By Carole Hawkins
Patty O’Rourke checks back with the police every few years, hoping for new information about her first husband, Paul Seidenstricker, and his 1994 murder.
“Unless you bug them, you don’t hear anything,” she said. “It’s been a couple of years. I need to ask them about it again.”
She knows Paul was killed after leaving work late one winter night. His car crashed into a parked car near 17th and Hubbard streets in Jacksonville, Florida. A witness saw someone running from Paul’s vehicle.
After that, the story is uncertain. Clues point in different directions.
Was the killer inside the car? Or did he reach in through the driver’s-side window, which Paul sometimes rolled down when he smoked his pipe?
Did Paul struggle with his killer? Is that what caused his car to crash into the parked car?
Whose fingerprints were in the car? Did anyone else hear them struggle in the densely residential neighborhood?
Paul was 44 at the time of his death. He and Patty had grown up in small towns in southern Illinois, just a 20-minute drive from one another.
During the Vietnam War, Paul served in the Navy. His mother was looking for a girl back home to write him letters. She asked Patty’s older sister, Jeanette, but she already had a boyfriend. Jeanette suggested Patty, who was just 18.
“I had an older brother who was also in Vietnam. So, I would write my brother Leonard and I would also write Paul,” Patty said.
When Paul came home on leave, things got more serious. They’d dance and go out to the movies. The couple married three years later.
Paul served 22 years in the Navy before retiring. He was last stationed at Mayport Naval Station, and he and Patty lived with their two children, Phyllis and Phillip, in the Arlington area of Jacksonville.
In the two years that followed, he ran a lawn care business and worked for a maintenance company that had contracts at event venues Downtown. He hoped one day to transition to a career in computers.
Paul’s family remembers him as a hard worker, but also fun-loving and a bit of a prankster.
“He would interact with the kids, even when they were little. It didn’t bother him to change diapers or anything,” Patty said. Even the cloth kind—the kids were both allergic to disposables.
“I just remember him laughing all the time,” his daughter, Phyllis Lingnau, said.
In the days before caller ID, he would answer the phone saying, “Joe’s Pool Hall.” Or “City Morgue. If you stab ’em, we’ll slab ’em.”
Paul normally worked maintenance shifts from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m. On February 20, 1994, the crew was working Downtown at the Coliseum. It was a Sunday night and they finished early. A coworker saw Paul leave the parking lot alone about midnight.
Paul was attacked in his car in front of 116 E. 17th Street at about 2:45 a.m., police said. He suffered multiple stab wounds and died later at the hospital.
His empty wallet was found a few blocks away and his phone card was later used to make calls from New York.
Officers interviewed several people in the area, but none of them saw what happened. Based on their canvass, police believe someone witnessed the murder, but they were never able to identify who that was.
Because it was an urban neighborhood, people would have likely still been walking the streets, even late at night, and police hope someone will come forward who remembers seeing or hearing something unusual.
At about 6 a.m. on Monday, Feb. 21, officers came to the family’s home to tell Patty what had happened. It was President’s Day and Patty was expecting Paul to watch the kids while she was at work.
“Everything was like a fog. They were asking me for pictures,” Patty said. “It was a blessing the kids were in their bedrooms sleeping, because they didn’t hear all this commotion going on.”
After the police left, Patty turned to her neighbors, Bob and Marie, for help. Like Paul, Bob was retired Navy.
When the kids woke up, Patty told her children their father had died. Phyllis was 15. Phillip was 5.
Phillip didn’t understand. He went to his room to play. Phyllis locked herself in the bathroom. Bob nearly had to take the door down to get her to come out.
“I never wanted my mom to see me cry,” Phyllis said. “I wanted to be strong for her.”
Paul was buried at his hometown in Illinois. At the funeral, Patty remembers Phillip didn’t like the way his father’s hat was sitting on his head. He walked up to fix it.
For Phillip, the loss meant growing up without his dad. He has only a few memories of Paul. One was riding on the tractor together and cutting the grass.
Phyllis remembers that as a child, Philip once said, “I guess God needed his grass mowed, that’s why he needed daddy up in heaven.”
Phyllis has more memories. Even the sweet ones sometimes hurt.
From the time she was 5 years old, her father would say, “Let’s have a special drink.” It was a root beer float. Even as a teenager, Paul would treat her to the special drink, sometimes after a rough day at school.
“It’s silly, but I haven’t been able to drink a root beer float since he died,” Phyllis said. “My kids, they all drink root beer floats, and I still can’t.”
Patty feels the loss of Paul through what she calls Kodak moments.
“Every day I might think of him. Like if I hear a song I think, ‘Oh I’d like to tell Paul about this,’” she said. “A lot of people say you should be over and done with it. They don’t realize it’s something that stays with you for the rest of her life.”
If you have any information on the unsolved murder of Paul Seidenstricker, no matter how small, please contact the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office at (904) 630-1157 or email JSOCrimeTips@jaxsheriff.org. Those who wish to remain anonymous and possibly receive a cash reward up to $3,000 can call Crime Stoppers at (866) 845-TIPS (8477).
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