Details of Disappearance
Pugliese was last seen at her home in the 7900 block of Oak Run Circle in Lakeland, Florida on July 13, 2008. That day she called for help from inside the house and asked a neighbor to call the police. Officers responded to the residence and spoke to her. She appeared to be confused and disoriented, although she was lucid.
Pugliese accused her live-in caregiver, Edward Lee Caldwell, of throwing wild parties at her house, but there was no evidence of any parties and the police didn't take any action. She has never been heard from again. Her daughter reported her missing in December.
A photo of Caldwell is posted with this case summary. When the police questioned him about Pugliese's whereabouts, he gave three different answers, all of which turned out to be false.
One of the stories was that she had traveled to Connecticut. She had lived in that state before moving to Florida in 2005. Pugliese's Connecticut friends haven't seen or heard from her, however. After authorities disproved his stories, Caldwell finally said he didn't know where Pugliese was.
Caldwell moved in with Pugliese after his release from prison in October 2007. He had been serving time for failure to register as a sex offender. He registered himself at Pugliese's address after his release. Pugliese trusted Caldwell and called him her grandson, although they're not related. He met her real grandsons while he was in jail.
Pugliese bought him things, including clothes, a truck and a bicycle. He obtained power of attorney over her property, and she named him as a beneficiary in her will. Caldwell didn't do chores around the house or pay rent. Within nine months of moving into her home, he'd taken $173,000 from Pugliese. He told various state agencies that he was her caregiver.
Pugliese's daughter, Cathie Cameron, who had also lived in the home, mistrusted Caldwell and believed her mother was at risk from him. Cameron was charged with battery on an elderly person in late October 2007, after Caldwell accused her of pushing Pugliese and throwing a glass bottle at her during an argument. Pugliese fell and broke her hip.
Cameron claims she didn't push her and that she slipped instead; Pugliese said she didn't see who pushed her. A restraining order prohibited Cameron from having any contact with her mother. The battery charge was later dropped, but Cameron hasn't seen her mother since her arrest. Pugliese changed her will, disinheriting Cameron and naming Caldwell and her two grandsons has beneficiaries.
Shortly before Pugliese vanished, Caldwell's girlfriend moved into the residence. After she noticed Pugliese was missing, she asked Caldwell about it and was told he'd put her in a nursing home.
When police searched Pugliese's home after her disappearance was reported, they discovered all of Pugliese's belongings were gone except for her cane and some photographs. In fact, there was no indication at all that an elderly person had lived there.
Caldwell had moved into the master bedroom and taken some of Pugliese's prescription medications. He was arrested and charged with drug trafficking and possession of prescription medication without a prescription as a result.
He had also put Pugliese's house up for sale in her absence and the deal was supposed to close in December 2008, but it fell through when the realtor realized Pugliese was missing. The bank has since filed to foreclose the house; no mortgage payments have been made on it since July 2008.
Pugliese had kept in regular touch with her friends in Connecticut after her move to Florida, but they said they heard from her much less frequently after she met Caldwell. She also stopped inviting local friends over to her house.
She borrowed her home health aide's cellular phone and called a Connecticut friend, saying Caldwell was abusing her and wasn't letting her use the home phone. Caldwell ordered the home health aide to quit coming to the residence.
The health aide was concerned about Pugliese's situation and filed an elder abuse complaint with the state Department of Children and Families (DCF), which began an investigation in June 2008. The police notified the DCF about Pugliese's distress call on July 13 and, that same day, a DCF investigator spoke to her.
Pugliese appeared to be lucid and capable of making decisions. She agreed to accept some elder care services. The DCF attempted to contact her several times with information about the services, and they were able to get in touch with Caldwell but they never spoke to Pugliese. He told them she had traveled to Maine to see friends.
In May 2009, Caldwell was charged with negligent manslaughter, aggravated neglect of an elderly disabled adult, neglect of an elderly person, exploitation of an elderly person, grand theft, altering bank bills and forgery in Pugliese's case.
Caldwell has reportedly said on several occasions that he knows what happened to Pugliese, and he allegedly told two witnesses he had killed her. Authorities stated they didn't know where her body was or exactly how she died.
On the eve of his trial, in March 2012, Caldwell pleaded no contest to aggravated manslaughter, neglect of an elderly person and exploitation of an elderly person as well as three counts each of theft, forgery and uttering a forgery. A no contest plea means he doesn't admit guilt, but acknowledges there's enough evidence to convict him if a trial took place. He was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
Foul play is suspected in Pugliese's disappearance due to the circumstances involved.