1998 Pulitzer Prize winner

On June 4, 1989, three bodies were found floating in Tampa Bay. This is the story of the murders, their aftermath and the handful of people who kept faith amid the unthinkable.


In their last hours alive, Jo Rogers and her two daughters took a series of snapshots.

One showed Michelle inside the motel room, sunburned and staring into the camera.

A young, sunburned woman wearing a bathing suit top with shorts sits on the floor and stares into the camera.

But it was the very last photo that would be the most haunting. Shot from the motel balcony, it caught the sunlight fading over Tampa Bay.

The three women were about to leave to meet someone who had offered to take them for a boat ride on the bay.


Read the series

Angels & Demons Coda: The Last Days of Oba Chandler

Oba Chandler appealed his convictions and death sentences for the 1989 murders of Joan "Jo" Rogers, 36, and daughters Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14 over and over, to no avail. Then, after 22 years on Florida’s Death Row, he learned the day his life would end. Then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a death warrant for Chandler on Oct. 10, 2011. Chandler, now 65, was to be executed on Nov. 15 by lethal injection at Florida State Prison. The Times covered the proceedings and revisited the case, speaking to those still haunted by Chandler’s crimes. Thomas French, the reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1998 for Angels & Demons, had left the newspaper and was teaching at Indiana University at the time. He flew to Ohio and accompanied Hal Rogers to the prison in Starke for the execution. They both sat in the witness gallery as Chandler was pronounced dead at 4:25 p.m. That night, sitting in Sonny's BBQ, French wrote the final chapter to the series.

Staff Writer Thomas French gathered the information for this series from interviews with Hal Rogers and other family members, detectives and prosecutors, and others involved in this case. In addition, information was gathered in court proceedings and from more than 4,000 pages of police reports, court documents and other records. Some of the quotes and scenes were witnessed firsthand by the reporter or photographer or were taken from police reports or transcripts of official proceedings; others are by necessity based on people’s recollections.

Oba Chandler declined to be interviewed.

Staff Photographer Cherie Diez took the photos, except where noted. Hal Rogers and his sister-in-law, Colleen Etzler, provided the Rogers family photos.


Thomas French

was a Times staff writer from 1981 until 2008. He wrote numerous series for the paper, including A Cry in the Night and South of Heaven, both of which were later published as books.

Cherie Diez

has been a staff photographer since 1980. Her photos have appeared with many projects, including A Cry in the Night, Babyland and the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Gift Abandoned.

Additional credits

  • Editor: Neville Green
  • Photo editor: Sonya Doctorian
  • Copy editor: Patty Cox
  • Design: Martin Frobisher