STUART, Fla. — A Jensen Beach woman who was found dead in her septic tank may have been alive when she was placed there, Martin County's sheriff said Tuesday.
An autopsy report for Cynthia Cole shows that the 57-year-old woman's manner of death was a homicide, but the cause of death has yet to be determined.
Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said the medical examiner's report showed that Cole had blunt-force trauma to her head and abdomen and also appeared to have suffocated.
"The medical examiner cannot rule out that our victim was actually alive when she was placed into that septic tank," Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said. "He's doing microscopic evidence now, he submitted it for evaluation, so we'll know definitively if she was alive when she was placed into that septic tank."
Cole's body was found early Saturday, weeks after she had been reported missing.
Her longtime handyman, Keoki Demich, has been arrested on a charge of second-degree murder. He's being held in the Martin County jail on a $750,000 bond.
"She was so much fun. She was the girl with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair," said Cole's friend, Victoria Boyd.
Boyd knew she had found a kindred spirit from the moment she first met Cole three years ago.
"She was so beautiful and fun and she automatically hugged me," Boyd said. "She believed in God the way that I did, and that’s rare."
Boyd said it's hard to wrap her head around the horror surrounding her friend's death.
"This is all surreal for all of us. We loved this girl so much, this community loved this girl, her children loved her," Boyd said.
More signs and flowers mark the Jensen Beach driveway where Cole lived. Neighbors said the mother of three was trying to make her home into an Airbnb.
"We had so much in common. We loved the beauty of this area and going to see the sunrise, sunsets and going for walks on the beach," said neighbor Barbara Deal.
Detectives unearthed Cole's body from a septic tank over the weekend.
"She was devoted to him as helping him and trusting him. There were no alarms for me with that relationship," Boyd said.
Snyder said that because of our cultural norms, it is where Cole was found that has led to increased interest in her story.
"We do cremations or burials or vaults," Snyder said. "That's what's grabbing people's attention in this case as it was so outside the norm."
Boyd said the added interest allows her, and those who loved Cole, to tell the world of her friends greatness.
"You did not meet her and not love her — I mean, love her," Boyd said.