SPPD: Second murder victim identified, investigators say attack was brutal

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - St. Petersburg police detectives released the identities Wednesday of two people found slain this week in a home.


James Edward Rapp, 67, and Paula Witthaus, 54, were found Tuesday at 2840 17th Ave. N.

St. Petersburg police investigators they were brutally attacked within 48 hours before an acquaintance stopped by to check on them and discovered their bodies.

The acquaintance is not considered a suspect.

Ashley Green, who works with the advocacy group Awake Pinellas, expected to see Witthaus at a rally Monday, but she never showed.

"She didn't deserve that," Green said. "I can't imagine why anyone would be that brutal and that violent to someone who literally spent the better part of the last decade of her life fighting for other people."

Before retiring, Witthaus ran Demand LIFE, a nonprofit Green said focused on Medicaid expansion. She started the non-profit while living in a house on Rhoda Court in St. Petersburg. Her friend Rose Sherwood and son William live there now.

"Shock," Sherwood said of her reaction to the killings. "Still in shock."

Rapp suffered from medical problems, police said, and Witthaus was caring for him.

"He had been in and out of the hospital, was on oxygen, was partially disabled," Green said, "and Paula was just that type of person."

Sherwood wants whoever is responsible brought to justice.

"They deserve everything they get," she said.

Detectives described the injuries to Rapp and Witthaus as "particularly brutal." The cause of their deaths has not been released.

Investigators said they have no reason to believe the murders were a random act and are asking for the public's help.

If you have information about the case, call the police non-emergency number at 727-893-7780, send a message to Text-A-Tip to 727-420-8911 or leave a confidential tip at 727-892-5000.

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