110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Pat Andrews
posted May 2, 2014 - 12:54:27pm
The man found hanging Jan. 11 in a Seville orange grove could not have committed suicide, his housemate told The Beacon.
Andrew Christopher Mayer was found naked except for his shoes, kneeling, his neck in a rope nailed into an oak tree.
Investigators from the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office labeled the death suspicious, but closed the case in March after the Medical Examiner's Office ruled Mayer's death a suicide.
Mayer, 50, had served 12 years in prison and was listed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as a sexual predator.
After The Beacon reported his death in January, several people contacted the newspaper, saying they hoped Mayer's death would not be swept under the rug and forgotten because of his history.
Mayer's housemate, whom we're calling "John Smith," was among them. Smith said Mayer could not have committed suicide. Smith had seen Mayer just hours before his death, and everything was fine, he said.
He said Mayer had been a little sad over Christmas because he had no family. Then, he cooked a holiday dinner that seemed to lift his spirits.
"After that, he bounced back and was ready to start moving forward," Smith said.
Smith met Mayer while they were both in prison at South Bay Correctional Facility.
"He was like a big brother to me," Smith said.
Smith was released in November 2010 from the correctional facility, after serving nearly eight years for a sexual offense. Smith said he is innocent of the charge.
Smith came to DeLand after his release, and eventually got a small house. When Mayer was released from prison on July 31, 2013, the two men became housemates.
Mayer served 12 years for sexual battery on a child, using coercion. The child was his 16-year-old stepdaughter, whom Mayer and his wife had agreed would carry the child she could not have, according to a November 2000 report in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. The newspaper also said Mayer had confessed.
Smith said Mayer was innocent and had been railroaded into the confession.
Mayer didn't have any family he was close to — Mayer's mother died while Mayer was in prison — and Smith and his mother became Mayer's family, Smith said.
Smith explained his doubt about Mayer’s suicide:
• First, he said, Mayer was devoutly religious. He had converted from Judaism to Christianity, and would never have broken the prohibitions against suicide in both religions.
• Despite a statement in the Sheriff's Office report, Mayer was not depressed, Smith said. In January, Mayer was in a good mental state, Smith said. The two men were planning to open a sign business together.
• Smith said Mayer would never have driven the 27 miles to Seville, for a sexual-fantasy game or anything else. Mayer had a spinal problem that made driving difficult for him, Smith said. He said Mayer would make only very short drives, and asked Smith to drive him most places.
• The morning Mayer died, he had asked Smith to get mushrooms and onions for dinner that night — not the request of a suicidal man, Smith said. He also said Mayer acted in a normal manner that morning.
Smith last saw Mayer at home, just before Smith left for work around 6:40 a.m. on the day Mayer died.
When Smith returned home, he said, Mayer's bed was unmade and his underwear was lying on the floor nearby. Smith said this was extremely uncharacteristic of Mayer, who was very tidy and organized.
A neighbor told Smith he had seen Mayer go to the cluster mailbox nearby, and another neighbor saw Mayer taking out the garbage between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., Smith said. Neighbors also reported seeing a black car with tinted windows at the house around the same time, Smith said. He found that suspicious.
The Sheriff's Office report states that investigators found Mayer with his hands behind his back, bound with zip ties, and his feet similarly bound. He was nude. Smith said because of Mayer’s physical limitations, it would have been difficult and painful for Mayer to put his hands behind his back. Mayer was also very uncomfortable around people he didn't know, Smith said.
The Sheriff's Office initially treated Mayer's death as suspicious. On March 21, however, Associate Medical Examiner Dr. Timothy Gallagher released a report stating the means of death was suicide, and the Sheriff's Office closed the case.
If Mayer was indulging in some sort of sexual fantasy, as the woman who found his body stated, that raises the question of an accidental death, though the circumstances still are strange.
