rose Scott Dec. 11, 2011, in a ditch near the intersection of University and Bourneside Boulevard near The Concession Golf Club. Scott’s death was ruled a homicide, and detectives are searching for leads.
Seventy-eight-year-old Ina Gross was found dead Jan. 9, 2012, in the garage of her Lakewood Ranch home on Hyacinth Place in Riverwalk Hammock. Gross’ murder is the first in Lakewood Ranch.