Police: Arrest made in arson, murder case

Victim found in Gainesville fire likely killed earlier, police said

Stephen Underwood Jr., 37, and Sherry Chris Sidell Underwood, 48, have been named as persons of interest in a Gainesville homicide.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A suspect in a Gainesville murder and arson case will face a judge Friday afternoon after he was caught in Jacksonville.

Police said Stephen Underwood fled to Jacksonville after an elderly man was found dead inside a burned Gainesville home.

The victim, identified as 75-year-old Thomas David Oakland, was likely dead before the fire started, the Gainesville Police Department said Thursday and is being investigated as a killing.

Stephen Underwood Jr., 37, and Sherry Chris Sidell Underwood, 48, both of Gainesville, were named as persons of interest in Oakland's death.

Police said Stephen Underwood will likely be charged with murder, arson, burglary and grand theft.

Police said they were in contact with Sherry Underwood, but she is not being charged yet.

Oakland was found Wednesday afternoon inside a home at 1921 SW 8th Drive after a fire in the home.

The autopsy showed evidence of blunt force trauma to Oakland's body and head. That and other evidence investigators found led them to consider Oakland's death a killing and to name two persons of interest.

"We have numerous detectives out both in the field and back at the residence working to bring the persons responsible into custody" GPD spokesman Ben Tobias said. "We will be working around the clock until someone is in handcuffs."

Stephen Underwood is unemployed and does day labor, police said, and Sherry Underwood is disabled. Police said Oakland and Stephen Underwood had a financial relationship, but specifics about the relationship were not released.

Stephen Underwood is currently being held at the Duval County Jail and is expected to face a judge at 1 p.m. Friday.

Gainesville Fire Rescue Department and State Fire Marshal investigators are working to find the cause of the fire.

Anyone with additional information about Oakland's death can call the GPD Detective Division at 352-393-7670. You can also provide anonymous information by calling the Alachua County CrimeStoppers at 352-372-STOP. Or you can text keyword "GPDFL" plus your tip to 274637 (CRIMES).