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Three slain women drowned, police say

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A vacationing mother and her two teenage daughters found last weekend in Tampa Bay were apparently alive when they were dumped into the water, their bound and gagged bodies weighted by cinder blocks, authorities said.

Van Wert County, Ohio, Sheriff Stan Owens said St. Petersburg police told him preliminary autopsy results indicated the victims' cause of death was drowning.

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The bodies had been weighted with cinder blocks and investigators said there was no sign of trauma, such as shooting or stabbing, leading them to believe the three were alive when they entered the water.

Police spokesman Wendell Creager said the official cause of death would not be disclosed until a complete medical examiner's report was released within the next week.

No possible motive was known.

The bodies were identified through dental records as those of Joan M. Rogers, 36, of Willshire, Ohio, and her daughters, Michelle, 17, and Christe, 14.

Creager said the mother and the teenagers had been vacationing in Florida. They had visited Walt Disney World and were on their way home when they stopped in Tampa June 1 andchecked into a motel on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

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One of the teenagers called a boyfriend in Ohio that afternoon.

Creager said the motel room appeared to have been unused, leading investigators to suspect the three victims were killed late June 1 or early June 2, a day earlier than authorities first believed.

Their partially clothed bodies were found floating in the bay off St. Petersburg, about 20 miles south of the causeway, June 4.

Investigators could not identify the victims until Thursday, when a maid at the motel became concerned that the room had been undisturbed for several days and no one had seen the women since they checked into the motel.

A short time later, Mrs. Rogers' car was found at a boat ramp about one mile from the motel. There were no signs of struggle in the room or in the car, officials said.

Mrs. Rogers' husband, Hal, who operates a family dairy farm in northwest Ohio, filed a missing persons report after his wife and daughters failed to return Sunday from their Florida vacation.

Creager said investigators are looking for the owner of a blue and white 25-foot boat witnesses said had been parked in the motel parking lot the afternoon Mrs. Rogers arrived. The witnesses said it was on a dual-axle trailer pulled by either a black Blazer or Bronco.

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'We don't know that the boat was involved, but no one remembers anyone with a boat checking into the motel,' Creager said. 'We would like to talk to the owner.'

Creager said officials would not disclose exactly how each of the women were bound and gagged and how the cinder blocks were attached to the bodies.

Michelle and Christe attended Crestview schools in Convoy, Ohio. Michelle would have entered her senior year this fall, while Christe would have been a freshman.

Michelle was active in the Future Farmers of America and Christie was active in her local 4-H club and was a cheerleader and a member of her school's marching band.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer said the parents grew up in the area and their father operates a dairy farm. Both girls reportedly were awake at dawn each day to milk cows. Mrs. Rogers worked the night shift at a plant in Bluffton, Ind.

A neighbor, Paulding Hurless, 74, told the newspaper the Rogers at one point had 80 dairy cattle and grew corn, wheat and beans.

'They're a hard-working family,' she said. 'I think this is the first vacation they ever took.'

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