TAMPA, Fla. – Jane Castor spent 31 years working in law enforcement — six of them as Tampa’s top cop.
She hasn’t worn the badge or her midnight-blue uniform since her retirement in 2015, but the former police chief finds herself right in the middle of what has become one of the city’s biggest unsolved crimes: the murders in Seminole Heights.
Castor has called Tampa's Seminole Heights neighborhood home for 35 years. She was 21 years old when she first moved into an old, dilapidated bungalow on the neighborhood's northeast side.
"This is my hometown," Castor told 10News. "I think Seminole Heights, as a neighborhood, defines the city of Tampa: the strength, the resilience, the sense of community we have here and I think instead of this crime causing a widespread panic, it’s shown those characteristics.”
Walking through the neighborhood on Saturday afternoon with 10News reporter Josh Sidorowicz, Castor pointed out that first home she lived in on North Henry Street. She's since rehabbed two others, including her current home.
She remembered fondly rehabbing the historic bungalow with several young neighbors who were doing the same to other homes at the time.
"It was the pioneer feeling," Castor said. "Everyone was together, a lot of the homes were being rehabbed, there’s really a lot of fond memories here."
Back then, prostitution and drugs dominated the area. The people who were moving in were mostly young and single, taking a chance, she said.
"The neighborhood has changed dramatically," Castor recalled. "Now you see all the young families and kids who have started to call this place home."
Since the murders, has she considered moving?
"Absolutely not," Castor answered resoundingly.
Though retired, Castor says she's still curious, still tries to remain connected with what's happening with the investigation. She might not be privy to day-to-day developments but that still hasn't stopped residents from coming to her with tips, questions and, of course, their own theories.
"You can take the police officer out of the uniform but you can’t take the police officer out of the person," she said laughing.
"Having it occur in a neighborhood I’ve lived in my entire adult life really brings it home.”
If she were chief now, Castor says she wouldn't be doing anything differently.
Is it an embarrassment for the department that the most recent murder was able to occur even with police saturating the neighborhood? No, she says, but there's no doubt it's frustrating.
"I can tell you I feel for the mayor, the chief and all the men and women of the Tampa Police Department because this is very, very personal to them," Castor said. "It's not for a lack of trying."
Balancing policing with personal rights
Arrests in the area more than doubled in October compared to the same time one year ago.
The department faced similar scrutiny during the end of Castor's tenure after an investigation by our reporting partners at the Tampa Bay Times found officers wrote more bike citations than their counterparts in Florida’s four other largest cities combined, and that 80 percent went to black cyclists.
"It’s something that has to be balanced by the encounter with the officers dealing with citizens saying, ‘Look, I’m sorry you’ve been stopped this many times, but please understand the overarching goal here is to make sure we have no more loss of life,'" Castor said.
"Maybe you would trade those encounters with law enforcement for not being a potential victim of the serial killer."
Mayoral run, maybe?
The situation in Seminole Heights has underscored a desire to serve, Castor said.
Whether that means a 2019 mayoral run, Castor said she's launched an exploratory committee. That's as close to a confirmation she's provided publicly since the rumors of a run started swirling nearly as soon as she retired, if not before.
"It’s something that I’m seriously considering," Castor said. "I have service in my heart and I love the city of Tampa and anything I can do to help improve the community I’m all about.
Castor topped an early poll in June looking at 2019 Tampa mayor's race, according to our reporting partners at the Tampa Bay Times.
Asked about Mayor Bob Buckhorn's often strong statements about the killer, at one point telling officers to "bring his head to me," Castor told 10News she's felt he's been appropriate in his response.
A $100,000 reward is being offered for information leading to an arrest and conviction of the Seminole Heights killer.
Anyone with information on the Seminole Heights murders is urged to call Crime Stoppers at 1 (800) 873-8477.
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