• Heather White called the Sheriff's Office to report finding Mayer's body hanging from a tree. She told investigators Mayer had shown up at the White residence in Seville unexpectedly around 9 a.m. Jan 11, and asked for help in a sexual fantasy role. She said she had had some sex-related conversations previously with Mayer via text message and email.
• White agreed, and Mayer signed over the title of his 1998 Honda to her in exchange.
• White told investigators she walked with Mayer to the wooded area, where he took blue nylon rope and hung it over a tree limb and adjusted the rope by affixing it to the tree by hammering metal screws into the tree. The end was apparently fashioned into a noose, though the report doesn't contain this information.
• Then, White said, Mayer asked her to attach zip ties loosely to his wrists and ankles, which she did. Next, Heather White said, Mayer asked her to cut off his clothing, "because he claimed it was an erotic pleasure for him," according to the report. She said she complied.
• White said Mayer stood on a plastic container and placed the noose around his neck, but changed his mind and removed it.
• White also told investigators Mayer had told her he was a magician and an escape artist, and had previously acted out the fantasy of escaping bonds. He would escape the constraints, then call a friend to come pick him up, he told White.
• White told investigators she then went back home, carrying Mayer's clothes, which she placed in a garbage receptacle.
• After about 90 minutes, Heather White’s husband, Chester White, became concerned about Mayer, and the couple went to check on him. They found him dead, hanging from the tree, they told investigators. Heather White dialed 911.
• Investigators found Mayer's body partially suspended from the tree, nude except for socks and tennis shoes, with his hands bound behind him with three black zip ties, and his feet similarly bound. He was in a kneeling position, but the rope was taut and the body swayed easily, investigators reported. The ground near Mayer's feet was not scuffed or disturbed.
• An open package of zip ties, with one still inside, was found nearby, as were a couple of screws like the ones nailed into the tree.
• At the White home, investigators found Mayer’s Honda parked outside, with Mayer's driver's license and some keys in the center gearshift area. Heather White had already removed the registration from the car before investigators arrived, according to the report.
• Investigators removed several items from the White home:
— a key and the registration to the Honda
— clothing from a garbage receptacle
— a Zip drive and a memory card
— two computer towers
— business cards advertising a swingers club
— condoms from a trash can in the master bedroom "observed to be full to the top with used condoms," according to the report
— a movie camera attached to a tripod at the foot of the bed in the master bedroom. It did not appear Mayer was depicted on any of the videos, but the recordings showed "evidence of prostitution, in that a female was observed to take payment for sexual services," the report states.
In response to The Beacon's inquiry about the death being closed as a suicide, Sheriff’s Office spokesman Gary Davidson responded by email:
"It was a combination of factors that led to the conclusion that the death was a suicide. As you know, no suicide note was left. But that isn’t uncommon in suicides.
“Factors pointing to this being a suicide are as follows:
“• The victim supposedly gave his car away as payment for services. However, the victim’s house key and driver’s license also were found in the vehicle. Additionally, the victim made some comment about not needing his clothes. Giving away possessions is a classic act of someone planning their own death.
“• If the death were accidental or the result of foul play, you would expect to find signs of a struggle at the scene (unless the victim was killed elsewhere and then left hanging at the scene. This, too, was ruled out). There were no signs of a struggle at the scene. The scene supported this being a suicide.
“• All statements from the Whites [the couple who reported the death] that could be corroborated were corroborated, and nothing at the scene or any other collected evidence was inconsistent with their statements."
In response to Smith's statement that Mayer would not have driven to Seville and other assertions, Davidson said investigators determined Mayer drove himself to Seville and caused his own death.
Investigators would not engage in a back-and-forth discussion with Smith through the media, Davidson said.
Mayer is buried in a pauper's grave at Enterprise Evergreen Cemetery. His car is in the custody of the Sheriff's Office, and won't be released to anyone without a judge's order.
Although Heather White told the Sheriff’s Office the car was to have been her payment for helping Mayer with a sexual fantasy, the title transfer had not been completed, Davidson said.
As far as the Sheriff’s Office is concerned, the case is closed.
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