What police didn't find during their search also was curious: Abbott's wallet or passport was missing and never did turn up.


Thomas Abbott's brother says his upbringing in Tampa with three siblings was idyllic.

Scene at the Abbott apartment after Phoenix police searched for evidence in June 2009.
Scene at the Abbott apartment after Phoenix police searched for evidence in June 2009.

"We had great parents who loved us," says Lee Abbott, who still resides there. "You can't ask for much more."

Their father, Charles Abbott, owned a charter-airplane company, and his wife, Grace, was a physicist by training.

Tom was the youngest, a sweet-natured, sensitive boy with a dry sense of humor.

The Abbott parents died in 1980 within months of each other, Charles in a plane crash and Grace of liver disease. They were in their mid-50s.

Tom gravitated in his early 20s to a career as a travel agent in Tampa. He lived for a time with Lee, who says he learned belatedly of Tom's sexual orientation.

"He was very private, even with family," Lee Abbott says. "The information freaked me out for about a minute, and then I didn't care."

In the early 1990s, Tom introduced Lee to his new boyfriend, Franklin Buchanan Jr., known as "Skip."

No stranger to law enforcement, Skip Buchanan had earned a felony conviction for a 1989 assault of a Tampa-area police officer. He also had been convicted at least three times for drunken driving.

A construction worker by trade, Buchanan moved in with Thomas and Lee Abbott and stayed after Lee relocated. Thomas later added Buchanan's name to the deed to his house.

By 2000, Abbott had purchased the Tampa travel agency he'd managed for years. Skip Buchanan also worked there as an agent.

Though their relationship had its good times, it was marred by mutual heavy drinking and Buchanan's trigger temper.

In 2002, doctors diagnosed Abbott, then 41, with cirrhosis of the liver. The following February, physicians inserted a metal shunt into his liver so blood could bypass the diseased organ.

A doctor spoke to Abbott before discharging him after the surgery.

"It was stated that Mr. Abbott's relationship with his partner is the main reason for his stress and depression," the doctor wrote. "He has been advised by his friends and family and the counselor to get out of his relationship."

Abbott didn't listen.

On March 19, 2003, less than a month after the liver surgery, Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies responded to a 911 call from the home Abbott shared with Buchanan.

Abbott said Buchanan had been beating him up, and he agreed to cooperate with a prosecution on felony domestic-violence charges.

"The victim also stated that this occurs 'once a week' and 'after [Buchanan] has a drink,'" the sheriff's report said.

Buchanan was arrested, but he ended up back home with Abbott. Court records show Abbott declined to help prosecutors with their case, which was dismissed in July 2003.

Predictably, the cycle of abuse didn't stop. That August, Abbott revealed to family members that Buchanan again had assaulted him.

This time, instead of calling authorities, Abbott decided to run away. Lee Abbott says he drove his brother to the Tampa airport, where he boarded a plane for St. Louis — where their sister Elizabeth lived.

Abbott still was drinking heavily despite his cirrhosis and needed immediate medical care and long-term rehabilitation.

Back in Tampa, Buchanan had to run the travel agency alone, and it shut down a few years later. Their home was lost to foreclosure in 2008.

Abbott's health apparently improved during his year or so in St. Louis. He apparently quit drinking — mandatory if he wished to survive for long.


In 2004, Thomas Abbott took a job in Phoenix as an agent for American Express Centurion.

Well-mannered, erudite, and funny, he soon won the friendships of many work colleagues.

Abbott's medical records show he was off most of his liver medications by the end of 2007; he still was taking some to control his diabetes.

By all accounts, he still wasn't drinking.

American Express provides life insurance coverage to employees through MetLife. In October 2004, Thomas listed three people as equal beneficiaries: brother Lee, sister Elizabeth, and ex-boyfriend Skip Buchanan.

But in October 2006, Thomas named Buchanan as his sole beneficiary. His sister Liz became the contingency beneficiary, in the event Buchanan became ineligible or unable to collect the money.

In early 2008, Buchanan — without a driver's license (revoked because of his DUIs), saddled with a $22,000 IRS debt, and jobless — showed up at Tom Abbott's home in Arizona.

Abbott apparently wasn't involved romantically, and he and Buchanan were finished as a couple. But he offered Buchanan a couch to sleep on, and more:

Abbott agreed to pay Buchanan's cell-phone bill, added him to his gym membership, and opened a joint account with E-Trade, the online brokerage outfit.

With Abbott's help, Buchanan got a job at a Phoenix travel agency.

But Abbott confided in close friends about Buchanan and the nature of their relationship.

"When Frank moved here, Tom was very terrified," colleague Karen Griffin later told police. "I asked him why he was letting Frank live with him. He said, 'I didn't have a choice.'"

Abbott switched to the night shift, telling work confidants it was because he would be able to avoid Buchanan that way.

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