You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Police: Professor had given ex-convict $37K before killing

Associated Press logoAssociated Press 3/6/2015 By JASON DEAREN, Associated Press
Stephen Underwood Jr: In this arrest photo made available by the Gainesville Police Dept. Friday, March 6, 2015, shows Stephen Underwood Jr, 37. Underwood is under arrest for the murder of retired University of Florida professor, Thomas Oakland. Police at first believed Oakland had died in a fire that consumed his home but an autopsy confirmed that he had been fatally struck in the head and body and was already dead before the fire. Underwood and Oakland had known each other. © AP Photo/Gainesville Police Dept. In this arrest photo made available by the Gainesville Police Dept. Friday, March 6, 2015, shows Stephen Underwood Jr, 37. Underwood is under arrest for the murder of retired University of Florida professor, Thomas Oakland. Police at first believed Oakland had died in a fire that consumed his home but an autopsy confirmed that he had been fatally struck in the head and body and was already dead before the fire. Underwood and Oakland had known each other.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — A retired University of Florida professor was killed by an ex-convict to whom he'd given $37,000 in recent years in what authorities described as a "Good Samaritan" relationship, police said.

At first, authorities believed that the professor, Thomas Oakland, 75, had died in a house fire on Wednesday. But an autopsy found that he'd been fatally struck in the head and body and was likely already dead when fire consumed his Gainesville home.

Police opened a homicide investigation and immediately began searching for a man whom the professor had been helping financially for the past few years.

Late Thursday, the U.S. Marshals Florida Regional Fugitive Task Force apprehended 37-year-old Stephen Underwood Jr. in Jacksonville. Underwood had been released from prison Dec. 22 after convictions for fraud and trafficking in stolen property, according to state records.

For years before his death, Oakland had been a "Good Samaritan" who was trying to help Underwood out, police said. Over the year before Underwood went to prison, investigators believe Oakland gave him more than $37,000 in cash, Gainesville Police spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said.

"Apparently, Underwood knew Oakland kept cash in the house," Tobias said.

When Underwood got out of prison, the relationship became a problem for Oakland, police said.

The professor contacted police last month to file reports that he'd been defrauded by Underwood. Oakland told officers at the time that he knew Underwood had taken advantage of him, but wanted to help.

Oakland said he "just wanted to be a good Christian and help a poor man get back on his feet," according to police documents.

It wasn't immediately clear how Oakland said he had been defrauded.

Underwood, a day laborer whom is currently unemployed, is being held without bail on charges of murder, arson, burglary and grand theft.

Police said Underwood's wife, Sherry Underwood, 48, told police that her husband had a large bag of cash she believed he had taken from Oakland.

"She knew he was unemployed and had no funds of his own, and all of a sudden he had a bag of cash," Tobias said.

Oakland was a prominent professor of education until his retirement in 2010, and a former Fulbright Scholar, according to the university. He'd also authored or edited 12 book and hundreds of articles.

"Dr. Oakland was an exemplary world-class scholar in the field of school psychology, and a dedicated teacher, researcher and mentor to his students during his 15 years as a College of Education faculty member," said Glenn Good, dean of the school's College of Education.

"We will continue to be inspired by his extraordinary commitment to the college and his profession, his caring and love for his family, compassion for his students and graduates, and his grace and humor."

Court records show Underwood Jr. has a long rap sheet: In 2014 he was convicted of swindling, fraud and dealing stolen property. He's also been convicted on drug charges, forgery and grand theft.

___

Follow Jason Dearen on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JHDearen

AdChoices
AdChoices
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon