On March 24, 1984, the body of Karen Nieradka was found in debris that had been transported to St. Petersburg from the demolition site of the Sunset Hotel in Clearwater. The hotel had been demolished on March 15, 1984. Nieradka was found to have died from manual strangulation.
Several weeks prior, on March 2, 1984, Richard Rhodes had been stopped by the Florida Highway Patrol and arrested for driving without a valid license. At the time of the arrest, Rhodes was driving a car registered to the victim, Nieradka. The police interviewed Rhodes on March 26, 1984. Rhodes gave different stories, but continued to deny involvement in Nieradka’s death.
On April 27, 1984, Rhodes tried to make a deal with detectives saying that he would explain how Nieradka died if he would be sent to a mental health facility. Rhodes said that Nieradka’s death had been due to an accidental fall from the third story of the Sunset Hotel. However, during the course of the trial, three inmates from the Pinellas County Jail testified that Rhodes had confessed to murdering Nieradka.